NICHOLS: Can Libertarians Gamble on a High-Stakes Alliance?

by | May 20, 2024 | Opinion

In the ever-shifting landscape of American politics, a bombshell announcement sent shockwaves through the libertarian community: former President Donald Trump is set to speak at the Libertarian National Convention. This unexpected move has ignited a firestorm of debate, with some viewing it as a golden opportunity to thrust libertarianism into the national spotlight, while others decry it as an unforgivable betrayal of core principles.

Let’s break it down. On one side, you’ve got the principled pragmatists like Dave Smith of the Mises Caucus, who argue that engaging with a political heavyweight like Trump opens doors to millions of potential supporters who may have never considered libertarian ideas. “Look, if you’re going to throw the ball downfield, you can go ‘well, that might get intercepted.’ It’s like, yeah, you know, like, Okay, I’ll grant you that it could,” Smith said on his podcast. “But… if you’re saying we’re gonna set the world free in my lifetime? Well, that’s bold. We just established… we got 30 years to set the world free. Well, guess what? It’s the fourth quarter, and we’re down by 27 touchdowns. And what are you proposing we run the ball?”

On the other hand, some critics see Trump’s presence as a Faustian bargain that will forever tarnish the libertarian brand. Now, I’ve dedicated a large part of my career to advancing the cause of liberty, and I believe we must embrace a degree of realpolitik if we hope to make tangible progress. For too long, the Libertarian Party has been dismissed as a fringe movement, more akin to a book club than a serious political force. But by engaging with Trump, even if we vehemently disagree with many of his policies, we have an opportunity to demonstrate our relevance on the national stage.

Think about it—when was the last time a major presidential candidate felt compelled to court the Libertarian vote? The mere fact that Trump is appearing at our convention signals a recognition that we represent a significant voting bloc that cannot be ignored. This is a watershed moment, a chance to prove that we are a force to be reckoned with.

Moreover, Trump’s appearance provides a platform to challenge him directly on the issues that matter most to libertarians. From his stance on civil liberties to his spending habits, we can put him on the spot and demand answers. “I’m very interested to see if he’s even prepared for that,” Smith mused. “What I mean, like, he knows about what he’s getting into. I have a feeling that Trump is not going to come in prepared with a message tailor-made for our group”.

By engaging Trump on our own terms, on our own turf, we strip away the choreographed pageantry of his rallies and force him to contend with the hard questions he so often avoids. It’s a chance to demonstrate that libertarians aren’t just a bunch of starry-eyed idealists, but serious thinkers with practical solutions to the problems facing our nation. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, we can plant a seed in Trump’s mind, or in the minds of his supporters, that will blossom into a greater appreciation for the principles of liberty.

Look, I get it—some of you are thinking, “This is just a publicity stunt.” But in politics, optics, and narratives often trump (no pun intended) substantive policy debates. By commanding the attention of major media outlets and influential voices across the political spectrum, we increase the likelihood that our ideas will penetrate the mainstream consciousness. “I’ve been talking to the guys at Timcast. I’ve been talking to Tucker Carlson. I’ve been talking to Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti at Breaking Points. I was texting with Patrick Bet-David the other day,” Smith revealed. “I’m texting with all of these people in our world who, all of a sudden, are very, very interested in our convention”.

This is our moment to shine, to show the world that libertarianism isn’t just some fringe ideology for basement-dwelling intellectuals, but a vibrant, dynamic movement with real-world solutions. And if we can capture even a fraction of Trump’s base, if we can get them to start questioning the status quo and considering alternatives, then we will have achieved a monumental victory for the cause of liberty.

At the end of the day, the success or failure of this endeavor will hinge on our ability to seize the moment and articulate a coherent, compelling vision of libertarianism. If we approach this as a mere sideshow, content to bask in the fleeting glow of media attention, we will have squandered a generational opportunity. However, if we rise to the occasion, presenting a united front and a clear, principled platform, we may finally shatter the caricature of libertarians as eccentric ideologues divorced from reality.

To achieve this, we must be strategic in our outreach and coalition-building efforts. Just as Dave Smith recognized the importance of supporting the candidacy of Blake Masters in the Arizona Senate race, despite ideological differences, we must be willing to forge tactical alliances with those who share our goals, even if our motivations diverge. “The position that libertarians are in, is that we can kind of extort, for lack of a better term, without the illegal connotations of it,” Smith explained. “We can be like, ‘Hey, we will ruin this for you unless you do this.’ And we’re actually in the position to do that”.

By leveraging our influence judiciously, we can extract concessions from political actors who may have previously dismissed us as irrelevant. We can push for greater respect for civil liberties, for a more restrained foreign policy, for a rollback of the surveillance state. And in doing so, we can demonstrate to the American people that libertarianism isn’t just some abstract philosophy, but a practical framework for securing our freedoms and improving our lives.

But let’s be clear—a coalition with Trump, or any other politician, cannot be a blank check to abandon our core values. We must maintain our independence and our moral clarity, using our leverage to steer the broader political discourse in a libertarian direction, not to become subsumed by the very forces we oppose.

The critics raise valid concerns that cannot be ignored. Trump’s presidency was marred by ineffectiveness, expansive executive power, and reckless spending. Can libertarians really justify aligning themselves, even temporarily, with such a figure?

The answer lies in the art of political maneuvering. We are not endorsing Trump’s every action or utterance. Rather, we are seizing an opportunity to amplify our message, to reach new audiences, and to position ourselves as a force to be reckoned with. By engaging with Trump, we demonstrate that we are not content to remain on the sidelines, shouting into the void.

Of course, this strategy is not without risks. We must be vigilant in maintaining our principles, lest we become the very thing we oppose. We must make it abundantly clear that our engagement with Trump is transactional, not an unconditional embrace. And we must be prepared for the inevitable backlash from those who will accuse us of selling out.

But the alternative—remaining a marginalized faction, forever consigned to irrelevance—is far more perilous. If we hope to effect real change, to steer this nation towards a more libertarian future, we must be willing to get our hands dirty in the rough-and-tumble of politics.

The stakes could not be higher. Will the Libertarian Party seize this pivotal moment to propel its ideas into the mainstream consciousness? Or will it squander a generational opportunity, consigning itself to perpetual irrelevance on the fringes of American politics? The choice is ours, and the ramifications will echo through generations to come.

And let’s not forget the potential impact on the 2024 presidential race. With Trump’s future political ambitions still uncertain, his appearance at the Libertarian National Convention could signal a shift in the electoral landscape. Could this be the beginning of a new alliance, a realignment of political forces that reshapes the very nature of the two-party system? It’s a tantalizing prospect, one that could open up a world of possibilities for the libertarian movement.

But to capitalize on this opportunity, we must be bold, we must be strategic, and above all, we must be united. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided by petty squabbles or ideological purity tests. We must recognize that progress often requires compromise, that the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good.

So let us approach this moment with clear eyes and full hearts, with a determination to seize the opportunity before us. Let us engage with Trump and his supporters, not as sycophants or apologists, but as principled advocates for the cause of liberty. Let us demonstrate to the world that libertarianism is not a fringe movement, but a powerful force for change.

Brian Nichols is host of the Brian Nichols Show – powered by Amp America. You can follow Brian on X at @bnicholsliberty.

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