By Stefan M. Kløvning
For most of American history, there have been few alternatives of parties to support besides the Democrats and Republicans with any chance of obtaining power. All presidents since Franklin Pierce became the president in 1853 have had to be on either side, to the peril of voters sometimes only having the option to choose the “lesser evil”, as was commonly talked about in the 2016 Presidential election. Many voters appear to have started to start looking for alternatives as the support for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson increased from 1,275,971 in 2012 to 4,488,931 in 2016. The Libertarian cause came especially to light in the mainstream political debate when the Tea Party started to gain traction under the Obama presidency and in the so-called “Ron Paul Revolution.” In anticipation of the upcoming mid-term elections on Tuesday, 6th November, there have been a lot of speculation and talk about whether the Republicans or the Democrats will take the majority of seats in the House of Representatives or the Senate, but what does these elections have to offer for the growing Libertarian movement and other Independents?
On the outside, there doesn’t seem to be any Congressmen straying from the Democrat-Republican dichotomy beside Angus King in Maine and Bernie Sanders in Vermont (both registered Independents) but there are some who stray from the dichotomy but register as members of the closest party to increase their chances. Most notably did the Libertarian icon Ron Paul seek the Republican nomination for president in 2008 and 2012 and was registered under the same party when he was a member of the House of Representative from 1997 to 2013. Similarly today there are also self-proclaimed “liberty Conservatives” like Eric Brakey of Maine who try to attain office as Republicans. On the other side of politics, there are people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America with the Democratic nomination as Representative of the 14th congressional district of New York.
It means a great deal whether the Republicans or Democrats attain the majority in either house of Congress, but the variation of candidates, as shown above, makes it important to look at the different candidates as they are in a nuanced way rather than homogenous groups. Some are openly Libertarians and register themselves with the same party like Larry Sharpe running for governor in New York, but others think the safer route is to play the two-party game and rather sneak in some alternative ideas with them.
In terms of what’s on stake this election in the two-party game, the Republicans have 9 seats in the Senate up for election as opposed to 24 Democrat seats. The Democrats only need four more seats in the Senate to attain a majority, but therefore also needs to be defending far more seats than the Republicans to have any chance in doing so. In the House of Representatives, the Democrats need to gain 25 more seats to attain a majority, but a recent poll has shown that 50% of likely voters across 69 congressional districts will vote Democrat, as opposed to 46% Republicans. However, the poll’s margin of error is 3.5 points, making the significance of the divide much less certain. “But”, as John Cassidy of the New Yorker points out, “if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that we should be cautious in making predictions, particularly when so many districts are being hotly contested.”
So, out of the contenders, who are likely or have big chances to win, who are more nuanced and who appear more or less to converge with the established party lines?
A detailed analysis of all the candidates lies outside the scope of this article, so here I’ll rather stick to pointing out certain candidates which in some respects seem to stand out from the established two-party politics running for Senate. Mar
- Chris Murphy is the Senator of Connecticut and are running for re-election as a Democrat. He was one of the first members of Congress to stand out in opposition against U.S. backing of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen and has suggested to halt U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Libertarians would laud this anti-war stance, but most wouldn’t support him given that voted to extend provisions of the Patriot Act, has been a leading advocate of the Affordable Care Act, has proposed free tuition for certain colleges and that he is a strong advocate of gun control.
- Bill Nelson is the Democratic nominee for Senator of Florida. He has several times voted to reduce or eliminate the estate tax, but has voted against the Republican plan to increase the Bush tax cuts to all Americans. In the tax reforms he suggests one must take into account “simplicity, fairness, and economic growth.” Other than that, he voted to increase the debt ceiling in 2011, voted for the invasion of Iraq in 2002 and is a strong advocate of gun regulations.
- Rick Scott is the Republican nominee for Senator of Florida. He and Nelson is in a close call in most polls. Scott has an A+ rating by the National Rifle Association for his support of gun rights. They said he has “signed more pro-gun bills into law – in one term – than any other Governor in Florida history.” He has also supported private and charter schools as Guvernor of Florida. He has received criticism on voting rights, however, as he has tried to create barriers to registering new voters, limited early voting, restricted the ability of ex-felons to restore their voting rights, etc.
