In the wake of the GOP’s election losses, media mavens and party elders inevitably express deep concern that the party has become “too conservative” to win elections. The party, we are warned, must moderate its positions to better appeal to voters in the “middle.” Results in nine different races, however, suggest that the GOP needs to reaffirm its commitment to conservative values. In two Senate races, one Governors’ race and six House races, libertarian candidates won enough support to potentially cost Republicans victory. The votes won by libertarian candidates far exceeded the Democrats’ victory margins.
In Indiana, Dem Rep. Joe Donnelley defeated Republican Richard Mourdock by 141k votes. The libertarian candidate won 146k votes, about 6% of the total. In Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) defeated Rep. Dennie Rehberg by 18k votes. The libertarian candidate won 31k votes. The same story is true for six House races:
- AZ-01 Dem margin 7,914 Libertarian vote 14,450
- AZ-09 Dem margin 6,967 Libertarian vote 14,361
- MA-06 Dem margin 3,650 Libertarian vote 16,668
- MI-11 Dem margin 7,527 Libertarian vote 11,611
- NH-01 Dem margin 12,874 Libertarian vote 14,968
- UT-04 Dem margin 2,646 Libertarian vote 5,703
Now, libertarian voters can be a fickle lot. While libertarian-leaning voters have long been part of the Republican party’s winning coalition. Many of these voters became disillusioned with the party during the Bush years, which witnessed a significant increase in government spending and a new entitlement program. There was also widespread discontent over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If anything could have repaired the rift, though, it was the election of Barack Obama. Obama not only continued all of Bush’s foreign engagement, he went on a spending bender. Amazingly, he and the Democrats were even more aggressive drug warriors than Bush and the GOP.
The GOP ought to have been able to win ample libertarian support this election, as the campaigns were fought where the two philosophies intersect, namely government spending and regulation. In Indiana, where the GOP tripped over the issue of rape and abortion, it’s probably understandable that the libertarian attracted 6% of the vote.
The GOP is most successful when it embraces limited government and individual responsibility. It fails when it is merely a slightly more cost-efficient version of the Democrat party. The party forgets this at their peril.