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Why the Libertarian Party Fails

by Nelson Hultberg | Americans for a Free Republic
August 13, 2014

Many in America’s freedom movement still hope that the Libertarian Party will one day become a power on the political scene to challenge the Democrat-Republican monolith. But in 42 years it hasn’t happened, and it probably won’t happen. There are some very distinct reasons why the LP and all other alternative / independent parties fail. This essay will examine them.

Let’s take, for example, the top independent parties out there: the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party. Even though each of them have appeared at times to be a start toward genuine political reform, they repeatedly fail because they have structured themselves upon the mistake of instant idealism, which leads to their marginalization.

Instant Idealism

This mistake is made because these two parties both have “ideal visions” of the way they feel society should be politically organized, and they attempt to implement their visions all at once through the political process. They ignore the fact that politics is a game of incrementalism, that it is not an arena in which an "ideal society" can suddenly be voted into place. Because they try to do this, they are perceived by the public as not living in the real world.

For example, when asked what tax policy they advocate for the country, libertarians reply that the income tax should be abolished and government should be stripped down to a minimal state that can exist upon excise taxes and tariffs. This would be the limited government that the Founders advocated, which, of course, would be wonderful to have. But it is not a credible political platform to be gained through a political campaign today. It is rather an "ideal" that we can approach over the next 50-100 years. The members of the Constitution Party respond in the same way. Both of these parties wish to instantly implement their visions of the ideal. There is no acceptance of the need for incrementalism upon which all of politics is based.

As a result, both of these parties frighten the electorate with dissolution of the welfare state. Consequently they are marginalized as foolishly utopian. They end up getting at best 1% of the vote on Election Day. They remain obscure fringe voices. No national media pursue them, no nationally prominent candidates seek to run under their banner, no big money flows into their coffers, and most importantly they are never invited to the national TV presidential debates.

How We Solve the Problem

This is the crucial mistake that any independent party challenge of the establishment must avoid: instant idealism. If an independent party wishes to become viable and succeed, it must offer radical enough change to separate itself from the Democrat-Republican monopoly, but not so radical that it frightens the voters and becomes marginalized.

This is how the National Independent Party is structured. Its Four Pillars of Reform for our tax, monetary, immigration, and foreign policy systems will stop the growth of government, but will not create fear among the voters and lead to marginalization. This will allow the party to attract a nationally prominent candidate to head the ticket who can command 30% plus in the polls (like Ross Perot in 1992), which will mandate that he be invited to participate in the national TV presidential debates. This will bring major media to hang out on his front doorstep as well as major money into the campaign’s coffers.

Blending Idealism and Practicality

To bring this about will require a blend of idealism and practicality, which means incremental policy proposals. For example, the National Independent Party candidate cannot campaign on “ending the income tax and the Fed” like Ron Paul did. This will marginalize him (as it did Ron Paul) and bring him only 10%-12% of the vote, which will keep him out of the national TV presidential debates. Absence from the debates guarantees failure.

What needs to be done is to recruit a prominent free-market conservative such as Ted Cruz or Mike Lee to campaign on the Four Pillars of Reform upon which the National Independent Party is structured. These Four Pillars are:

1) Enact a simplified 15% flat tax, explaining that it is the only tax compatible with our founding principle – “equal rights under the law.” By ending progressive tax rates, we will stop the redistribution of wealth that allows government to grow so relentlessly.

2) Enact Milton Friedman’s 4% auto-expansion plan for the Federal Reserve. By ending the arbitrary expansion of money by the FOMC, we will reduce annual price inflation in our economy to zero.

3) Vigorously crack down on illegal immigration by eliminating the magnets of jobs, welfare services, education, etc. that draw illegals to America. No amnesty will be granted; self-deportation will be implemented.

4) End our militaristic, police-the-world foreign policy that is bankrupting us both financially and morally. The dangers to America do not lie in foreign lands; they lie here at home in Washington.

The above four reforms do not achieve the ideal. But they will dramatically stop the runaway freight train of government growth and restore freedom and sanity to America.

Yes, Ron Paul is right. We eventually need to abolish the income tax and the Fed. But this will take 40 years to bring about, maybe longer. A whole new generation of scholars and pundits will have to be ushered in to educate the people as to the merits of such goals. These proposals are not something that a political candidate can base his campaign on today if he wishes to get into the national TV presidential debates, which he must do if he intends to be effective. No candidate or party has a chance unless they are in the debates.

