Trump is getting a drubbing in the polls, he’s now trailing Hillary by anything from 6% to 15%, he’s behind in all of the swing states, indeed he’s even now behind in Georgia a normally safe Republican state.
Indeed, I would argue that Trump’s latest headache (implying that gun nuts should shoot at Hillary) was triggered by a ham-fisted attempt by Trump to shore up support with conservative voters. Yes, Trump is in so much trouble he’s having to campaign to hold onto normally safe Republican states.
So in part Trump’s predicament is due to self inflicted wounds. But it is also due to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who is running at +8% in the polls, as high as 15% in some normally safe Republican states. And Johnson has been capitalising on Trump’s blunders, picking up endorsements from Republican members of Congress. There is talk that Johnson may now well represent a genuine third party challenge in this campaign, which could be as much a headache for Clinton as it is for Trump.
But in a close election, the polls do tend to narrow close to election day. The nature of America’s flawed two party system means its often a choice between twiddledum and twiddledee. This time however, I would argue that as far as any moderate Republican is concerned, certainly for anyone with libertarian sympathies, its no contest.
Trump is promoting a racist, neo-fascist agenda, one that is so authoritarian they even want to ban porn. And of course restricting immigration to the degree he proposes is very much “central planning“, where some bureaucrat sitting in a government office decides whether an employer will be able to hire the staff he needs to stay in business. In short, he’s probably the most libertarian unfriendly candidate the GOP has fielded in a long time.
Also, the GOP have developed a nasty tendency to talk the talk on national debt and the deficit, but not walk the walk. All three of their most recent president’s ran up huge deficits, while Hillary’s husband ran a surplus. There is a need for conservatives who take this issue seriously to force the Republican party to nail its colours to the mast. Are they still the party of prudent finances and small government? Because all the indications are that Trump would take a wrecking ball to public finances. The latest estimate is he’ll blow a $9.5 trillion hole in US government finances, most of which will probably have to be borrowed.
In short, any libertarian, forced to choose between Hillary and Trump would have to tick the box next to Hillary’s name once you go issue by issue through Trump’s recent statements. However, I understand the reluctance of Republicans to do that (I’m not exactly a fan of hers either), so my advice would be, if you can’t bring yourself to vote Hillary then vote for Gary Johnson. And here’s why….
In a tight race, if Johnson is sitting on a high enough level of support, enough to swing the election, for a brief period in late October he’ll be the most powerful person in the country, the defacto kingmaker. He could do a deal with Hillary, she takes on some of his manifesto commitments (e.g. she agrees to not spend recklessly but work towards eliminating the deficit), or maybe she agrees to appoint a member of the libertarian party to a senior cabinet post. In return Gary Johnson endorses Hillary in several key swing states, but urges his supporters to vote for him everywhere else, so they can hold her feet to the fire afterwards. In the space of one phone call, Gary Johnson will have done more to reign in the democrats on many core conservative issues than the Republican controlled Congress has achieved over the last 8 years.
Now okay, any deal between Hillary and Johnson does seem unlikely (current polls suggest she probably won’t need his support to win), although not as unlikely as one between him and Trump (much of Johnson’s support are in the anyone but Trump camp who wouldn’t vote for him if you dragged them to the polls by wild horses), or as unlikely as a deal between Hillary and Green party candidate Jill Stein (she’s had a bounce thanks to disenfranchised Bernie supporters). But my point is that conservatives could achieve more by supporting Johnson than Trump. Not least because we need to consider what happens after the election.
Let’s be realistic – Hillary is probably going to win. Nevermind the current polls, demographics have been working against the Republicans for some time now. In 1980 Reagan won 56% of white voters and won by a landslide, in 2012 Romney won 59% of the same voters and lost decisively. And while Romney was polling 47% of hispanic voters (Bush won with 44% of the same group) Trump is polling less than 12%. He’s doing badly with women too…..and likely with military veterans now also! Even if the polls showed him neck and neck with Hillary, the odds are, once we factor in the above demographics, she’d still be expected to win. Unless he’s well ahead by election day, he’s got no chance.
To my mind the question conservatives need to ask is not, how do we stop Hillary? (go back in time and elect someone other than Trump as your nominee!). But how do they save the GOP from a complete collapse afterwards.
In the wake of Trump’s likely defeat, various factions will struggle for control of the GOP, the white supremacist (now firmly out of the closet thanks to Trump), the religious right (ditto!), the establishment, etc. A strong showing by Gary Johnson means that fiscal conservatives can point to his success as indicating that what people want is a GOP that returns to its roots as a party, not of racist bigots, religious bible thumper’s or corporate suck ups, but one advocating small government and balanced budgets.
And if the GOP fails to get this message, if one of the other factions takes over the party, the libertarian party will be well placed to capitalise and assume the mantle of the leading party of the right. Consider that if Johnson manages to hold his current lead (or indeed just get more than 5%) then next election he’ll gain access to federal funding, he’ll be on the ballot in all 50 states and he’ll be all but guaranteed a seat at the 2020 debates.
On the topic of the debates incidentally, there are some arguing for Johnson to be included in the debates this time around. I would agree, but equally I’d argue it would only be fair to include Jill Stein as well. In fact what I’d like to see is a 4 person debate followed up by a series of one on one debates, e.g. Trump v’s Hillary, Trump v’s Johnson, Stein v’s Hillary, etc. This would give everyone a fair chance to set up their stall.
But I digress. For it also has to be said that this election represents a historic opportunity for the libertarians. I’ve long heard them propose that the majority of Americans want small government, despite constant evidence to the contrary, e.g. polls showing the majority of Americans (in particular Republicans) hold authoritarian views, or election results where parties who cut back on public services or try to balance the books are punished in the polls.
To be blunt, if the libertarians can’t make a descent showing this year, then they may as well pack up and go home. Because what a poor showing from Johnson this year will prove is the reality that, yes some Americans like to fantasise about small government and low tax, but when push comes to shove, they’ll cling for the security blanket of big government.
In summary, if you hold vaguely conservative views, you really do have to have a good long think about whether you really want to vote for Trump (for all the reasons Clint Eastwood seemed to ignore). Such tribal politics of voting for which ever lunatic the GOP nominates will be the death of the party. Hillary is clearly the lesser of two evils, even when you look at her through conservative eyes.
But if you can bring yourself to do that, then consider voting for a third party candidate, notably Gary Johnson. Voting for Johnson might not change the outcome of this election, but it might well have a big impact on the next one, as well as setting a tone for Clinton’s presidency.