Much of the public discourse in this election suggests that Republicans have suffered the most in this election cycle. Their reputation as the “responsible” party has been vandalized both domestically and internationally will likely damage Republican election rates for years to come. But the GOP is responsible for its implosion only in a tertiary capacity. Let us not forget, no moderate conservative or party leaders wanted to nominate Trump, his nomination is as offensive to base Republicans as it is to liberals. I would contest that of all political groups in the United States it would be the Libertarians who have lost the most credibility.
Libertarianism in the US is marginalized to a bizarre degree. So much of a Libertarian thesis appeals to popular, contemporary, American notions and sensibilities, yet for some reason they are constantly forced to compromise to integrate with the GOP mainstream.
Libertarian candidates have long had to compromise their principles to appeal to the Republican party, which has long served as the host party for the movement. The most visible and respected Libertarian leaders Ron and Rand Paul have historically run for office under Republican banners.
If there was any year in which a true Libertarian, running on a Libertarian ticket, it would have been 2016. Even one month ago, a majority of Americans had an unpopular opinion of both Hillary Clinton (at 56% disapproval) and Donald Trump (at 63% disapproval) according to an August 31st Washington Post poll. The man the Libertarian party nominated was former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Johnson himself had a good enough set of credentials, he was a governor, and like many Libertarians ran on a Republican ticket to be elected. Johnson had every advantage a Libertarian could have entering a general election. A large amount of Republicans were disenfranchised by the Trump nomination and looking for alternatives, while a large percentage of Bernie Sanders’ supporters refused to back an establishment candidate. Both of these groups were open to Libertarian persuasion. The Gary Johnson campaign has one problem which stops it from succeeding where other similar campaigns have failed: Gary Johnson.
Johnson is unpopular even among his base. During his time as New Mexico Governor Johnson broke the only rule which a Libertarian must not break; he spent a lot of money. New Mexico’s state budget increased from 4.4 to 7.7 billion under his governorship. Additionally, Johnson does himself no favors by simply having his own, limited, understanding of foreign policy. Foreign policy is never very high on a Libertarian platform, but Johnson is limited even by those standards. When asked what he would do about the refugee crisis in Aleppo, Syria, to which he replied “what is Aleppo?” At an MSNBC Town Hall interview Johnson was asked who his favorite world leader was and was unable to provide any answer, even when the question was changed to “just name one world leader.”
While the Trump campaign has significantly damaged Republican credentials, it is American Libertarians who have done the most damage to their party by squandering perhaps their best chance at the presidency for decades.