NICHOLS: Why Does the Libertarian Party SUCK at Selling Itself?

by | Jun 3, 2024 | Opinion

The Libertarian Party recently held its convention, and as someone who has been deeply involved in the party and its principles for years, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated and burnt out by what I witnessed. The main reason for my disappointment is simple: Libertarians suck at sales.

To understand where we went wrong, let’s start by examining the two different approaches taken by the main camps within the party during the convention. Angela McArdle (LP Chair) and the Mises Caucus focused heavily on creating a spectacle, inviting high-profile figures like Trump, Vivek Ramaswamy, and RFK, Jr. to the event. While this strategy certainly garnered more attention for the convention, it failed to address the real issue at hand: the lack of compelling candidates running as libertarian torchbearers.

The elephant in the room is that Dave Smith, who would have been the best candidate and likely won the nomination hands down on the first ballot, chose not to run. This left a void that the Mises Caucus scrambled to fill, opening the door for lesser-known candidates like Mike ter Maat, Michael Rectenwald, Chase Oliver, Lars Mapstead, and Joshua Smith. If I’m being honest, none of these candidates truly excited me as a voter.

Going into the nomination, I was already throwing my hands in the air at the LP. Lars Mapstead and Larry Sharpe were the only candidates who presented a practical winning strategy and made efforts to reach people outside the libertarian echo chamber. However, I knew Lars wasn’t going to win, so I had to consider the viable alternatives.

What about Josh? I think Josh is a great guy – I’ve had him on my show, and I’ve been on his. We get along very well. But I just don’t think he had the bandwidth or resources around him to take his charismatic style and firm understanding of libertarian principles and propel him from the nomination to standing a chance against the Republicans and Democrats, i.e., Trump and Biden.

So, who was left from that group? Chase Oliver, Mike ter Maat, and Michael Rectenwald.

I had Chase Oliver on my show a few years ago, and candidly, I was not impressed. I recognized right from the onset that Chase was much more of a left-leaning libertarian. No, I don’t think he’s a communist or a socialist. But his soft acceptance of leftist narratives and his willingness to bend the knee to the insane, backwards COVID restrictions during the pandemic was concerning.

When I had Chase on the show, I didn’t get many answers from him that made me confident he understands who the ideal voter persona is for libertarians. We need to get our message out of our echo chamber and make inroads with a voting demographic that will not only vote for us but also become advocates for the cause and, in the best-case scenario, become libertarian themselves. That’s the goal.

Mike ter Maat, despite being a nice and down-to-earth guy, had nothing compelling about his campaign. I’ve had him on my show a couple of times, and while I’ve never had anything negative to say about him, I’ve also never really had anything super exciting or positive to promote. His “Gold New Deal” felt like another attempt to package our ideas using the vernacular of the left and right, which only serves to confuse potential new voters. If we’re trying to attract new voters, attaching libertarian ideas to leftist, progressive Democrat concepts like the New Deal is counterproductive. It conflates two different sets of principles and ideals, which is not a winning strategy.

And then there’s Michael Rectenwald. I want to start by saying that I don’t have anything negative to say about him personally. He seems like a nice guy, and I’m sure he has built up his libertarian bona fides and credentials over the years. However, when I’ve heard him on podcasts, even before he was considering running for the LP presidential nomination, I couldn’t help but feel that he just doesn’t have it. He lacks the charisma and wow factor needed to inspire voters. Yes, he can talk about the principles, but he comes across as a borderline hipster college professor, and there isn’t a lot of credibility around his campaign.

And then there were Michael’s actual convention mishaps, where he allegedly took a marijuana edible and completely crapped the bed during his speech after Trump’s, only further disqualify him from a messaging and sales perspective. As a candidate, you are not just the torchbearer for the ideas and the ism; you are the torchbearer for the party in the actual election. Your goal isn’t just to try and get votes, but also to bring new people to the movement and get the message out there. When I looked at Rectenwald as a candidate, I wasn’t inspired.

Frankly, this might be too deep of a peek behind the curtain, but that’s the main reason I rejected an offer to be his campaign manager when Michael Heise reached out to me back in August 2023.

Going back even further, it’s also one of the reasons why I declined a leadership position for the national LP when I looked at the upcoming group of POTUS candidates after Dave Smith said he wasn’t going to run.

I definitely have a vested interest in the success of the LP, but I said no because I didn’t look at the direction the party was heading and think it was going to be an organization I could confidently help restructure. The people trying to sell the LP’s solutions and be the torchbearers for the party, in my humble opinion, just weren’t and aren’t the type of people we need, like a Dave Smith, to achieve success. If it had been Dave Smith running, I would have absolutely considered. Granted, I’m sure if he had announced, I wouldn’t have been asked because there would have been a million other people excited to jump on the Dave Smith campaign. But that’s why I said no to being Rectenwald’s campaign manager.

At the end of the day, I need to make sure that my opposition to the LP right now is articulated in a way that makes sense to folks. I am not just knee-jerk negative towards the LP because my guy didn’t win. I didn’t have a specific candidate running – the closest I had was someone like Larry Sharpe, Clint Russell, or Lars Mapstead, one of whom was running for POTUS while the other two were running for VP. I looked at the other candidates, and I just wasn’t impressed or excited.

When you have a candidate like Vivek Ramaswamy, whether running as a Republican with libertarian beliefs, you see why he’s compelling. You see why people are interested in what he has to say because it’s not just what he says; it’s how he says it. It’s how you convey the message to the masses that matters most. You can be right on the principles, right on the isms, but if you’re not right when it comes to actually conveying our ideas to an audience that is not libertarian – and I think this is the part we cannot stress enough – you have to go after folks who are overtly not libertarian to have any semblance of success.

When I looked at the candidates we were running, I saw a bunch of folks who enjoy preaching to the choir or preaching to their choir, and that is where we do not have success. When I see people like Vivek Ramaswamy, who are running as members of the Republican Party but with incredibly strong libertarian positions, and then being able to get people in the GOP interested in liberty, that’s huge. That’s something we need to learn from instead of looking at someone like Vivek and saying, “Oh, you’re not one of us.” We need to look at what he’s doing well, why he’s doing well, and learn from that. We have not done a good job at that.

So, across the board, when I look at where the LP is today and where I think the LP can head, I’m very nervous. Frankly, I am not jumping for joy. I’m not enthused.

I am quite frustrated. I am quite burned out with the Libertarian Party and, frankly, libertarians in general. And I’m talking about the libertarians who actually live in this world, and promote this stuff daily – the folks who read the books and know what they’re talking about but don’t know how to talk about it. That is who I am frustrated with. That is who I am burned out with.

This autistic focus on being right and knowing how to do it best when you look at your results and objectively have zero to show for your decades of work, your decades of being right, has led to nothing of success – nothing of tangible value for both the party nor promoting the ideas of libertarianism and policy changes for our country.

If the Libertarian Party wants to make a real impact, it must learn how to sell its ideas to a broader audience and choose candidates who can inspire and connect with voters outside of our echo chamber. We need candidates who not only understand the principles of libertarianism but also know how to effectively communicate our message to the masses in a way that resonates and inspires action.

Until we address this fundamental issue of sales and messaging, I fear that the Libertarian Party will continue to face disappointment and irrelevance in the political landscape. It’s time for us to take a hard look in the mirror, learn from the successes of others, and adapt our approach if we ever hope to make the kind of impact we know our ideas can have on the world.

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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