What is the Relationship Between the RLC and the Libertarian Party?

by Mike Holmes

Recently the RLC has received some specific questions about our relationship with the Libertarian Party. RLC Treasurer Mike Holmes responds:

Q: Is the RLC made up of 'card-carrying' LPers who work with the GOP because it may be more politically expedient or are we "defectors" who "can't give up their libertarian roots"?

A: I'll attempt to answer this question though I reject in part one of the premises. Also, we have no real way of knowing how many members are "card carrying" LP members.

I personally am a lifetime LP member, having done so for the incredibly cheap price of $100 in 1973. Chairman Clifford Thies also has a history with the LP as their former national treasurer. RLC founder Eric Rittberg was a longtime LP activist as were Executive Director Tom Walls, newsletter editor Phil Blumel, our counsel Alan Turin and Virginia RLC chair Rick Sincere. Some of us participate in local LP events and are delegates to the LP national convention. Other RLC board members were never members of the LP.

A survey we conducted in 1996-97 indicated that about a third of our members usually vote for the LP. I would estimate that probably fewer than half of our members were in the LP and less than 25% probably still are. We do get a large number of inquiries these days from LPers looking for more successful political endeavors.

I reject the term "defectors" (as in "defectors from the LP") since one neither has to leave the LP to join the RLC nor is one defecting from anything by joining the RLC. It's not an either-or-choice.

We don't target LP members in our recruiting efforts, but I presume our regular reason advertising does reach them. Our in-person outreach is usually done at GOP events.

Our founding chairman was Roger MacBride, and a past chairman of the RLC was Ron Paul, and John Hospers is on our honorary advisory board. That's three out of seven LP Presidential candidates. We do not believe anyone has to worry about their "libertarian roots" by joining or working with the RLC.

I will stack them up against anyone the Libertarian Party has to offer any day of the week. One might observe, rightly, that the RLC has always had the support of the intellectual soul of the Libertarian Party, judging from those just listed.

Contrary to what the LP propaganda would have you believe (and since I used to be their chief propagandist, I know something about this) the LP has no monopoly on the concept of libertarianism and merits recognition in the political marketplace only by virtue of their achievements, not some honorific claim to superiority.

I believe many libertarians support both groups; the LP for reasons of radicalism (being able to promote a party platform that is purely libertarian), the RLC for reasons of practicality. However, there have always been libertarians active in the GOP (Robert Taft, Karl Hess and many others.) even though the GOP is not primarily a libertarian political party by any means.

The RLC promotes a policy of working with the LP whenever possible. This has its limits. Clifford Thies, myself and Roger MacBride even traveled to the Libertarian National Committee post-election 1992 meeting in Las Vegas to make this policy explicit and personal. Unfortunately, except for a few on the LNC, we were met with hostility and disrespect (especially to MacBride, who got the LP their only electoral vote!). We were treated rudely by a bunch of jerks who couldn't even bear to hold any discussion about the 1992 election results one month after it happened, and nervously laughed and joked whenever Andre Marrou's (the 1992 LP candidate for President) name happened to come up in conversation. This is fantasy game (role-playing) politics at its worst. Whether it is still the case remains to be seen.

As a role-playing fantasy game type of political party, the Libertarian Party members have assumed their roles, party chair, presidential candidate, campaign manager, et cetera, knowing this isn't for real. They take the internal politics very seriously but deep down, realize that they won't be making any real political decisions or actually get elected to political office. So they can enjoy the game without regard to real-world consequences of working in a democratic process in a largely non-libertarian setting. This role-playing encourages grandiose ideological huffing and puffing over policy and platform and is great entertainment and good for morale. We all enjoy hearing unvarnished libertarian analysis. But all too often, those LPers who actually want to get elected in the real world find themselves denounced and rejected by the LP for deviating from the fantasy of being heroic Libertarian knights of the round table. The few LPers who have gotten themselves elected in the past quickly find themselves ignored or criticized. Real politics is not compatible with the fantasy game of LP politics. This might not be descriptive of what the current LP is trying to do, but this is what we have experienced in the past.

The LP at most state and local levels is cooperative, and one of our former RLC Board members is now an LP state chair. An RLC member who is a former LP state chair and U.S. Senate candidate has recently signed up as a surrogate speaker for an incumbent U.S. senator for his re-election effort. So it can go both ways. In California, we endorsed LPer Dick Rider's non-partisan bid for San Diego County treasurer.

Our policy is that we only help Republicans in partisan elections if there is a Republican running; non-partisan races aren't an issue. We would lose our credibility if we endorsed LP candidates against Republicans, as the GOP is both very mindful of this and is somewhat suspicious of libertarian Republicans anyway. We might endorse an LPer is there is no Republican in a partisan race. Individual members can and do support whomever they wish.

Today, most of our members may vote for LP candidates from time to time (especially for President) but most haven't been active or even members of the LP. We appeal to constitutionalist, limited-government types of all kinds, including many who may describe themselves as principled conservatives. However, the RLC is open about calling ourselves the organized wing of the libertarian Republican movement. As small "l" and "soft" libertarians, we are not hung up about labels nor do we focus on excommunicating those whose libertarianism differs from ours or those libertarians who choose to emphasize mainstream issues instead of the controversial ones. We are about making libertarianism an asset, not a liability, in politics.

My personal view is that the LP is no longer a real political party. It is a political education vehicle with the form of a political party but one in which its primary purpose is to build the organization rather than to elect libertarians to public office. It is no longer capable of electing anyone to office under the partisan Libertarian banner and rarely tries, other than symbolically. Depending on the measure, it is the fourth or fifth "third party" in American politics, behind the Reform, Taxpayers, American, Green, et cetera, depending on the race.

We in the RLC believe that a healthy LP is actually good for us, since it demonstrates the political appeal of radical libertarian ideas and policies. We in turn promote slightly less radical versions of said ideas (in some cases) and work to elect libertarians to Republican Party and public office. We aren't about manifestos or chest-beating, but about helping our friends and finding new ones.

We look forward to LP types working with the RLC and believe that we are slowly but surely moving libertarianism into the big tent of the GOP, whether anyone else likes it or not. We are finding more and more Republicans in office who identify with our efforts and believe that all libertarians will enjoy working towards making the GOP more and more libertarian. The Republican Party is open for grabs right now and we believe we have the best ideas out there. Our challenge is finding and assisting those in the GOP working to make that happen.

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Mike Holmes is National Treasurer of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a nationwide organization for libertarians within the Republican Party, and Senior Editor of Republican Liberty.