Journalists watch Republican U.S. presidential candidates Donald Trump (L) and Ted Cruz debate on large video monitors in the media filing center during the Republican U.S. presidential candidates debate sponsored by CNN at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida March 10, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Death With Dignity: The Principled Insanity of Conservative Electoral Strategy

“We don’t win anymore.”

If there’s one overwhelmingly applicable truth that conservatarians can glean from the deranged ramblings of Herr Trump, it’s the one his campaign has helped reinforce this cycle at the expense of the constitutional right: we don’t win anymore.

Conservatives have become the Cleveland Browns of American politics. Sure, on a good year we can string together a few regular-season wins, but the most we can hope for by the postseason is a high draft pick and a new coach.

Only we don’t ever get a new coach. We just keep trying the same failed plays over and over again, causing our veteran players to become resentful and despondent, and our young talent to go all Johnny Manziel.

Trump’s army of quasi-populist tariff zombies have joined with Reince Priebus and Republican Party leadership to run roughshod over principled conservatives this year, and the losses are continuing to pile up. Yet the difficulty of this primary season is just a little beach spray compared to the November tsunami that’s about to break squarely on the GOP.

Even worse than the coming electoral disaster is the long-term cost to conservatives. As Ben Shapiro brilliantly points out in this Mortal Kombat-worthy brutality, Trump has not merely blocked the right from success in the general, but has effectively rendered conservatives powerless in our own party, destroying some of our champions along the way.

Still, ask the average right-of-center voter how they plan to vote in the general this year, and you’ll get a range of responses from the half-embarrassed mutter of “well we have to stop Hillary…so…I guess… I’ll vote Trump”, to the bold declarations of principle from fed-up conservatarians who plan to stay home, write-in, or vote third party.

I’ll leave the rebuke of the former group to folks like Shapiro, Jonah Goldberg, and Matt Walsh – all of whom have laid bare the fallacies of the “or else” voting bloc.

I want to focus on the latter, folks who don’t seem to have any clear vision or focus beyond escaping this election without a sullied conscience. And while that’s an admirable and necessary first goal, it is lazy and short-sighted to make it the only goal.

The Founding Fathers didn’t expect us to maintain our Republic by launching unprepared into every political battle and then retreating to our Netflix-and-ice-cream fortresses while the world burns, content that we did our best. They expected us to fight using what is available to us.

Look, I don’t meant to twist the knife here, but my worldview insists that we take responsibility for failure, and learn from it – and there’s a lot of failure to own.

For years I’ve watched conservative thinkers, writers, activists, talk show hosts, leaders, and legislators beat their heads into the wall of mathematical reality, bathing their doomed efforts in inspirational quotes and growling through clenched teeth that if we were just more passionate, more courageous, more principled, more forthright, we would win.

We keep trying to run faster, jump higher, hit harder, without considering the possibility that we need a new coach, and a new gameplan.

After a lot of discussion with people in the three camps of dissenters in the GOP (stay home, write-in, third party) it’s become apparent that only one worthy goal remains attainable in 2016 – elevating a third party to major status.

That goal is difficult, in part because many of the most vocal #NeverTrump leaders are hedging their bets on a Trump loss and counting on the intra-party leverage such a dismantling is likely to provide. They’re trying to wait out the bad relationship, hoping to be the best friend the GOP comes running back to when it all falls apart.

I don’t share their optimism.  If Trump can roll through the GOP primary while spitting in the face of conservatives and abandoning every policy position we care about, then we are numerically irrelevant in the GOP.  Future Republican figureheads now know that the Christian/Constitutional Right is a paper tiger – unreliable at best, impotent at worst.

Trump’s rise is the cold water to the face that conservatives needed to realize that the GOP is no longer “our” party. As my friend Steve Deace likes to put it, the marriage is already dead, we’re just staying together for the kids.

So where do we go?

Working within the bounds of present political reality, I see only one solution with any reasonable chance of success – and it’s not for the faint of heart.

The Mathematics of Failure

The reason that more courage and principle can’t provide a way back from the brink is that our principled fortitude has run headlong into a very predictable demographic wall called “millennials”.

For years, the right’s culture warriors predicted that unless we changed culture, our political efforts would be ultimately doomed.

They were right.

The millennial generation, while showing some promise in areas like gun rights and abortion, has given up on social conservatism and only barely embraces a brand of libertarianism that it can’t even define.