This means the national “election” debates, not the primary “nomination” debates. The primary nomination debates, are viewed by only about 15 million viewers on cable TV and are minor league affairs. Also they are not mandated to give equal time to all candidates. Thus the statist moderators can ignore a freedom candidate, which is what they did to Ron Paul.

The national election debates, with 70 million viewers, are carried by the major networks and are big league affairs. Also they are mandated to give equal time to all candidates. A freedom candidate cannot be ignored. This is why the national debates are so important in the fight to save freedom; they give us a means to dramatically reach the people.

Crucial Facts of Reality

The Libertarian and Constitution Parties appear to be oblivious to these crucial facts of reality about politics in America. As a result they get only 1% of the vote on Election Day. If freedom is to be saved, it cannot be marginalized. It must be portrayed in a sane, non-threatening manner. Unfortunately, the Libertarian and Constitution Parties do not do this, and consequently they fail.

Tragically our media pundits don’t think these things through and, thus, ritualistically condemn alternative / independent political parties to the American people. They fail to see that it is not independent parties that “will never work.” It is independent parties that marginalize themselves that will never work.

Avoid marginalization, and an independent party challenge to the Democrat-Republican monopoly would sweep to victory. The American people are ready for such a challenge. The latest Gallup poll in January of 2014 shows that 42% of voters identify as “independent,” while only 31% identify as Democrats and 25% as Republicans.

The people are overwhelmingly with us, but just don’t know it yet because nobody has come along to explain it to them. This is what a National Independent Party candidate (such as Cruz or Lee) would do. Subconsciously Americans are sick to death with the Democrat-Republican monolith. An NIP candidate will bring all this to the surface in tens of millions of voters.

Ross Perot showed us the way strategically in 1992. By getting into the national TV presidential debates, a candidate can tap into the massive antagonism toward the Democrat-Republican monopoly lurking in the American voters' minds. All we need to do to improve on Perot’s performance (and win) is run a nationally prominent conservative candidate that espouses "freedom" instead of the "vague reformism" that Perot preached. The American people are ready for this. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, this revolution is coming to America. Victor Hugo said it best: “There is nothing more powerful in history than an idea whose time has come.”


Nelson Hultberg is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas and the Director of Americans for a Free Republic His articles have appeared over the past 20 years in such publications as The Dallas Morning News, American Conservative, Insight, The Freeman, Liberty, and The Social Critic, as well as on numerous Internet sites such as Capitol Hill Outsider, Conservative Action Alerts, Daily Paul, Canada Free Press, The Daily Bell, etc. He is the author of The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values.

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We can win if we focus on winning people over.

If any libertarian wanted any real chance of winning the next presidential election, or any election,they should be running a campaign to win people over right now.

I think the best way to incrementally get rid of the income tax would be to first "call the bluff" of our current members of congress by suggesting a flat tax with the only tax exemption being the first $50,000 of income is non-taxable.No one making under $50,000 would pay income tax.I think this would get instant mass support.Both democrat and republican members of congress would have a very hard time arguing against this and it would probably be amusing hearing their arguments.The "tax the rich" mantra of democrats would be rendered ineffective.Republican members of congress would get a lot of flack and lost votes from their current supporters if they did not support this.

I think this would win a lot of people over from both parties and I think it should be obvious that winning people over must be the focus if you want to win the battle of the hearts and minds of people.Here is a suggestion on how to do that:

If we had a large enough amount of people in America and the world united behind our shared principles, and demanded strict adherence to said principles over politics or parties,then the politicians would truly have to represent us or find themselves out of a job and irrelevant.The word "we" is being used to refer to the people here who support the principles of truth,liberty,peace,the golden rule,the non-aggression principle,sound money,ending the drug war and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

We can make progress every single day if we focus on winning hearts and minds. Here is a suggestion on how to do it: We get one or more great short ads/videos that promote our shared values. Just picture a short video explaining why we should bring our troops home, have sound money, cut taxes and spending, balance the budget, end the drug war and give power to the individual while promoting the golden rule,the non-aggression principle and voluntary humanitarian help to our fellow man.

Then we have a money bomb only to DIRECTLY purchase airtime for said ad/video. We vote with our dollars on which video is best.Then we have a "time bomb"(lol) where we all donate our time and focus our efforts spreading the video on facebook, twitter, youtube etc. Keeping it front page on the DP would surely help. Imagine if for a period of time, let's say a month, the front page of Daily Paul was dedicated to an effort to spread a video that promoted all the principles we share. The video could also include a link or mention of DP and/or a dedicated website sending new people there to join in the effort. Then we fine tune our efforts to make sure we are winning people over. And as long as we see it is working, we NEVER stop.

