Libertarians Unite! -- Behind Trump, That Is

Outside the earshot of the news outlets and slipping through the data gathered by the pollsters, millions of conversations are taking place in America today that have the general form of:  “I don’t like his tweets but he’s done some good things” or “I don’t like Trump but the other side seems to be encouraging the rioters.” 

If you’re like me, you’ve had a conversation like this recently and you probably know other people who have also had the same.  This is the so-called “hidden support” hypothesis, the idea that there are many voters out there who secretly support Trump but are reluctant to say so publicly.  Their sentiment does not show up in opinion polls.  Thus Trump-Pence yard signs go up mostly in areas where residents feel safe to display them, while others keep their feelings to themselves.  On election day many of these will hold their nose with one hand and pull the lever for Trump with the other.  How many voters fit this description no one knows, but they could be numerous enough to offset any mischief the Democrats can cook up in counting ballots.

Recently I became acquainted with a gent who voted for the Libertarian Party in 2016, and he told me that he and many others in the party will go with Trump this time around.  I don’t know if this person was exaggerating or pointing to an actual trend within the Libertarian ranks.  There hasn’t been much reporting on the issue.  I can’t say if he was relating an important story the media is ignoring or no story at all.  Still his point is plausible:  this year many citizens with a libertarian bent are not entirely displeased with Trump’s record and are disturbed by the recent wave of Democrat-enabled lawlessness. 

Broadly speaking, a libertarian is someone who wants small government, low taxes, no foreign adventures, and a large sphere for personal freedom independent of government interference.  It would seem that there is much common ground between this outlook and Trump’s struggle to drain the swamp.  Now, Trump Libertarians (there is such a thing) and Republicans don’t share a common policy agenda, but they are generally in synch at several points by mutual interest.

My contact also thumped about the fact that the Libertarian Party scored 4.5 million votes in 2016, which turned out to be the best showing for a third party since Ross Perot in 1992.  These are motivated voters.  What’s interesting is that in several states now up for grabs, Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory over Trump was smaller than the Libertarian vote.  If my contact is right, any movement in the libertarian camp towards Trump would flip some of these states, causing the Democrats to come up short in the Electoral College.  If you like to munch on numbers, this is what relationship looked like in 2016 between some of Clinton’s victory margins and the Libertarian vote (source:  Wikipedia):

Minnesota (10 votes), Clinton +34,765 v Libertarian 53,076

Colorado (9 votes), Clinton +136,386 v Libertarian 144,121

Nevada (8 votes), Clinton +27,202 v Libertarian 37,384

New Mexico (5 votes), Clinton +65,567 v Libertarian 74,541

New Hampshire (4 votes), Clinton +2,736 v Libertarian 30,694

Maine (4 votes), Clinton +22,142 v Libertarian 38,105

The numbers imply that Trump would have to attract an astounding two-thirds of the Libertarian vote to sweep these six states, all other things being equal. That’s a tall order, but it doesn’t have to be fully satisfied. Even a modest Libertarian shift in a just a few states would change the electoral map on November 3. Combine that with movement among black and Hispanic voters, and it would spell a rout for the Democrats. It could turn blue states red.

Supporting my contact’s contention that many Libertarians are looking for a new home this year is the weakness of the party’s ticket.  Today the Libertarian banner is being carried into November by an academic lecturer and a podcaster.  Compare that to 2016.  The party attracted votes that year in part because its presidential ticket was headed by two credible candidates, both former governors, Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts.  But it was also the beneficiary of a protest vote:  both candidates Clinton and Trump had high negatives.  Four years have passed and while the far Left was taking over the Democrats Trump became the owner of a historical record the public must now judge.  For 4.5 million Libertarians the terms of reference have changed.   

Are there enough Trump Libertarians to make a difference this year?  Who knows?  Many a pundit will be looking at the poll results and analyzing the policy stances coming from libertarian institutions and intellectuals. 

But there’s another way to look at this situation.  There’s a bottom-up approach, which consists of listening to the anecdotal information emerging from millions of conversations taking place in America today that have the general form of:  “Look, I don’t like the guy but he’s done some good things.”  When you hear a longtime Trumpian critic talk like that it’s a good bet that a new Trump voter is in the making.  Such words suggest that the speaker is struggling with separating Trump the man from the issues of the day and with disentangling one’s own personal preferences from larger interests.

James Soriano is a retired Foreign Service Officer.  He has written previously for American Thinker on monetary policy.

Image: Gage Skidmore