- Joe Donelly is the Senator of Indiana running for reelection as a Democrat. He is considered a moderate or conservative Democrat who, according to Politico, “is constantly dogged by Republicans aiming to unseat him while also facing disgruntled Democrats who think he’s far too conservative.” The National Journal gave him a score of 52% Conservative and 48% Liberal. He has voted with President Trump’s position 54.5% of the time according to FiveThirtyEight and 62% according to Congressional Quarterly. Donelly on economic policy: “Given our continued economic challenges. Now is the time to keep tax rates low. … We need to create jobs, we need to help the middle class and support small businesses, and we need to avoid partisan bickering and delay.” In 2012 he voted in favor of the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, sponsored by Ron Paul, which suggested a full audit of the Federal Reserve, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and Federal reserve banks by the Comptroller General. It was passed in the House of Representatives but didn’t get through the Senate. He also broke with the Democrat majority in his decision to support the deregulation of commercial banks. However good this may sound to Libertarians, he also co-sponsored a bill in 2007 to increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15/h to $7.25/h and voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act. His 2012 opponent wondered: “Joe Donnelly wants to pick apart Obamacare, but that begs the question: Why didn’t he just hold out and not vote for it?” He voted for the intervention in Libya in 2011 and against an accelarated withdrawal from Afghanistan the same year, but voted against the Iraq troop surge of 2007. He was also rated “D” by the National Rifle Association for his vote to “to criminalize the private transfer of firearms between close friends and some family members, which according to the Obama Justice Department, is only enforceable through a federal firearms registry. Donnelly also supports ammunition restrictions on law-abiding citizens.”
- Independent Angus King running for reelection in Maine favors the continuation of tariffs against Vietnam, but has introduced legislation to lift the embargo against Cuba. He has voted to arm Syrian rebels fighting the leader Bashar Al-Assad or ISIL. He has otherwise supported the Affordable Care Act and leans Democrat on most issues.
- Josh Hawley is the Republican nominee for Senator of Missouri. As Attorny General of Missouri he joined 20 other Republican states in February for a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional. He supported Trump’s imposition of tariffs but has hoped they will only be temporary.
- Deb Fischer is the Republican nominee for Senator of Nebraska. She has declared that “the EPA must be reformed and possibly eliminated.” She has an A+ rating from the NRA and has stated that she “would vote to fully repeal Obamacare.” She has also stated that there should be a life-time ban on Congressmen from becoming federally registered lobbyists, and has expressed support for an amendment to the Constitution to restrict term-limits of Senators to two six-year terms and Representatives to three two-year terms. She has pledged that she herself will stick to two terms, the latter which she is currently running for and seem very likely to win.
- Marsha Blackburn is the Republican nominee for Senator of Tennesse and has been described as a “Tea Party Republican”. With the passing of the Affordable Care Act she said that “freedom dies a little bit today” and has described net neutrality as “socialistic”. She’s rated 100% by the American Conservative Union, has opposed both abortion and same-sex marriage, and has rejected the scientific consensus on climate change.
- Joe Manchin is the Democratic nominee for Senator of West Virginia. He held a speech before the Senate in 2011 calling for a “substantial and responsible reduction in the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan. We can no longer afford to rebuild Afghanistan and America. We must choose. And I choose America.” He met one-on-one with all his Senate colleagues in his first year to get to know them better. He has, however, sought to restrict Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and been strict on drug crimes. He also voted against a resolution disapproving of the arms sales to Saudi Arabia in 2017.
From the Senate, at least, there doesn’t seem to be many politicians to back for Libertarians in these elections, but with some of them there are certain stances Libertarians can get behind, like Chris Murphy’s opposition to U.S. aid of Saudi Arabia; Bill Nelson’s efforts to eliminate the estate tax; Rick Scott’s support of private and charter schools; Joe Donelly’s support for small businesses, keeping taxes low and keeping the Federal Reserve in check; Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn’s stance against the Affordable Care Act; Deb Fischer calling for the EPA to be abolished and seeking to implement time-limits for Congressmen and banning them from becoming lobbyists; and Blackburn’s opposition to net neutrality.
Libertarians have a long way to go to get more representation in Congress with more politicians consistent in maintaining their principles like Ron Paul. Though there may be some admirable qualities with some of them, I think Libertarians will see most of them as representatives of their respective interest groups rather than their geographical area, and that most of them just seek to increase state power for their own benefit. If the Libertarian Party and Libertarians continue to work hard and expand their reach like Gary Johnson did between 2012 and 2016 and that New York gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe did when he was the only one to visit every single district in New York, they might, a step at a time, find their way into the system, and start setting it back to the way the founders intended.