As Trump fails to articulate his beliefs, who will communicate with the libertarians?
In 2016, the USA had the chance to elect a president who was different to the political mainstream, and they did. Whilst Donald Trump may not be a libertarian, he played on people’s dissatisfaction with the American political class. Among his ideas were some traditional conservative principles, like slashing taxes for individuals and corporations to their lowest levels ever and building a wall to stem the tide of immigration. Though many conservatives oppose the idea of a wall, they believe in curbing immigration, nonetheless.
The problem with Trump is that we know what he is against, but not what he is for. His policies are reactions to problems that have been plaguing the US for a considerable time. These include excessive government, his predecessors breaking their campaign promises, China crippling American jobs and businesses, and the idea that Washington politics needs to be drained. He does have a vision for making America ‘great again’, but it is unclear what his ideology or end goals are. With Thatcher and Reagan, they both wanted a genuine free market, low taxes, an entrepreneurial economy and the spread of democracy throughout the world. But with Trump, he is treating the presidency as if he is operating a large corporation. He is behaving as if he has been hired to transform a failing business. Clearly his supporters agree that Washington politics is broken, that the swamp needs draining, that the size of government needs to shrink. His followers will vote for him no matter what. But what does he believe in? Is he a conservative? A libertarian? A populist? This is what he struggles to articulate to people.
Once America has been made ‘great again’, what happens after that? Will it have a free market? Will the US have its superpower status restored? Will the government be smaller? Will individuals have more freedom than before? Many conservatives are appalled by his tariffs against other nations, as they believe in free trade. For example, former House Speaker Paul Ryan disagreed with them. But if the President could explain that they are only a temporary measure to encourage other nations to lower their tariffs in return and generate free trade, they might understand what he is doing, instead of labelling him as a protectionist. Trump even tweeted that he believes in fair trade, not ‘stupid’ trade. So why doesn’t he say that? There seems to be no narrative with the current President.
This is the same with his foreign policy. He is doing an amazing job with North Korea. Their regime has not fired a single nuclear missile since, and another meeting between the President and Kim Jong-un is on the cards. With Iran, he has rightfully ripped up the deal Obama signed with them, which represented a monumental failure to curb the nuclear ambitions of a dangerous Islamic regime. But what will be in its place? And what will happen to North Korea in the longer term? Will it become a free society like many Eastern European countries did after the Cold War? What will a new Iranian deal look like? And why is Trump doing all this? Is it to restore America’s place in the world? Patriotism is a rallying call for many on the right, but the President struggles to explain that he is a patriot. Again, because Obama failed to tackle North Korea and Iran, he is sorting out these problems because the previous boss left them to him instead of incorporating his foreign policy into a larger vision for the US. He uses every opportunity he can to criticise his predecessors without explaining why he is achieving what they did not.
If one calls themselves a libertarian in American politics, it would be hard to know who to vote for. The Republican Party has been hijacked by a man who is there to tidy up the mess of his predecessors, with no ideology whatsoever, and the Democrats are sinking further to the left. If you look at who is contesting the Democrat candidacy for 2020, they are candidates who are on the left of the party and who lack substance.
Elizabeth Warren, who claims she is of Native American descent, has quickly become a laughing stock. She claimed she was establishing a committee to investigate standing for president without declaring that as her intention. This made her look as dishonest as every other politician Trump criticises.She posted an embarrassing video on social media of her drinking. Even the President mockingly refers to her as ‘Pocahontas.’ California senator Kamala Harris has thrown her hat into the ring, but few people know anything about her. She believes she can fight the Republicans with her racial background and lead a coalition of millennials and minorities against the President. Yet few people knew about Obama before he ran for president and look at how disappointing he was. The New York Times published an article admitting his presidency was an embarrassing failure.
Libertarianism has been growing in popularity since the end of the 2000s. It is an ideology that advocates lower taxes and smaller government. In 2009, a libertarian movement called the Tea Party emerged in response to Obama’s plan to provide financial aid to bankrupt homeowners. Their name originates from the Boston Tea Party event of December 16, 1773 that launched the American Revolution two years later. They made an impact on American politics by leading the 2009 Taxpayer March on Washington and they influence the way the Tea Party Caucus votes in Congress. This represents how dissatisfied many conservatives have become with the direction of both the main parties. They are willing to take matters into their own hands, and rebel against the political mainstream.
In 2012 and 2016, the Libertarian Party fielded a candidate in former Republican governor Gary Johnson. When two candidates from America’s largest parties have the lowest polling numbers in history, 2016 should have been an ideal election for a third-party candidate to emerge. Yet Johnson betrayed the libertarian cause by proving to be a terrible candidate. He will forever be remembered for his ‘What is Aleppo’ remark during an interview. It made him look terribly out-of-touch with American foreign policy at a time when the US needed to lead the world again. Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns for the Republican Party nomination were largely libertarian. Paul was affiliated with the libertarian-leaning Republican Libertarian Caucus and founded the Campaign for Liberty, a libertarian lobbying organisation. Ron’s son, Rand, is the only Republican continuing the libertarian tradition, albeit in a moderate way.
Gallup conducted a series of polls over the last 13 years and found that 17-23 per cent of the electorate refer to themselves as libertarians. 511,277 voters are registered as libertarians. These voters could make a difference in many swing states. These people include former Republicans, Democrats and independent voters. Yet this is still a large segment of the electorate who probably feel ignored. The Libertarian Party may have failed to come close to obtaining the presidency, but they will act as a voice for those who are angry at the main political parties for betraying their core voters. Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld, received a record percentage of 3.28 per cent of the popular vote. This equates to 4,488,919 voters, who could have swung it either way for Trump or Clinton if either of them spoke to these people. Though they represent a small proportion of the population, that does not mean they should be locked out of the political process. This is especially true when Johnson’s support has increased since the 2012 election, where he received 1,275,821 votes.
With the Libertarian Party standing no chance of winning the presidency in the future, the Republicans must start speaking to their former supporters who have flocked to this party. Whilst Trump may have legislated lower taxes and speaks out against the Washington elite, he does not proclaim to be a libertarian and he could have curbed the Libertarian Party’s increasing popularity if he did. After eight years of big government from Obama, America desperately needs a leader who will cut taxes further for millions of ordinary Americans and prevent the government from interfering in their lives. These are voters Trump needs to speak to if he hopes to stop the Democrats from reclaiming the White House. Instead of marginalising libertarians, it is time to start listening to them. Their influence has grown since 2009 and the Tea Party acted as the only effective voice against the Obama administration during this time. Trump is missing out on a trick by failing to communicate with them or articulate a vision like theirs. The Democrats will not speak to them as they move further to the left. It is time someone did before they continue to challenge the political mainstream.
By Matthew Snape | CTM
This Article Originally published in Christian Times Magazine Issue 27 | Feb 2019