Why the Republican Party Might Be the Best Strategy for Liberty
by John Thrasher, January 30, 2003 (posted)
Steve Gresh, in a recent Colorado Freedom Report article, wrote about his decision to leave the Libertarian Party and join the Republican Liberty Caucus. In a response John Berntson, the chair of the LPOC, tried to explain the reasons he thought this was the wrong move for Gresh and for Libertarians in general. It is not surprising that the chairman of the Libertarian party in Colorado would think that more libertarians joining the Republican Party is a bad idea, but aside from a few facts about the national RLC (Republican Liberty Caucus), Bernston's reply is largely irrelevant in that it does not attempt to answer the concerns that Gresh brought up in his original piece.
What needs to be addressed is the dismal failure of libertarians at having any impact on the creation of policy, and the complete failure of the Libertarian party to actually elect anyone on a national or even state level. Libertarians who are interested in actually affecting the political landscape should seriously consider Gresh's concerns.
Libertarians are an odd bunch. A group composed of classical liberals, anarchists, and various other groups, it is difficult to get them to agree on anything. Over the years this plurality may account for many of the libertarians' strengths as well as weaknesses. In the 60's Rothbard attempted to create a bridge to the new leftists and, to a certain extent, succeeded for a time. Later the Libertarian Party was formed in an attempt to elect libertarians to office as well as to get the libertarian message out into the political mainstream. The party polled well in their first national election, though they have not fared as well recently, and still has yet to elect any one of national significance.
The conservative movement that gained momentum after the election of Reagan in 1980 largely co-opted many of the libertarians' domestic issues regarding the economy. Though many in the libertarian movement see the conservatives as political enemies, this may be somewhat misleading.
There was a time in American history when the Republican Party held many libertarian positions. I am thinking of the party of Robert A. Taft and Barry Goldwater. They were always a minority, though both of these politicians had influence far beyond their immediate supporters. These people were not technically libertarians but conservatives, and it is thanks to them that the conservatives control large sections of the Republican Party today.
However, let's not forget that the Republican Party was not always primarily conservative. It was originally the American Whig party of Henry Clay that focused on the "American System" of a national bank and extreme protectionism. Later, in opposition to the New Deal, the party split between those trying to co-opt the New Deal and opponents of it. Taft lost his bid for president to Eisenhower and the Republican Party was controlled by its liberal wing until Barry Goldwater, and ultimately until Ronald Reagan when the conservatives took over.
The only constant through the years has been that the Republican Party has attempted to gain and hold power. This is the purpose of any political party. Republicans are not ideologues. I suspect most Republicans have no strong ideology one way or the other. Of course, this is not necessarily true of the voters; however, it seems that Republicans gain power by appealing to a broad range of voters from conservatives to traditionalist liberals and even libertarians.
The Republicans know that the Libertarian Party takes votes from them in every election. Has this made the Republican Party more libertarian? It seems that the best hope for libertarians is to try it infiltrate and take over the Republican Party. In this way libertarians could have access to the vast party machinery and funds that go to the Republicans. It is possible for a small group of libertarians to take over the structure that runs certain key elements; for instance, the various mechanisms for choosing candidates as well as the chairs of various committees.
Once we have these positions controlled by libertarians, we can radically change party policy. This strategy has been used by communists all over the world and by conservatives in the Republican Party in the 1960's. It has a proven track record of success.
The main problem I see is that this plan is essentially political work of the variety that libertarians tend to dislike. It means getting into the nitty gritty of Republican Party politics. Making them trust us as valuable members of the Republican Party machinery before we institute our coup. This would be grueling work, though I think the more of us who joined, and the variety of angles we applied would increase our possibility of success. Once we can get our candidates in races, voters will be faced with either voting for a Republican they don't totally agree with or voting Democratic. Most will vote Republican. Further, by simply changing our name we can have access to a vastly larger audience that is somewhat sympathetic to our views already.
Some might argue there is a danger that libertarian positions will inevitably become watered down as a result of this strategy. Of course, we must guard against this, though as libertarians, we have a much stronger ideological base than the Republicans and I suspect it is their ideas that might be injected with a libertarian tonic that can be sold to the public. It goes without saying that the only way to see what would happen under this strategy is to actually try it out. The worst possible outcome would be taking some members from the LPOC. As the LPOC has yet to achieve any success, the worst possible outcome of this scenario is essentially the status quo.