Yet another mailbag post about the Libertarians.

An anonymous reader e-mails this mess o’questions:

Predict the future! Ok, well maybe just give us your best guess. Do you see the possibility of a third party becoming president within the next 50 years? Are we stuck with either a Dem or Rep or could we see a Libertarian one day? Or I guess, perhaps another party as president? I ask because, while I lean heavy as Libertarian, I’m registered as a Republican and don’t know if registering as a Libertarian would simply mean I get to vote less without much say in who’s running the show? (And yes, I know: If everybody thinks my way, of course we’ll never have anything other than Dem/Rep. So do I take the leap?)

Right now, every Representative and all but two Senators are members of the two major parties. Forty-nine of the fifty state governors are members of the two major parties. That means it’s pretty darn difficult for third-party and independent candidates to win, even in areas as small as congressional districts. Now consider that to win the Presidency, a third-party candidate would have to win pluralities in enough states to win a majority of electoral votes. That’s unlikely to happen in the next 50 years.

The most electorally successful third party was Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive “Bull Moose” Party in 1912– but the circumstances were different from any likely to occur in the next 50 years:

1. The progressive movement was roughly 20 years old at the time, and was far more widespread than the libertarian movement is today.

2. Small-p progressive Democrats and Republicans had already won office at many levels, which may have made the idea of voting for an official Progressive Party more palatable. There aren’t too many Democrats and Republicans bragging about how libertarian they are today.

3. The Progressive Party’s candidate in 1912 was the Bull Moose himself, Teddy Roosevelt. Voters could see him as President because they had already seen him as President, from 1901-1909. The modern equivalent would be if Carter, or either Bush, or Clinton, or Obama announced that he was joining the Libertarian Party and running for the White House. But that’s unlikely to happen either because of the 22nd Amendment (which prevents Clinton and Bush 43 from serving again) or because the single-termers were single-termers because America got sick of them (Carter and Bush 41). So the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party can’t replicate the advantage of TR’s prior experience as President.

Also keep in mind that despite the advantages Teddy had that the LP doesn’t have, he still lost. It was a three-way race, and he split the Republicans while attracting few Democratic voters.

In terms of replicating Teddy’s experience, the Libertarian Party‘s best shot is to find a libertarian who has already held elective office– say, the former two-term Governor of a southwestern state– and get him to run. But the libertarian movement might be better served to work within one (if not both) of the two big parties, and drag both of them towards libertarian beliefs. We’ve seen that happen before, with late-19th/early-20th century progressivism. Any failure to win elections should not dissuade libertarians from trying to change the hearts and minds of members of both major parties.

To answer your question about how you should register: I’d say it depends on how involved you want or hope to be in the politics of the Libertarian Party of Florida. If you want to vote in Libertarian primaries, then register LP. If you’re okay with not voting in LP primaries, then I say register with one of the major parties and vote for the most libertarian candidates you can find.

(All this reminds me: if the Koch brothers were really smart, they’d give millions of dollars to Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.)