Mitt Romney, moderation, and the third party revolution

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In recent political news, Libertarian Party nominee Governor Gary Johnson announced that he was in negotiations with former Republican nominee Mitt Romney for an endorsement of his bid to capture the White House.  While this development has largely been overshadowed by Trump gaffs encouraging things like Russian espionage and precipitous coverage of the Democratic National Convention, it’s quite an interesting development.

The publicity from a Romney endorsement would undoubtedly give the Libertarian Party’s ticket a boost within the collective public consciousness, perhaps enough to elevate it from its commonly high single-digit figure standing in national polls to the all-important 15 percent figure needed to participate in the nationally televised presidential debates, further increasing its visibility to voters.  However, it seems unlikely that despite the Libertarian Party’s meteoric rise in popularity during this tumultuous election cycle, that such publicity will be enough to catapult the Johnson-Weld ticket into a November victory.

{mosads}What makes the Romney development so interesting is not necessarily what an endorsement can do, but what a Romney addition to the libertarian ticket may have done.  To be sure, this is highly theoretical, an exercise in hypothetical politics to the fullest extent, nonetheless it’s a thought worth pondering, even if it rankles libertarians across the country.

As many recall, Romney was often lambasted in 2012 as a “moderate”, a near career-ending designation in 21st Century politics.  In that election, many shifted uncomfortably in their seats as Romney uneasily and awkwardly realigned his policy positions to more accurately reflect those of his conservative base.  However, Romney’s former and often maligned weakness of moderation is undoubtedly a strength in a presidential election that features the polarizing likes of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

While the popularized libertarian ideological summary of “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” or more comedic version of “libertarians: keeping republicans out of your bedroom and democrats out of your wallet”, strikes a superficial chord with many Americans, the core philosophical tenets of libertarianism are most likely either foreign or indigestible to many uncommitted voters.  In the American public discourse, libertarianism is undoubtedly seen by many Americans as a political ideology as unfamiliar as neo-conservatism or liberal progressivism. 

This is where a possible Romney addition to a libertarian ticket, albeit most likely not atop the ticket, may have paid unlikely dividends, facilitating the libertarian movement’s transition from relative obscurity into national prominence.  Romney’s record on many issues, notably his support of: smaller government, cutting government spending and entitlement programs, shifting towards healthcare privatization, reducing regulation and cutting taxes, free enterprise and fair trade, as well as a limited interventionist foreign policy, places him close to libertarian ideology on many core issues. 

To be certain, Romney is a conservative populist.  Yet with some policy evolutions, particularly on civil liberties and women’s reproductive rights, it’s possible that Romney could have shifted closer towards a political identity of moderate libertarianism, a position that Bill Weld occupies.  But that would have been his appeal on a libertarian ticket in the current political climate, that a slowly pro-libertarian creeping Romney would have provided a stable medium for millions of petrified or alienated voters to slowly ease into libertarian waters.

In a presidential race in which the nominees of both major parties carry unfavorable ratings of 58 percent according to a recent Gallup poll, and with libertarian philosophy being poorly understood and difficult for the masses to rally around during a fearful election cycle, Romney’s conservative populism would have provided a much-needed ideological bridge for the scores of disenfranchised voters from either the undecided, “Never Trump”, or “Bernie or Bust” camps.

In short, Romney, an instantly recognizable name who garnered over 60 million votes in 2012, not only would have placed the libertarian ticket squarely in the spotlight, but connected it to supportive networks that could have transformed the ticket into a legitimate contender.  While it may have been an unorthodox and perhaps even idealistically unsavory item for libertarians, it would have been a politically pragmatic move that could have taken advantage of a revolutionary political atmosphere and parlayed it into a gradual libertarian revolution, a revolution that would have allowed for the construction of a libertarian foundation in the consciousness of the American public.

Heitz has written articles for several publications. He obtained his BA in History from the University of St. Thomas and an MA in War in the Modern World from King’s College London.

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