Millennials, who now make up over 30% of the voting population, hate the current political parties more than any other generation on record, which puts a timer on the existing duopoly.  A Marist poll this week found that only 9% of Millennial voters plan to support Donald Trump – compared to 41% for Hillary Clinton, 23% for not-quite-Libertarian Gary Johnson, 16% for the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

The older demographics don’t do the GOP nominee any more favors. Even out of Trump’s self-proclaimed supporters, only 38% say they support him for his own sake – 57% support him only out of opposition to Hillary.

Trump draws support from only 55% of conservative voters – you know, the group Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham insist are behind him all the way.

But of all the numbers that threaten conservatives in the 2016 election, perhaps the most dangerous is the number “2” – that’s how many nationally-recognized major parties are available in all 50 states to receive your vote.

As Trump’s dominating primary win proved, conservatives are no longer a majority within the GOP, and that’s a problem for a subgroup that already feels its legislative leaders perennially disregard its policy goals.

As long as only two major parties exist and are sanctioned by state electoral laws, conservatives will lack representation in either.

I’ve long advocated staying in the GOP as long as it was mathematically possible to be relevant there. It makes no sense to undertake a task so daunting as starting a new national party when there is still hope of working effectively within an existing one.

But working for party leadership positions and primary wins isn’t likely to produce the change we desire as long as we are a perpetual minority against the Trumpstablishment. We have to look at a new gameplan.

It’s apparent that the GOP is merely the first victim of widespread discontent with the current selection – and some evidence suggests that the Democrats won’t be far behind. It may be time to diversify our political assets beyond the ailing Republican Party, and that means conservative ideals need a new vehicle.

Write-In Wrongs

Many #NeverTrump folks – former supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz in particular – have pushed for a national write-in campaign this fall. Some urge folks to write in Cruz, others Sen. Ben Sasse or another high-profile Trump critic, and some an abstract like “none of the above“.

The problem is that this achieves only catharsis.

Many Ron Paul supporters wrote in their hero in the 2012 general election, but their votes went directly into the memory hole of electoral documentation.  Write-in votes are nearly impossible to organize, and are not recorded or reported in many states. They not only don’t affect the outcome of 2016, they don’t even change the narrative or provide a platform for the future.

Principled voters might find their conscience satisfied by such a vote (again, catharsis), but frankly there are better ways to waste your time.

You can do more with your five minutes in the voting booth.

Thinking Beyond 2016

This presidential election is already sunk, no matter who wins – and there are only two people at this time who can possibly win.

The fact that I’m about to encourage you to vote third party doesn’t mean I buy into the nonsense that a third party can actually win this time.  Having worked for the Ron Paul campaign toward the end of the convention process in 2012, I know that when you see headlines like “How (insert candidate polling below 10%) could WIN THE PRESIDENCY!” you’re most likely looking at a blog full of wishful thinking and fuzzy math.

No, Gary Johnson can’t win, and ironically, that’s why you should vote for him.

I can already hear the objections being shouted at computer and phone screens everywhere:

“But he’s a liberal!”

“He’s just the lesser of three evils!”

“If I won’t violate my principles for Trump, why would I violate them for Johnson?”

I sympathize with those objections, and worked through them myself only when it became evident that no one representing any portion of my values had a viable path to the White House in 2016. At that point, I realized that we have to start thinking beyond 2016, and planning ahead – being proactive rather than reactive.

If conservatives cannot cobble together a majority in their own party and thus remain unrepresented in the GOP, perhaps it’s time we change the math to correspond with the political reality of our generation. There are not two political persuasions, but three: conservative, liberal, and centrist.

As it is, centrists and independents are forced to vote for one of the two major parties beholden to their respective bases. But on the right, it is now apparent that centrists are no longer fighting for a voice – they are the majority, and conservatives are the minority.

And in politics, without a majority, you are nothing.

Conservatives have been voted off the island, and we need a new home. Right now no third party represents a real challenge to the duopoly, but with historically unpopular nominees in both parties, that could change this year – introducing the possibility that future elections could feature three choices rather than two. But that can’t happen without a unified and concerted effort to push a single third party over the 5% threshold and into major status.

Right now only one third party is positioned to gain ballot access in all 50 states – a huge hurdle for a new party and a prerequisite for any meaningful protest vote – and that’s the Libertarian Party.

