This should’ve been a big year for the Libertarian Party.
Voters looking at the two major parties see the two most unappealing choices in history. With the Republican Party nominating a tiny-fingered misogynistic narcissist and the Democrats nominating a criminal grifter with the personality of a robot, there was an opening for one of the so-called minor parties.
It was something San Luis Obispo Libertarian Party Chairwoman Gail Lightfoot hoped would happen. If Lightfoot’s name seems familiar, it might be because you’ve seen it on your ballot. Lightfoot has been the California Libertarian Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate for much of the past two decades and she ran for secretary of state three times; her name has appeared 14 times on the statewide ballot.
A former Republican who campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964, Lightfoot was a charter member of the Libertarian Party when it formed in 1972.
As a disgruntled “Never Trump” conservative and former Republican, the Libertarian Party would seem to be a reasonable redoubt from which I could fight for post-Trump conservatism. The theme of the 2016 convention was “legalize freedom,” and its website boasts that “Libertarians strongly oppose any government interference into their personal, family, and business decisions.”
But over the past several months, it appears that Libertarians have nominated a couple of former Republican governors of largely Democratic states — Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico for president and Gov. William Weld of Massachusetts for vice president — who sound an awful lot like Democrats.
Johnson has expressed hostility to state-level laws modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law, which nowadays draws the ire of Democrats everywhere, was championed by President Bill Clinton and introduced in the House by then-New York Rep. Chuck Schumer. It was so uncontroversial that it passed the House on a voice vote and the Senate by a vote of 97-3.
Johnson has proposed a carbon tax, because a tax is a “free-market” approach to solving climate change.
I’m not sure what’s worse: That Johnson misunderstands what a tax is or that he misunderstands what the free market is.
He also has displayed a bizarre aversion to the term “illegal immigrant” and praised Barack Obama’s extra-constitutional executive orders effectively legalizing thousands of people here in violation of immigration law.
Weld isn’t much better when it comes to basic Libertarianism, expressing an aversion to the Second Amendment by calling AR-15s “weapons of mass destruction,” and saying handguns might be “even worse.”
Asked about the disconnect between what the Libertarian Party preaches and the policy positions of Johnson and Weld, Lightfoot said, “He’s not a pure Libertarian.”
By taking the anti-First Amendment position that conservative Christians can’t decline to take part in gay marriage ceremonies (whatever happened to “if you oppose gay marriage, don’t have one?”), Johnson sounds a lot like a culture-warrior Democrat.
“Instead of saying property rights prevail, he doesn’t know how to answer,” Lightfoot said.
The 2016 election has meant the Libertarian Party is being treated with some of the same seriousness and depth of questioning that had largely been limited to Democrats and Republicans.
“We’ve been running on generalities for 44 years,” Lightfoot said.
When Johnson ran for president in 2012, “he didn’t have to be specific.”
Now he does.
So why should people vote Libertarian?
“We really need someone in the White House who is not a radical in any direction,” Lightfoot said. “Johnson and Weld basically are still Republicans; they have a lot of Democratic friends. They just really are a hybrid.
“They offer an opportunity for everyone to work together,” she said.
This was the Libertarian Party’s year. Instead, it hasn’t happened. Lightfoot blames the Libertarian Party calendar — Johnson and Weld weren’t nominated until May, months after both Republicans and Democrats had earned plenty of media coverage during their primary campaigns.
Press Lightfoot on what Election Day holds for the Libertarian Party, and she describes an electoral map where Johnson and Weld capture their home states of New Mexico and Massachusetts, and conservative independent Evan McMullin wins Utah, denying both Clinton and Trump an electoral college majority and throwing the contest to the House of Representatives.
However, in Utah, one recent statewide poll has McMullin leading Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump there. It’s very possible that McMullin could become the first minor-party candidate to capture electoral votes since 1968.
Californians disgusted by Clinton and Trump can write in McMullin’s name on their ballot and it will count.
As for the Libertarian Party, many will be holding out hope that Johnson and Weld can garner 5 percent of the popular vote this year. That would qualify the party for some federal funding in the 2020 election.
Ironically, it’s the sort of government program that the Libertarian Party would like to eventually get rid of — at least on that, I’m with them.
Conservative columnist Matthew Hoy is a former reporter, editor and page designer. His column appears in The Tribune every other Sunday, in rotation with liberal columnist Tom Fulks. Read Hoy’s blog at www.Hoystory.com. Follow him on Twitter @Hoystory.