The biggest problem may not be who to nominate in 2020, but who isn’t being nominated.
My friends inside the Libertarian Party have often (warmly) described me as a one-foot-in, one-foot-out person. I personally consider myself more of a libertarian than anything, have spoken at a few LP national conventions, and was a delegate in 2018.
But the description is accurate. I have often been frustrated by the seeming inability of the party to actually represent the libertarian message — something I am certainly not alone in — and have mainly stayed out of the day-to-day operations of the party.
That said, something caught my eye recently, and a bit of research has confirmed it.
In 2020, most libertarians believe the party has two big decisions to make. First, who to nominate for President. Second, who to nominate for chairman.
But the biggest problem may not be who to nominate, but who isn’t being nominated. Because the LP is missing a key person every other political party in American history has had. And it’s time for that to change.
What We Have: A Party Chairman
“There are few things in this world which it is worthwhile to get angry about; and they are just the things anger will not improve.”
Henry Jarvis Raymond, 2nd Chair of the Republican National Committee
Since there have been political parties, there have been party committees, and they have elected party chairs. The first chair of the Democratic Party was Benjamin Hallett. The first Republican Party chair was Edwin Morgan. Even the Whigs elected Isaac C. Bates as party chair at their first national convention.
What? Don’t know any of these names? That’s because the roles of the party chairmen were clear. Their job was to run the business of the party.
Now, nearly every single national party chairman has gotten paid to do this job (why the LP does not pay a chairman to work full time is yet another question), but the job was to run the day-to-day operations of the party. This includes managing membership, managing party finances, and yes, running meetings. Essentially, it is the party chair’s job to keep everybody together. This requires a cool head, diplomatic skills, and to do your job well, to be pretty invisible.
The Libertarian Party has a party chairman, and his duties are pretty much the same as any other party chairman. From the bylaws:
“ The Chair is the chief executive officer of the Party with full authority to direct its business and affairs, including hiring and discharging of National Committee volunteers and paid personnel, subject to express National Committee policies and directives issued in the exercise of the National Committee’s plenary control and management of Party affairs, properties and funds”
Lastly, of course:
“ The Chair shall preside at all Conventions and all meetings of the National Committee.”
In short, he needs to be pretty good at running meetings.
What We Need: A Party Leader
A party leader, on the other hand, is another story. Just read the names of famous party leaders.
Federalists: Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, John Marshall
Whig: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Zachary Taylor
Republican: Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush
Democratic: Andrew Jackson, Franklin Deleano Roosevelt, Barack Obama
The party leader is the firebrand, the media spokesperson, and the driver of party policy. They are usually, but not always, the highest elected official of the party.
They are the person that drives people to register, to rallies, and to voting booths. For those who remember the Ron Paul REVOLution, this was the role Ron Paul played, even if the GOP didn’t want him to. This is the energy certain LP caucuses want to inject into the LP, because this is the energy that wins elections.
Party leaders are the inspiration, the fire in the veins of the party, and the party’s torchbearer. Best of all, because they are separated from the chairman, they can act with a focus on rallying the base rather than dealing with internal disputes. A party needs both but one person can’t be both.
Yet the LP doesn’t have a party leader. We only have a chairman.
What about our presidential candidates?
For Republicans and Democrats, either their leading Presidential candidate or their highest elected official is their de facto party leader. This is easy since for the past century both Republicans and Democrats at least had a minority leader in both of the houses to choose from, a sitting elected official that could serve as the face of those parties regardless of how many seats the party held at the Federal level.
For Libertarians however, the situation is different.
Libertarians have certainly had Presidential candidates that drew crowds of people, and even votes. Gary Johnson in 2016 and 2012. Harry Browne in 1996 and 2000. Ron Paul in 1988. Etc.
However, these tickets inspired for a short while and then died away. As the candidates didn’t achieve elected office, they went on to other ventures, leaving the party bleeding membership and interest in the years between elections as a result. There was, and is, no central spokesperson, no party leader, to rally the troops and deliver the message of the party to the masses in years where there is no Presidential election.
So, what’s the solution?
If Libertarians want to step it up in 2020, we need a party leader. I know the words “party leader” may draw ire from some people in the party, so call it what you will. Party representative, party executive, party overlord (just not party animal, which is clearly the porcupine). Regardless of what you call them, this person’s job, for their entire term, is to fire up the party faithful and encourage new members to join.
Party members could introduce a resolution in 2020 to create a new position of party leader. The LP could appoint the highest elected official who was willing to drive the message of the LP home on a regular basis as the party leader. The important thing is that the party has someone whose entire job is to go to the media, party members, and to the American people, and drive the vision of the party forward.
The important thing is that, from 2020 forward, the LP doesn’t continue to try and force two positions into one.
The Chairman is a the quiet force that keeps a party together. The Leader is the advocate who brings the party’s solutions, and positions, to the American people. The Chairman needs a cool head. The Leader needs to draw crowds, registrations, and membership.
The Leader is Thomas Jefferson. The Chairman is Henry Raymond.
In every other American political party, party leaders have driven policy, membership, and made their political parties successful. In the heat of selecting a new chairman and presidential ticket, libertarians need create the very position that has brought such electoral success to the major parties.
To not do so would be a terrible mistake, not just for the party, but for the Americans the Libertarian Party could one day represent.