While commercials for politicians become obsolete,the principles of truth,freedom,peace,non-aggression and goodwill will NOT become obsolete.I do not think a reasonable person would argue against the statement that the more people we have united behind these principles,the better.Therefore,does this idea not make sense?

With the "time bomb" method, we could make our message go viral on the internet, nationwide and worldwide, without asking people for money. With the right videos and a united effort by us, I am convinced this would work. In my opinion, this is how we win.

Anyone got a better idea? I'm all ears.

(Here is the link to a previous post suggesting this idea.If anyone has any good short videos/ideas please post them to this previous thread.Thank You)

And the bed of sand?

I agree that incrementalism is a viable strategy, but I would contend the promise and hope of instant change was what propelled O into office. Unfortunately most voters do not seem to actually investigate and understand the issues and thus vote for the most emotionally persuasive/manipulative candidate. When most of the voters do not align with the two party system, which promotes incrementalism, it would seem an argument could be made that what is wanted by the electorate is in fact instant change.

Not yet mentioned is the absolute necessity of banning electronic voting machines; any office holder elected with the assistance of electronic voting machines, to my knowledge, cannot actually prove they were legally elected. Given the demonstrable ability to hack a voting machine, it is naive to believe any alternative will be allowed to assume even an iota of power when inscrupulous individuals have the opportunity to manipulate elections in their favor at the push of a button. This is the bed of sand upon which no castle or republic can be built. Any serious contender for any office must insist on paper ballots and robust oversight by human beings or they are merely playing into the hands of the technokleptocratic oligarchists.

Further, in light of the ongoing intelligence revelations, it is clear that none of us have any idea how many people actually believe what. Online polls are manipulated, ratings and reception of content are falsified and disinfo and astroturfing trolls are everywhere. Plato's allegory of the cave has been transformed into a genuine system of control, and online MSM polls, MSM news, talking points, social media, entertainment programs with embedded propaganda etc. have all become the shadows on the wall.

In the end, the article is a hopeful one. The policy changes are reasonable and appear as if they could succeed. Nevertheless, the contribution operates upon a number of premises that are naive in the extreme, e.g.: "Tragically our media pundits don’t think these things through and, thus, ritualistically condemn alternative / independent political parties to the American people." That anyone can actually claim with a straight face that such a thing as press integrity and intellectual rigor would be allowed to be broadcast or published in the current corporate MSM news environment is shockingly laughable. It is very difficult for me to get on board with any program that doesn't honestly and repeatedly acknowledge how broken and manipulated the system has become.

"For what avails a golden key if it cannot give access to the object which we wish to reach, and why find fault with a wooden key if it serves our purpose?" -Augustine

I don't think it has anything to do with idealism

'instant' or otherwise.

The real problem is you're playing a game where the victor gets temporal power. Guns.

There is no chance anyone who might scruple in any way against the use of that power will be offered resources required to achieve that power.

The people who fund the political process aren't playing for funsies.

They are playing for keepsies.

The people broadly may have ideals. I think they do. Often confused and contradictory ideals, (theft is wrong for us slaves but taxes are ok for them masters) but they have them.

But any party or movement that aims to use political power to limit political power is doomed from the outset. You will either become part of the problem or fail.

You carried the seed of your own failure with you.

This is why revolutions always result in the same thing, often much worse.

The only solution is secession. First mental and philosophical, then physical when possible without violence.

People engaging in evil won't stop so long as the tools exist, and once created the tools never go away. Every day Congress is in session it's another brick in your prison.

You can only limit their purview by excluding yourself from it.

The first step is realizing the difference between men and slaves.

Slaves know legal from illegal.

Men know right from wrong.

If you behave like the ruling class you are no different from them. If you behave like a cop you are no different from them.

A man may bow to the masters whip, but he never bows to the master's pretense of moral authority. By definition. Once he does that he is a slave.

The whip says this isn't a discussion.

The whip says the only difference between you and the man holding me is that he is holding me and not you.

If you take the whip away that is wonderful, and you should. But then put it away.

Or else you are not engaging in a discussion.

You're just the new dcik with a whip.

I thought I sensed a Rand pitch coming

It's still wafting about in the rafters.

My question in response is without an uncompromising core, how does incrementalism not inch itself off a cliff? Compromise is a game of the present. Ideology like any belief system is kinda long term. Perhaps aspirational but if you don't have a destination in mind, how are you ever gonna get there?

Most of those who think so actually don't and most people who think sew actually rip.

Kathleen G.'s picture

Ballot access laws are rigged to favor Dems and Reps.

