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Libertarian Party Loses its Principles and Becomes Irrelevant

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They’ve got a strange crop of candidates running as representatives of the Libertarian Party in Texas this year. With prospects of 2-3% of the vote it’s debatable that they’re serious candidates, and based on their issue positions and public statements it’s surprisingly difficult to determine if they are even libertarians. There are Republicans running in the state whose positions are closer to those of traditional libertarians than are those of many of the candidates who bear the official Libertarian Party brand.

Just look at a few of their top contenders. Kathie Glass is running for governor on a hardcore nativist platform, including proposing deploying the state guard to the border — the LP used to support open borders. Steve Susman is running for Congress and promises to subsidize green energy with taxpayer dollars, opposes privatizing social security, wants to expand farm subsidies, supports limits on political free speech, wants to make unions illegal and is strongly opposed to gay rights. Jim Stutsman is running for Congress and wants to expand the military, increase the level of tax on personal income and also opposes gay rights.

These are not typical libertarian positions. Many of them are even directly contrary to the national and state Libertarian Party platforms. While many other LP candidates like John J. Myers and Robert Nowotny are very much traditional libertarians, the number of candidates representing the party who have bizarre views on major issues has grown substantially. This is reflected by changes in the party platform which include the removal of the pro-immigration plank and an increased emphasis on states rights and isolationism.

The Libertarian Party and especially many of their candidates, seem to have come under the influence of the far-right Paleocons. They have become immigration nativists, far more socially conservative, begun advocating for states rights over the Constitution, and have entirely lost interest in a true libertarian foreign policy. Some don’t even seem particlarly fiscally conservative.

Coming at a time when the Republican party is moving in a much more libertarian direction in Texas and nationwide this creates a strange conflict for some of their more principled candidates. In Texas two Libertarian candidates have recently dropped their campaigns upon realizing that the Libertarian Party had set them up to run against Republicans who were as libertarian as they were. In one case this was because the Republican in the race was a true libertarian. In the other it was because the Libertarian Party candidate was on the same page as his Republican opponent as a social conservative.

One of these candidates was Tom Gleinser in Texas House District 45. He abruptly ended his campaign with a very strong statement against the Libertarian Party and its disastrous campaign strategy:

“I am withdrawing from the race for State Representative District 45 in order to give the Republican candidate a better shot at it. All I’ve been doing the past two elections is ensuring the victory of a toll-road, teacher’s unions loving Democrat.

I will continue to espouse libertarianism, but the Libertarian Party to me is dead.”

Like many libertarians around the country, he was angered by the strategy which the Libertarian Party has chosen, of running token candidates regardless of the quality of their Republican opponents, doing little or nothing to support those candidates and making no noticeable effort to assure the quality of the candidates they are running. They have degraded the reputation and legitimacy of the Libertarian Party as a voice for liberty and they have allowed liberty-minded Republicans to steal their initiative as the leading edge of the libertarian movement.

The lack of leadership and the poor leadership choices made at the head of the party have rendered the Libertarian Party increasingly irrelevant. Running bad candidates on a compromised platform with no real effort to actually win races has led to a substantial drop in membership and fundraising and demonstrates that the “Party of Principle” has lost track of those principles and may not have much of a future.

(Candidate position information is mostly taken from the “Political Courage Test” at Project Vote Smart.)

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About Marc Tully

  • Robert

    Part of this are the open right-wing GOP takeovers of many State parties such as Florida and many in the Midwest with what many Libertarians feel is tacit support from the National LP. In Texas the right-wing crew are helped by the crazy primary laws that let the GOP back ringers. At least one candidate can’t even spell Libertarian. Many people and public officials have quietly left. The shenanigans with the GOP and the Greens suggest this isn’t just a Libertarian problem.

  • Baronius

    A political movement loses its independence when it gets absorbed into one of the two parties. What this is describing may be the collapse of the Libertarian Party as the Republican Party takes up the libertarian cause. Sure, it’s weird to go through, and you lose the whole cool-intellectual thing when your beliefs become mainstream, and you never get 100% of what you wanted. But this isn’t a bad thing for you guys. And insisting on 100% purity guarantees that you’ll never win a race.

  • Gordon Trenchard

    Robert. It’s not a GOP takeover of the LP but the migration of several varieties of extremists who the GOP has rejected as it moves back to a Reagan style moderate libertarianism.

  • Well, we’ll welcome all those disaffected Libertarians in the Republican Liberty Caucus where they can do some real good.


  • Jim Peron

    I was an LP activist and wrote Jim Lewis’s campaign book Liberty Reclaimed. Today, I don’t recognize the Libertarian Party. It has drifted so far from libertarianism that it is not detrimental to libertarianism. It ought to die. It has already done enough harm.

  • Baronius

    Dave, you’ve been in both parties. Do you see the same thing happening as this article describes?

  • What this article describes is certainly true for Texas. It may be less true for other parts of the country. But the root problem that he doesn’t really address is that relatively recently the Texas LP has basically taken over the national party and the leadership has become very doctrinaire, defensive and strongly anti-Republican. Frankly there are a bunch of real buttheads (some of whom I used to get along with much better) who have taken over the LP.


  • Oh, and this guy Susman is a real embarrassment to the LP. That they nominated him suggests they make no effort at all to assess the worthiness of their candidates.


  • Jeff Daiell

    That some LP candidates are imperfect is incontrovertible. That the Texas Republican Party is moving in a libertarian direction is ridiculous. Just look at how Dr. Paul and Ms. Medina were treated.

    Jeff Daiell

  • So far my race has been off the radar which is fine with me as it keeps the big machine coffers closed. On close examination you will find my principles are very much those of the real LP. Granted, my RP opponent has, along with his whole party machine, come to the LP line of thought, but the basic big government mentality remains. I fully expect to leave my RP opponent in the dust and make this a competition against my individual merits against the DP incumbent. Three more weeks and we will know. But, in line with this thread, he who thinks we have lost our way is indeed lost himself. I will not predict a win, but I will predict a far more competitive race than the incumbent thought possible.

  • Zack

    If you really think that the GOP at any level is becoming more libertarian you show your true lack of knowledge. As I often say, “While I respect Dr. Paul for his decision to try and and work with in the 2 party system, his is the greater mountain because the leadership of the GOP is so very entrenched!”

  • I have no idea where comments about my positions were gathered from. They are entirely opposite from my actions and statements. Please do review my political courage test at vote smart and visit my website. I also invite whomever believes this article to start a conversation with me. I’ve already been threatened by Republicans on several occasions but, as usual, never face to face by anyone. I guess this is more junk talk because opponents are threatened by my campaign. Best Regards, vote your conscience.

  • We had the same issue here in New York. Warren Redlich was not the guy to put up for Governor. With the exception of John Gaetani, there were few truly qaulified candidates. I wrote an article earlier this year about how the Libertarian party had a real shot at being a very powerful and relevent party in this next decade, I may have mispoke.

  • billmccord

    Having experienced one of the two founding conventions of the LP, participated extensively in local LP efforts, and witnessed the comings and goings of several dilletantes, my guess is the LP, as an entity, still has some serious maturing to do. Scrappy tenacity will have to become operationally more important than intellectual purity. The latter will certainly help direct the former. In short, keep the adolescent energy and discard the adolescent mentality.

  • Amber

    I think what a lot of people aren’t getting is the extreme religious GOP is infiltrating and destroying state LP’s. They purge the actual Libertarians and make noises about how they’re improving what they destroyed.

    This isn’t about a few disgreements. This is criminal action and I hope someone sues.