Steve Kerbel and the Election Kool-Aid Acid Test
In a recent piece for the online blog "A Libertarian Future," former candidate for the Libertarian nomination Steve Kerbel weighs in on the current election cycle and what it could mean for the Libertarian Party. It is worth noting that Kerbel, in an odd move for a Libertarian, ended his candidacy and now endorses Gov. Gary Johnson to be the party nominee. And like other members of the party establishment, Kerbel is tickled by the present conditions in the two major parties.In his article, Kerbel makes the case for an unprecedented opportunity manifest this year. This is the same opportunity we've been hearing about from Gov. Johnson and the establishment Libertarian media, not only during this election cycle but also back in 2012. While most of the talk so far this year has been extremely vague, Kerbel in his article is much more specific about some of the reasoning being adopted. He even includes some voter calculations to demonstrate why everyone is so excited.The first part of Kerbel's argument is that the Libertarian Party will be the beneficiary of swarms of refugees from both parties. Kerbel tells us that Donald Trump, in his narrative the presumptive Republican nominee, is running a campaign fueled by racism and hatred. He says this is doomed to fail because the actual number of voting racists and hatemongers is a small portion of American voters. He puts this figure at roughly 15%. Without giving any rationale he estimates Clinton's base to also be 15%. This means that only 30% of voters would go with Trump and Clinton.So let's stipulate Kerbel's numbers and see what they actually mean. If we use the numbers from the 2012 election and assume no change in voter turnout we can plot the results of his projection.By predicting 15% support for each mainstream candidate, Kerbel is in fact saying that he expects the Libertarian nominee (which he presumes to be Gary Johnson) to garner approximately 26% of the potential popular vote. This would be up from 0.5% in 2012, an election year that also featured extremely unpopular candidates. And this is without a single non-voter from 2012 showing up to vote in 2016. Visually, he is suggesting this transformation:And he expects it to happen with the exact same candidate running a traditional campaign along familiar lines!That is a lot to swallow, and none of the available data supports the claim. One glaring problem is that the prediction ignores a vital reality: the majority of the people that choose to involve themselves in the political process vote their party, not their candidate. This is what is called the "base" of the party, and it can be relied upon. It is one reason why, in 2012, the unpopularity of the mainstream candidates resulted in diminished voter turnout rather than a Libertarian landslide. Instead, Gary Johnson only gleaned 0.57% of the potential popular vote to Obama's 29.6% and Romney's 27.4%.If you're having a hard time accepting that stipulation, Kerbel mentions another possibility. What about all those people that did not vote and that generally don't? Estimates on this number range from roughly 60% to 55% of eligible Americans, depending on how it is calculated. This is indeed more fertile territory, but again he does not say what will be different this year that might cause these people to go to the polls.People that habitually do not vote are not like people that do. They are either not interested in politics, or are lazy, or may even be deliberately protesting by not voting. They did not show up in 2012 in the face of unpopular candidates, so it is reasonable to expect an explanation for what will be different if someone is going to advocate running the same candidate again. Kerbel offers no such explanation.What we are left with is a campaign strategy based on the extreme failure of others. Any strategy that depends on your opponent failing rather than you succeeding is by definition a weak and fragile one. And in this case, up against a two-party Machine determined to retain power, there is no reason to expect that it will succeed.History suggests that once the contentious primary season ends, and despite any rhetoric to the contrary, both parties can be expected to get the guns facing forward and rally behind whatever candidate is selected. Further, we can expect this effort to be magnified by the recognition of a legitimate threat to the dominance of the Establishment. Once they see us coming they will bring everything they have - far more than in 2012.We shouldn't be too hard on Mr. Kerbel, as the Libertarian establishment shares his optimistic outlook in the main. This is the Kool Aid, and Mr. Kerbel is just one of many who are drinking. This is unfortunately very dangerous because these arguments are being used as a justification for nominating a candidate that is considered by his own supporters to be lethargic and uninspiring. That despite all evidence to the contrary, something will happen and all we need to do is show up. And, amazingly, many Libertarians seem to be accepting this at face value.Part of the reason people are falling for it is that the Libertarian Party, and the rest of Freedom-loving America, does indeed have an opportunity this year. But this opportunity does not rest upon the failure of others; nor does it lie with the empty promise of swaying people that reliably vote. The only opportunity we have is to successfully engage enough of the rest of the population - the people that can vote but do not.It is far from certain that any of the candidates on the stage will be able to get enough of these people into the polls for the win. That will take a kind of revolution - not an easy thing to pull off and something that has never been done. It does not seem likely that a traditional "political campaign" could ever manage it. Such a campaign would have to be unique in our history and be prepared and able to color outside all of the lines. One thing we do know is that in 2012 no such revolution, or anything close, took place.Those in favor of running Johnson again this year should be happy to hear that the Chinese just announced that they are opening a mass-cloning factory soon, with the goal of eventually cloning humans. This could mean the ability to keep running Gary Johnson, or at least a decent copy of him, until he wins. Or until the world ends, whichever comes first.For the rest of us the choice is clear. We must reject Kerbel's case for the fantastic pipe dream the facts show it to be. Then we must determine which among the other available, and more energetic, candidates has the best shot at engaging people that do not vote, do not care about the process or for their own reasons choose to stay home. This is the only metric that matters in 2016 and the only feasible path the Libertarians and therefore The People have to reclaim the White House.