Earlier this week, Virgina voters went to the polls and narrowly elected Democrat Terry McAuliffe–who is a veritable dirtbag–over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who is pro-life, wants to force transvaginal ultraounds, hates gays, and is a climate change denier. Meanwhile, Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis picked up 6.5% of the vote as well. Naturally, this means that Republicans are blaming libertarians (and Libertarians) for this loss (while some conservatives are already blaming “ze establishment.” More on that later.)
Two major points need to be said about this. The first point is that Robert Sarvis did not cost Cuccinelli the election. Indeed, most of Sarvis’ voters, if they didn’t have Sarvis as a choice, would have either voted for McAuliffe or would have just stayed home. Indeed, one theory I have seen floated around is that he brought extra voters to the polls who may push Republican Attorney General candidate Mark Obenshain over the top against his Democratic opponent, so Republicans will have to turn around and thank the Libertarian Party (grudgingly).
As Chris Cilizza notes, most of Sarvis’ fans would have stayed home. As Neil Stevens adds, Sarvis voters “were more interested in voting for him than they were in tipping a close election between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli.” He increased turnout and in turn highlighted a growing part of the populace: libertarians. (Even if they don’t label themselves as such.)
Here’s the second point: even if Sarvis cost the election for Cooch…
I wholeheartedly agree with my friend Tom VanAntwerp, who wrote:
Libertarian candidates do spoil elections for Republicans. And that’s awesome!
Republicans need to remember that they are not entitled to anyone’s vote. (Nor are Democrats, for that matter.) They have to run a solid campaign that promises what people want if they hope to win. And over time, when they do win, they have to deliver. When Libertarians draw enough voters away from Republican candidates such that they lose, they should take it as a sign that they promised the wrong things and delivered the wrong things.
The Republican reliance on social conservatism will continue to be a growing weakness, and Libertarians will exploit it. And if Republicans hate that Democrats win because Libertarians exists, then they should take the views of the libertarian swing vote more seriously.
Republicans and conservatives only pay attention to libertarians around election time–and that’s always with pathetic bullying antics and fearmongering of what would happen should the Democrat win. When libertarians protest at this, or after a Republican/conservative loses, there are always cries that libertarians need to work within the system, stop being purists, and learn to compromise. Never do these individuals admit that at no point did they or their candidate throw libertarians more than a symbolic bone. Never do they admit that they ignore libertarian philosophy and libertarian policy proposals, and just move brazenly on in their conservative worldview, never stopping to consider other viewpoints, that maybe if they want to win they have to build a coalition that includes them making some compromises to attract more voters.
Daniel Bier put it well in an October posting for The Skeptical Libertarian that “Small Government Is Popular–The GOP Isn’t.” And why is this the case? Because the GOP continues pushing social conservatism at a time when the country is becoming increasingly liberal on social matters. Gay marriage enjoys majority support, as does marijuana legalization. Huge majorities–even Republican majorities–support immigration reform, specifically reform that is more permissive than today’s miserable condition. And religiosity–as much as that is a word–has dropped to about 60% last year, while 20% of Americans have no religion. Among those under 30, that number is 1 in 3.
If the Libertarian Party is costing the GOP elections, then good. That’s a sign that Republicans and conservatives are turning off voters with their policy packages, and that if they want to win, they better start coming back to the center and actually start incorporating libertarian ideas in their platforms, campaigns, and policies. If they want libertarian support, then they’re going to actually have to start being more libertarian.
Unfortunately, I don’t think they will heed that lesson, since they’re already blaming everyone but themselves for this defeat. Earlier, I cited Jonah Goldberg’s criticism of the establishment, yet as it turns out, Tea Party groups didn’t spend a lot of money helping Cuccinelli either. That they flail around pointing fingers instead of being introspective on where they failed doesn’t bode well for conservatives learning a thing or two.
And, of course, it should be repeated: libertarians did not cost Republicans this election. But Sarvis did tap into a growing percentage of Americans who are libertarians, and this growing voter base is not interested in right-wing ideas on social issues. So maybe not today. But in the future, it will increasing start to cost Republicans. The only question is when they start to buy.
Blaming libertarians is not productive. Neither is consistently running socially conservative candidates, nor kepeing their heads in the sand. If conservative Republicans want to see where their problems are, they need to stand up, turn around, and take a long, hard look in the mirror.