For thirty-five years, I have watched thousands of Libertarian Party candidates run for office. The most prominent of course have been the presidential campaigns. Having been witness to so much has led me to a conclusion: The "credibility" and "electability" of our presidential candidate has little to do with the success of the Libertarian Party.
The only times in LP history when the LP was smaller at the end of the election than at the beginning were during the campaigns of two "well-qualified", "credible", and "electable" candidates: Bob Barr and Gary Johnson.
I want the Libertarian Party to be the majority party in America. But it will never happen as long as Libertarians refuse to understand that every day is an opportunity to recruit a new person into the LP. We will never be the majority party unless we grow. We will never achieve our aims with 11,000 donors, or even 110,000. We need a million!
So here's the suggestion:
Stop looking for the "magic bullet" candidates of our fantasies, and instead look for the candidate who:
- will make the best possible presentation of consistent Libertarian ideas; and,
- is committed to growing the Party.
For the first part, the Libertarian Party was intended to be an abolitionist political voice. If we're too weak-bladdered to deliver that message, then it's no wonder the several million people out there who are already basically libertarian aren't interested in joining.
Trying to peddle the FairTax will never excite those people.
For the second part, it's time to get over the idea that the presidential campaign is "all about the candidate". It isn't about his future plans to run for congress or some other office, or even about covering up for sloppy campaign money management. Instead, LP presidential campaigns should be about recruiting new members into the LP so that our cadre will be larger in the next presidential election. If the candidates do not understand that they’re not going to win and that this election is not about this election but the NEXT election, then they have no business seeking the nomination.
To address the Party-building need, I will support nominating a candidate who might actually excite and invigorate new libertarians enough so they would join the LP and add to our efforts. I will not support a candidate who is intent on "not making waves" so they can appeal to the so-called “mainstream” and has no visible plan to recruit more members.
So how to grow the party -- using the presidential campaign?
It's actually fairly simple: The campaign should share every last shred of data about its contributors with the LP.
I was a national staffer in 1991-1992 while the Marrou campaign was going on. Right after the nomination, Marrou hired a single staffer and rented an office in LPHQ’s building (when it was in its old row house at 1528 Pennsylvania Ave SE in DC). Their single computer was networked directly with LPHQ’s system. Every time a new prospect was found by the campaign, their staffer placed the new name on the LP’s database system. Likewise, if anyone on either “Marrou’s” or the “LP’s” list gave money to the campaign, the staffer simply entered the contribution with a special code that indicated it was a campaign contribution rather than an LP contribution, and they filed their own FEC reports based on that information.
For the year and a half of the campaign, **every** name acquired by Marrou was shared with the LP the instant it was acquired, and vice-versa. Every new lead was then sent a follow-up letter. If Marrou received a donation from a new person, the LP then sent that person an invitation to also join the Party. If the LP found a new donor, the campaign then sent that person an invitation to support the campaign. And so on.
There was none of this amateur-hour “let’s wait until the end of the campaign to see if we still need to raise money to get out of debt, before we give our precious list to the LP” BS.
It was the Marrou campaign’s tight integration with the LP database that was a major factor in the LP’s steady increase in size between August 1991 (remember that the nominating convention was the prior, rather than the year of, election) and April 1993. The steady stream of new inquiries coming in from the campaign over that period were cultivated by a steady direct mail program by LPHQ, and as a result, membership set a new record by the end of March 1993, at 12,400. I note here with interest that then-ED Nick Dunbar shortly thereafter was sent packing, and all of the direct mail procedures that had been developed were promptly shut off. The predictable result was that LP membership rapidly slumped — dropping to 8500 or something in late 1993 or early 1994.
The 1996 Browne campaign followed the Marrou 100% sharing model, and the results were similarly good.
The way to grow the LP has been amply demonstrated. It seems that Libertarians have a determination, however, to ignore past successes and to refuse to accept what have been proven to be “best practices”.