The United States is dominated by two political parties, leaving little room for the hopes of third party candidates.
With the Republican and Democratic nominees for the 2020 election essentially set, much of the focus has turned to the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
While the Libertarian Party (LP) is unlikely to supplant a Republican or Democrat in the White House, taking even a small percentage of votes from key states in a tight race can have a dramatic impact, as past elections show us.
What do Libertarians believe?
The Libertarian Party was founded during the Nixon administration, in 1971. It came about as the result of anxieties stemming from a compulsory draft that required men to enlist to fight in the Vietnam War and the decoupling of the US dollar from the nation’s gold supply, a policy known as the gold standard.
With a heavy focus on individual rights, the Libertarian Party features a wide range of members, from doctors and lawyers, to men who wear rubber boots on their heads and promise a free pony to all.
The Libertarian Party is perhaps the most diverse party in terms of perspective and ideals. As their name suggests, the Libertarian Party is rooted in individual freedoms, limited government and strict adherence to the constitution.
While Libertarians are often seen as leaning conservative, their 2016 presidential and vice presidential candidates were both former Republican governors and the party identifies as neither conservative or liberal.
“Unlike liberals or conservatives, Libertarians advocate a high degree of both personal and economic liberty,” says the official party website.
One major issue where the Libertarian Party differs from Republicans is on abortion.
According to their 2018 revised platform, “Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”
At the same time, the Libertarian Party believes that their view that “The proper and most effective source of help for the poor is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals,” separates them from the platform of the Democratic Party.
A Libertarian government would slash the budget of many governmental departments, such as the Department of Education, and leave those responsibilities to the states. It would also abolish the Internal Revenue Service and seek to eliminate income tax.
A senior lecturer of psychology at Clemson University, Jo Jorgensen won the Libertarian nomination on Saturday at the online convention.
Jorgensen won only one contest in the non-binding primary, was 10 points behind the frontrunner, Jacob Hornberger, and was less than 1% ahead of third place candidate Vermin Love Supreme.
Nevertheless, the Libertarians decide their nominee through the votes of registered delegates at the convention. Jorgensen led each round of voting at the convention and her lead grew steadily throughout the day.
Jorgensen was the vice presidential candidate on Harry Browne’s Libertarian ticket in 1996, garnering less than 1% of the popular vote.
If elected, Jorgensen promises to reign in spending and reduce the national debt.
On her campaign website, she states that “As President, I will use my Constitutional authority to block any new borrowing. I will veto any spending bill that would lead to a deficit, and veto any debt ceiling increase. I will give every Cabinet secretary a specific spending reduction target to meet and hold them accountable. There is simply no excuse for sticking our children and grandchildren with the bill for these bipartisan bloated budgets.”
Jorgensen has already garnered endorsements from Libertarian heavyweights such as 2016 presidential candidate Gary Johnson and current US Representative Justin Amash.
Amash is the only non-independent member of a third party currently holding a seat in congress.
Amash left the Republican Party in July 2019 after facing a backlash when he declared that he believed Donald Trump had committed impeachable offenses.
On Wednesday, April 28th, Amash signaled his intent to run for president as a Libertarian, a move that instantly sent shockwaves through the Democratic Party, which is wary that any strong third party candidacy might siphon votes away from their likely nominee, Joe Biden, and result in the reelection of Donald Trump.
Had Amash stayed in the race, his name recognition could have attracted more voters to the party, making him an immediate frontrunner for the nomination even before declaring.
For reference, at the time of writing Jorgensen has close to 17,000 Twitter followers, while Amash has nearly 441,000.
But, less than a month after declaring his intent to throw his hat in the ring as the Libertarian nominee, Amash dropped out, citing current circumstances.
While he is no longer in the running, Amash looks to be a strong and public voice for the Libertarian Party in 2020 and has already pledged his support to Jorgensen.
Playing spoiler in the 2016 campaign
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his vice presidential running mate Bill Weld played to their base and expanded beyond it in 2016, positioning themselves as a reasonable alternative when a majority of the electorate was not satisfied with their candidate.
The duo garnered 3.27% of the vote in 2016, setting a record for the best result ever achieved by a Libertarian ticket. Previously, the Libertarians had received more than 1% of the vote in a general election only once before, in 1980.
Though that slice of the pie may sound miniscule, Johnson more than made up the difference in the vote margin between Clinton and Trump in many of the swing states Trump ended up winning, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania.
While there is no guarantee that a significant portion of those voters would have chosen Clinton over Trump had Johnson not been in the race, the idea that third party candidates take away from major party candidates is a belief held by many voters.
Bill Weld seemingly gave into pressure not to play the spoiler when, days before 2016’s general election, he vouched for Clinton.
In 2020, Weld ran and ultimately failed to challenge Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.
Whether Libertarians’ record results in 2016 translate into greater success in 2020 is yet to be seen.
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