In some states, like Oklahoma, third parties may as well be illegal, it's so expensive and difficult to get their candidates on the ballot.

While I think Hultburg makes a very valid point when it comes to incrementalism, ballot access laws are a much bigger issue. Once Ron Paul educated me about this, I started working to support the growth of Liberty inside the GOP rather than a liberty party outside of it.

There are only two sanctioned "teams," and no one else gets on the field. You can't win the game if they won't let you in the stadium. The only winning strategy, IMO, is to take over as many positions on both teams as we can. That's far easier than trying to get these teams to change the laws that favor their monopoly on ballot access.

Quite True, and Rigged to Equally Crush 3rd Parties

EVERY third party in the US is structurally suppressed by the ballot laws, the way districts are gerrymandered to protect only hack Democrats and hack Republicans, and by the mainstream media. The article restricts itself to the LP and the CP, but never explores why EVERY minor party does poorly in every state, every election, every level of office, for decades, and regardless of the quality of the candidates.

So is every minor party comprehensively failing in every way, and are all equally "too idealistic" or incompetent, all across the country---or isn't it more likely that the system is crushing them equally?

I respectfully disagree. The perfect is NOT the enemy of the


An end goal, or a compass, is needed for guidance. That is the purpose of idealism.

That end goal, that ideal world, will never be attained. But unless you hold it up as something to work for, you'll never get anything close and you'll doom yourself to compromises which in reality are capitulation to tyranny.

The LP is not successful on a larger stage because they are not yet successful enough on the smaller stages.

ALL politics is local. And you can't get more local than one-on-one.

With few exceptions, most state LP affiliates are NOT decently organized on the local level. (city, county, parish, et cetera, not to even contemplate precinct level)

"Boots on the ground" and good organization is what will win elections for the LP just as it wins elections for the GOP and DNC. Where the LP is organizing on this basic level, they are seeing success and will continue to build.

You can't build a party from the top down by running presidential tickets.

You MUST build from the ground up in your neighborhoods.

It is the ONLY path that has ever worked for anyone and the only one that ever will.

If you want to offer a successful alternative to the Republocrats, whatever your party ideology, you cannot skip the step of local, very local, person to person, door to door, block by block organization.

If you think otherwise, you're pipe dreaming.

You can't skip the hard work part.

All political parties had failed!

And all political parties will fail.

Look around! What is the natural way the society has been organized for thousands of years?

How we solve the problem? Only to restore Patriarchy (Christians, Libertarians and Anarchist will love that too) empowering parents (fathers).

Also you may find interesting to see the NWO VS KOG on because the Kingdom of Heaven is the one that replaced all other as prophesied in the book of Daniel chapter 2.

Positive support for Ron Paul ideas! Support from the Restoration and Liberty Movement on

We must change the 'voting' paradigm

If we want an effective choice, we must change the voting paradigm from the broken, one voter, one vote, 'first past the post' paradigm, to either ( and/or ( With the present system, we are all so trapped into stopping the worse evil, over the lesser evil, that there is never an opportunity to vote for what we ACTUALLY WANT! With the alternative voting systems offered, one can vote for what one actually believes in, without sacrificing the opportunity to block the greatest evil that you fear most. Voting for Hope rather than out of fear! Sounds fairly obvious to me.

I am one of those wacky people who believe people own themselves. That the right to be left alone is pretty much an absolute. That people should think and take action that serves their own self interest while respecting other people's similar boundaries. For this I am often called an elitist. Rather than rule by Philosopher Kings, I believe in each of us practicing ruling ourselves, and I would advise that each of us be well satisfied if we can rule our own life well.

"I am an advocate for anarchy, and in opposition to chaos, because I advocate replacing all coercively imposed 'law' with individually, voluntarily, created 'law'." Rules without Rulers. In most every context, a coercively imposed contract is not considered legally binding at all,... with the state itself as the universally recognized exception to common morality in the name of preserving morality. As to the means,... so go the ends. I am a radical for the premise that respect flows from admiration rather than from fear.

Now that I have ranted, here is a response to Nelson Hultberg's arguments. I think they are great and are very constructive. More power to him. It is a basic maxim of evolution that evolution NEVER has the choice to start over from scratch, but instead, must work solely by means of incremental adjustments with whatever is available at any given moment. It ain't maximally efficient,... but it works surprisingly well.