It’s true that the LP’s platform is in dire need of reform, and its nominee is less libertarian than roughly half of the GOP primary candidates, but that’s precisely where their inability to actually win this time becomes an asset.

Gary Johnson can’t win, and will never set policy, therefore Gary Johnson’s policy preferences are irrelevant.

I don’t much care about the political views of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, because his views don’t have any bearing on national policy.  Similarly, Gary Johnson can believe whatever he wants, because he’s never going to get the chance to implement anything.

The basis of principled voting isn’t about feelings. I don’t oppose Trump because I don’t *like* his opinions.  If I were hiring him as a marketing agent or a real estate agent, I really wouldn’t care that he’s a New York liberal. But since he has a chance of winning the presidency and imposing his liberal values on me, I’m forced to oppose him. Ditto for Hillary.

See, the downside of voting third party is mitigated by their inability to win the current general election, but the upside is enhanced by the fact that once elevated to major status, their primaries will matter in the future – and not only present conservatives another choice in their political affiliation, but also give them the power to leverage parties against one another and pull them our way on policy.

Here’s how it works.

If the Libertarian Party reaches 5% in the general election this year, they will become eligible for federal funds, which in turn encourages more investment both by donors and influential political figures, which results in greatly-enhanced competitiveness in 2020 and beyond.

Why should conservatives care about the success of a third party?

Because math.

Because we have to reduce the majority ratios to be relevant again. We’ve established that conservatives have lost sway within the GOP, but if a third party becomes electorally relevant, the mathematical parameters can be altered to make a minority relevant through coalition.

This works equally whether the new party is on the ideological left or right. A party is just a container, waiting to be filled by political activists and their ideals.

Track with me here.

If the new major party is on the right, then it will become the far right party to counter the leftward drift of the GOP.  Conservatarians from the GOP will shift to this third party, and moderate democrats will shift right to the now-centrist Republican Party, leaving the Democrat party to the Sanders socialist types.

If the new party is on the left, the same effect will happen in the opposite direction. If Bernie Sanders endorses Jill Stein and leads a leftward exodus from the Democrat Party, the Democrat party will become more centrist (in membership, not necessarily in platform). Moderates in the GOP would then have more in common with the Democrats, and the Republican party would once again be the party of the right.

Those of us who believe in the free market know that competition promotes excellence, but for some reason many people abandon this thinking when it comes to elections.

Maybe it’s time to reinvest the efforts we’ve wasted on primary battles in which we are no longer competitive, and focus on securing the benefits of a party that can be reformed to actually represent our values, with the understanding that platforms are more easily changed than ballot access.

Maybe it’s time to reevaluate the blind reactionism and the aimless panic that has lost us game after game, and consider a new gameplan.

Joel Kurtinitis is a columnist for the Des Moines Register, contributing editor for The Liberty Conservative, and operations director for the US Federalist Party.

Joel was a Regional Director for Ron Paul 2012 and served on the State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Iowa. He co-founded Liberty Iowa in the wake of the Paul campaign, and organized the Free DC Project during the government shutdown of 2013.

When not busy setting the virtual world aflame with controversy, Joel is actually an okay guy who enjoys reading, cooking, chess, bluegrass music, and an occasional foray into fiction writing. Joel and his family live in Des Moines, IA.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks Joel great work. You are totally right, this election is lost and people should reevaluate future options. Both major political parties are so corrupted by special interests that they no longer represent the best interests of the common person; it is all about what special protection/subsidy can someone get from the Government, all in the guise of philanthropy.

    If the Libertarian Party (LP) is to be successful in the future they need to be true to there roots which is exactly why they could have mass appeal. Unless you are looking for special treatment, Libertarians are everyone best friend on the issues because they are all about protecting your rights.

    However, the LP does need to get its act together. 1. Go Big: They need to be so much more evolved with elections at all levels and especially with local races. 2. Stick to Values, not parties:They need to support all candidates including ones from different parties that share their values. 3. Bigger Tent: Reach out to libertarian grassroots organizations for advice and seek areas of agreement. 4. Message: They need to be able to clearly articulate the overall message better and relate that message to what is wrong with the other two major parties. 5. Stay True: Do not be Co-Opted by the same special interest that the other two parties have adopted.

    In truth it is an exciting time to be a libertarian, the movement is growing like never before.

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