Go Find Yourself A Wrestler
by Richard Lamping, October 15, 2000
Numbers matter. Polls matter. This is why the National Libertarian Party (LP) and the Harry Browne for President campaign have been promoting polling results recently showing Browne ahead of Buchanan. The campaign and the party have begun to protest national news sources like Meet the Press, as well as polling companies like Gallup. Inclusion in the polls gets you on TV, and TV time gets you into the debates, theoretically.
Frustrating as it must be to be on the ballot in 49 states, and still not be considered worth covering, there is an explanation. There is a reason why Browne is not on TV when Buchanan and Nader make the news without effort. There is a good reason why the polling the LP refers to is not taken seriously by much of the national media. These reasons must be understood in order to comprehend the outcome in November, and be prepared to capitalize on it.
Name recognition among the general public is the main reason Buchanan and Nader get the media spotlight. Everybody knows both of these men, only a small sliver of the public knows Harry Browne. Nader and Buchanan have been cultivating media sources since the 60s. Buchanan was White House Press Secretary for Nixon, and a regular on political and media insider shows for decades. Nader's book "Unsafe at Any Speed" has been taught to high school and college students for more than thirty years. The youngest voters watched Jesse "The Body" Ventura on Saturday morning TV almost 20 years ago. Ross Perot had name recognition not only for his billion dollar 'rags to riches' story, but also for his controversial interventions into military and political affairs dating back decades.
Buchanan and Nader are proven to boost ratings, draw eyes to the TV, and encourage viewers to pay attention. Complaining about celebrity getting more attention than ideas, is like complaining about the rain.
Where does Harry Browne show up in the latest CNN/Newsweek or Gallup polls? The answer is simple, and also the answer to why he is not on the tube. It's about ratings - the Browne campaign has none. He doesn't make the 'blip' that Nader and Buchanan do.
The LP argument that TV journalists will improve their ratings, because ratings were improved when Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura were included in debates, is also weak. Perot was polling at better than 20% in the spring of 1992, and in some cases better than 30%, well in advance of the debates. His campaign had burned through more than $30 million, and name recognition was very close to 100% among the voting public. Ventura was polling at better than 20% in August of 1998, and also had near 100% name recognition.
What bumps ratings? Name recognition advertising. How much advertising has been purchased for Harry Browne? A million dollars? Two? Not even enough to buy a reasonably priced congressional seat in rural Kansas.
"Go find yourself a wrestler." -- Doug Casey
I spoke with Doug Casey, well known Libertarian author and speaker, about the prospects of a friend of his running for U.S. Senate in Colorado. He saw the need for a champion whose image transcends public perception of the Libertarian Party. This is not an easy task in a party where, by definition, ideas should matter more than personalities. The Libertarian Party is a party of ideas and a consistent political philosophy.
People liked Ventura and Perot because they seemed to speak the truth, from within them. Voters felt like a philosophy was driving their political vision. George Bush has the image, the name recognition and the most expensive team of experts to promote his message, yet his lack of any consistent political philosophy makes him impotent. All the form in the world cannot save him from a lack of substance.
If the Libertarian Party is to include its candidates in debates, it will be a result of cultivating characters that people recognize. Nader and Buchanan, Perot and Ventura, these men do not beg for inclusion. These men have earned and paid for inclusion through decades of media involvement and study. These men know how to demand attention. When a Libertarian steps into the ring in the large way these men have done, he will be in the debates. He will be in all the debates.
"Half the truth is a great lie" -- Ben Franklin
The Georgia poll the LP is referencing, that shows Browne at 4% and ahead of Buchanan, was conducted by the Georgia Victory 2000 GOP Committee. According to the LP press release, 8% of Independents surveyed in Georgia support Browne. This is the skew that brings Browne to 4%, and the party is promoting it as a show of strength. Why? Does either the LP or the Browne campaign expect to get 4% in Georgia?
An LP press release shows Browne at "three percent in Colorado, according to a poll by Talmey-Drake Research & Strategy, conducted for the Rocky Mountain News and News4, and released on September 10. Nader was at 5%; Buchanan trailed at 1%." A campaign that has spent no money in Colorado, is quoting a poll that shows support is at 3%? Based on what? Browne has spent no money on advertising in Colorado, and has visited twice in the past year. Is this huge jump in popularity reported in the poll evidence of effective campaigning? Is the Browne message getting through to Coloradoans?
Ironically, when Harry Browne was scheduled to appear at a Libertarian event orchestrated by some of the most active Libertarians in Colorado, the campaign chose to leave local activists in the dark about Browne's plans during the visit until a day before he arrived. At the last minute, the Browne campaign revealed that in the middle of the Constitution Monday event in Denver, Browne would be flying off to Grand Junction to get interviewed by a TV station, and then would be flown back to speak at the Denver event. Of course, getting on TV is important, but Grand Junction is a market of about fifty thousand people. Nine Libertarians picking fruit in August at a farm near Grand Junction got two networks to cover an INS protest. Getting on camera in Grand Junction is easy.
What isn't easy is getting the cameras to show up in Denver, a market of more than two million people. As a result of the lack of planning and communication, John Hagelin, presidential candidate for the Natural Law Party, not Harry Browne, appeared in a photo and story in the next day's Rocky Mountain News.
The credibility of the LP is strained when it is willing to roll out polls from small markets as evidence of strength. Polls that show Browne at 3 or 4 percent are not credible when Browne will lucky to get even 2 percent anywhere. Based on what? Advertising?
On election day, as the cash flow stream dries for campaigns and parties, where will Libertarians be?
"Go find yourself a wrestler."
Doug Casey is right. The Libertarian movement lacks a clear leader, an obvious champion. A Charlton Heston, or Jesse Ventura. A ten ton gorilla that cannot be ignored, and cannot be dismissed.
Jesse Ventura should give us all hope. He was elected, not his party. An individual, not a group. He spent about $600,000, while the Democrat and Republican spent a combined $13 million. Couple this with the fact that George Bush is about to lose big after spending over a hundred million dollars. These men are the evidence that money is not always the deciding factor in politics. It's more about personalities and ideas and strategies.
Richard Lamping is president of The M1 Group, Inc., a Libertarian political consulting/messaging organization. email@example.com, 303.947.9479.