I am not one of these Libertarians who, in our concern with 'efficiency' try to advocate the "one best way that every true Libertarian should follow", but instead I am a Daoist believer that the advancement of liberty will require many different standard bearers and many different approaches being all applied simultaneously. There is no 'one right way' to win our cause, but, instead, many ways. We are in a marathon, guerrilla, war with the statist mindset which is in far better alignment with the way most people's moral, ethical, and most of all, economic intuitions are set from when the entire human race was a far more nomadic, egalitarian, tribal society from over a hundred thousand years ago. As a race, we are still growing up. The vast majority of people still think first of distributing a fixed and limited amount of wealth, rather than in us all cooperating in creating more wealth. We have a lot of work ahead of us. The leftist/progressive ethics that society should be organized such that no one ever suffers through no fault of their own, regardless of the cost to everyone, is VERY strong in emphatic people who believe (probably correctly) that with very little inconvenience to society at large, the greatest hardships for those in genuine need, could be easily alleviated. The rightist/social conservative instinct that people need to observe discipline and self-restraint is quite correct, but is fatally weaken when it turns to the initiatory coercion of the state to fulfill this need. Statists are hung up by what is sufficient for their differing conceptions of a better world. Libertarians are concerned with what is necessary for a better world, while recognizing that voluntary action MUST be allowed, and trusted, to make up the difference.

Always remember to have goodwill towards your fellow libertarians who march to their own drummer. Try to get your fellow citizens to realize the Daoist maxim that the maximum expression of the 'good' necessarily becomes expressed as 'evil'; that, rather, we must strive for the minimum expression of 'evil' as our best attainable 'good'. Tolerate the twin facts that so long as there is free will, there will always be evil, and that every decision making process makes mistakes.

"The dearest ambition of a slave is not liberty, but to have a slave of his own."
Sir Richard Burton

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Illinois Libertarians legally barred from being election judges

Hultberg's article above is completely wrong. It's much simpler than that.

Folks vote Democrat because Mom and Dad were Democrats. Etcetera. If Mom and the candidate are black AND a Democrat, candidate quality is banned from the decision making.

Libertarianism is complicated and half the country is too stupid to catch anything more complicated than "Vote for me and I'll give you a free phone"

The election system was altered in the 1930's to keep the Communists and various Socialist Worker's Parties off the ballot. Those barriers are still there, working just as well to keep 3rd party candidates off the ballot 80 years later.
For example: In Illinois, Libertarians are legally barred from being election judges.

The media is hopelessly and completely corrupt, pandering to powerful political interests and government contractors.

"Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty" TJ

Michael Nystrom's picture

Rand is the guy to beat in the GOP

He would never defect to a third party. He's got pole position in this big show.

Cruz probably thinks he can give him a run for his money. If nothing else, Cruz will get into the horserace to push Rand further right.

Ben Carson would be a good guy for your project. What do you think about him? My friend told me he's a 7th Day Adventist.

Jesse Ventura would be a good guy, but probably a little too out there.

Hey, I've got a great idea Nelson! Go out to Hollywood and hire an actor. "Aspiring conservative actor sought to play the role of a lifetime."

Heck, it worked for Reagan!

Ben Carson - oh please

I think Ben sucks, sorry

Ben is confused. He says give everyone $2,000 in a tax free HSA. It will only cost $600 billion dollars. Talk about buying votes.

Where are we to get this $600 billion dollars? (China)

Rand says he will raise the caps on maximum deposits on tax-free HSAs and de-link HSAs from health insurance, exactly like his dad. Which is very smart.

I have never met a doctor that had a clue on health insurance, including Ben Carson. I think Rand can be pressured into some kind of sanity if we are lucky. But you never know in politics.

I can tell you about some Libertarians

The Libertarian Doctor running for Governor in Iowa has not had an event in a while and non for the future. She won't win.

On the other hand Adrian Wyllie will win in Florida because the other 2 candidates are the least popular people in the state and Wyllie is working hard and smart.

When Adrian wins it will be a ShockWave to the old 2 party system in this country.

Check out the next Libertarian Governor of Florida - Adrian Wyllie:


Another "I'm going to tell you how to do it". I get enough "advice" - I want to see performance not BS.

For instance, he writes "By getting into the national TV presidential debates"... The debates have become controlled by the Rs and Ds - with no chance of any other parties participating. Ross Perot got into the debates, and had an impact, so the debates had to be controlled and they now are. If Hultberg wants to be useful, he should use his BS "skills" to have the debates managed by the League Of Women Voters, as they were when Perot ran.

This author is on crack

if he is seriously trying to sell TED CRUZ as an "end our militaristic, police the world foreign policy" candidate.

It's only a matter of time before our monetary system collapses.

and the Libertarian philosophy will be ideal...and necessary.