Staff Columnist

Did Libertarians cost GOP a U.S. House seat in Iowa - and the presidency?

If libertarianism is the 'heart and soul' of conservatism, as Reagan said, then conservatives have lost their hearts and souls

Bryan Holder, candidate in Iowa's 3rd Congressional District, at a Libertarian Party campaign rally in Des Moines on Sat
Bryan Holder, candidate in Iowa's 3rd Congressional District, at a Libertarian Party campaign rally in Des Moines on Saturday, Aug. 22. (Contributed photo, Myra Matejka)

With nail-biters across the country, Republicans and Democrats are looking for someone to blame for their narrow losses in the 2020 elections.

One Iowa race is headquarters for claims of election “spoilers.” Democratic U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne won reelection by about 6,000 votes over Republican challenger David Young, according to unofficial results in Iowa’s 3rd District, which includes Des Moines and Council Bluffs.

Libertarian Party candidate Bryan Jack Holder earned about 15,000 votes, easily covering the gap between the major party candidates.

On the Republican Party of Pottawattamie County Facebook page, activists are wondering if Holder cost Young the election. One user wrote: “They need to grow their party, or quit SPLITTING THE ANTIDEMOCRAT VOTE, they need to grow up.”

Holder, who was running in the district for the fourth time, rejects the “spoiler” angle. He says he won those votes fair and square by reaching out to independent and Libertarian voters.

“David got all the Republican votes, Cindy got all the Democrat votes. [No-party voters] don’t owe any allegiance to the two-party system,” Holder told me.

At the presidential level, final results in a few states are close enough to make partisans mad at Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen, who finished a distant third nationally.

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Our old neighbor Scott Walker, former governor of Wisconsin, suggested on Twitter that Libertarians are costing President Donald Trump the election. With a shake-my-head animation, he noted that Jorgensen’s votes covered the gap between Trump and Joe Biden in Wisconsin’s incomplete results.

It’s a switcheroo from 2016, when Green Party candidate Jill Stein was accused of costing Democrats electoral votes in swing states.

Even before the latest election, third-party and no-party voters were getting smacked from both sides. Democrats said we were helping Trump, while Republicans said we were helping Biden.

In reality, voters choose third-party candidates because they prefer them over the alternatives. It is foolish to think they would all break one way or the other if there were only two candidates on the ballot.

If the establishment parties want support from disgruntled voters, they should run better candidates.

This week marks my third anniversary as a full-time Gazette columnist. My body of work in that time is basically an instruction manual for how my fellow Republicans could win over socially moderate and libertarian-leaning voters like myself.

Donald Trump is the opposite of a libertarian.

If 2020 is ‘not the time’ to vote for a third party, when is the time?

Worshipping at the altar of the polling place

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Radically overhaul taxes and regulations. End the wars, for real this time. Decriminalize drugs and shrink the prison system. Significantly bolster legal immigration. Don’t touch our firearms and firearm accessories.

On every test, both major presidential candidates failed.

Libertarians most often are blamed by Republicans for spoiling elections. Reflecting on the 2016 election, Trump this year complained that Libertarian voters actually “are all Republican voters” but they didn’t support him.

American libertarians, too few to form our own national political bloc, have been engaged for decades in a fusionist project with mainstream conservatives. The strategy is to ally with Republicans to win races and change the party from within.

Democrats have sometimes tried to capitalize on the cozy relationship between libertarians and traditional conservatives. This year in Iowa, an unknown group mailed ads that were ostensibly opposed to Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and in favor of her Libertarian opponent Rick Stewart, hammering Ernst on high government spending.

But Stewart told me didn’t have anything to do with the mailing, and it did not have any attribution. It seems likely that someone supporting Democrats sent the hit piece in a bid to pull votes away from Ernst.

It all goes back to Ronald Reagan’s first presidential campaign in 1976, when the conservative icon said in an interview with the libertarian magazine Reason that libertarianism is the “heart and soul” of conservatism. If that was true, the conservative movement has lost its heart and soul in the Trump era.

Donald Trump is the opposite of a libertarian. He believes in a powerful federal government and by an unchecked executive branch. In April, Trump openly supposed he could force state governments to lift their pandemic-related restrictions: “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he said.

Even when Trump occasionally takes the right position, like on some tax and regulatory issues, it’s by accident, not because he has any kind of cohesive vision for limited government. He has a strong affinity for government intervention in the economy, he just applies it selectively.

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If Trump loses the presidency, he is to blame, not some 2 million of us who voted for alternative candidates.

In response to the 2020 election, Holder from the 3rd District worries Iowa Republicans will continue their campaign to make it harder for third-party candidates to get on the ballot. The previous Legislature passed a law moving the filing deadline early in the year, and they could try to increase the number of signatures required for ballot petitions.

If he’s able to get on the ballot, Holder plans to run again for U.S. House.

“The current plan is to run a fifth time and spoil it again,” he said.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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