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Divided They Fail

If they both support Ron Paul, why don't the Libertarian Party and Constitution Party merge?

by James Leroy Wilson
April 30, 2008

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Divided They Fail
Last week, the Constitution Party (CP) nominated Chuck Baldwin for President of the United States. Baldwin is a Baptist pastor from Pensacola, Florida, columnist,  and radio talk show host, and was the party's nominee for Vice President in 2004. Baldwin had previously endorsed Congressman Ron Paul for the Republican Presidential nomination, and if by some miracle Paul does win it, I suspect Baldwin would end his own campaign and promote Paul. Indeed, if Paul had sought the Constitution Party's nomination, he would have won it easily.

The same is true of the Libertarian Party (LP) nomination. It appears that former Republican Congressman Bob Barr and longtime Libertarian activist and author Mary Ruwart both held off on seeking the LP nomination until Paul ruled out a third-party run. Previously, candidate Steve Kubby had endorsed Paul.

And so we have two parties, both of which would have backed Ron Paul had he been more interested in continuing until November rather than preserving his House seat as a Republican. If both parties would have backed the same guy, why have two parties?

There are glaring differences between the two. LP members tends to favor open immigration, the CP opposes it. The LP favors free, open trade, the CP is open to protectionist policies. The LP focuses on individual rights, whereas the CP is more concerned with moral issues and states' rights. The LP's rhetoric is secular, whereas the CP more readily uses Christian themes. The LP tends to favor abortion rights, the CP is pro-life.

Ron Paul was attractive to both parties because he took a middle course on these issues. Increase immigration enforcement on the borders and coasts, and end welfare for illegal immigrants, but don't impose a national ID card or crack down on civil liberties of people inside the country. Free trade is ideal, but maintain a flat tariff rate as preferable to an income tax. Strip the federal courts of meddling in state and local policies on issues like prayer in school and abortion, and allow each state to decide for themselves. And end federal funding of abortion. In other words, be pragmatic in terms of people and goods coming across the border, and support federalist rather than nationalist approaches to moral issues and abortion.

Besides these issues, the LP and the CP both want to make the federal government smaller. What unites them is greater than what divides them:

  • Both would pull out of Iraq, whereas the Democrats (D) are divided on the subject and the Republicans (R) want to "stay the course."
  • Both oppose war against Iran, expanding NATO, foreign aid, and "humanitarian" wars; D's and R's want all four.
  • Both oppose "managed trade agreements" and ceding governmental authority to international organizations; D's and R's promote this and call it "free trade."
  • Both oppose the Patriot Act, Real ID, and government monitoring of our phone calls, emails, and websurfing; D's and R's favor all three.
  • Both are opposed to subsidies to various industries (corporate welfare) and federal aid to state, local, and private programs and projects (pork-barrel spending); these are the bread-and-butter of D and R governance.
  • Both oppose nationalization of crime control; D's and R's call for its expansion.
  • Both oppose nationalization of education; D's and R's want more of it.
  • Both call for a halt to federal spending increases and identify many areas for cutting that are counter-productive and/or that violate the Constitution; D's and R's continue to increase spending.
  • Both are firmly against gun control; D's are for it and R's waver.
  • Both are firmly against the draft and other forms of compulsory national service; many D's and R's favor them.
  • Both call for allowing the free market to develop domestic oil sources and alternative forms of energy, whatever they may be; D's and R's call for restrictions, regulations, and subsidies.
  • Both point to the Federal Reserve's inflationary policies as the cause for economic instability; D's and R's believe that printing up more money will bail out the economy.
  • Both would allow individuals to opt-out of Social Security; D's are opposed and R's are mixed while neither do anything to preserve the solvency of the program.
With so much in common, why can't the LP and CP unite? Part of it was that the LP's mission through the years has been to spread the libertarian philosophy of individual freedom. In a way, it has served as a gateway for further study and advocacy. Policy agreements with the CP are only that - agreements on policy. A plank in a platform may increase individual freedom, but it doesn't advance the freedom philosophy. An alliance with the CP, which holds a sharply different view of the individual and the role of government could hinder rather than help the advancement of the philosophy. Their common ground is that they want to downsize the federal government. Where they depart is that libertarians would downsize state and local government as well as a matter of morality and principle, whereas, in principle, the CP sees these governments as necessary to protect morality.

But I don't know if it was ever strategically sound to promote philosophical principles through a political party. Principles, to remain principles, must be untarnished, whereas politics works through compromise, which means tarnishing principles. In any case, the Internet has made the dissemination of libertarian principles, and education in the libertarian philosophy, much easier than it used to be. If the Libertarian Party exists to educate, I don't know if that is necessary anymore. If anything, it could lead people who take the philosophy far enough to see the contradiction of the LP's own existence.

But if the purpose of the party is to win elections and govern, it would do well to disband or change its name to something more generic and non-philosophical. It could then do a better job of advancing libertarian ends without allowing the various, necessary and inevitable compromises to besmirch the libertarian philosophy. This is where joining together with the Constitution Party, Ron Paul Republicans, and others come in. If the immediate and primary goal is to downsize the federal government, the various groups that support this goal can no longer be divided against themselves.

332,000, 670,000, 483,000, 541,000. These are the combined popular vote totals in the last four Presidential elections for the LP and CP. When divided, small-government parties fail. Large financial resources are drained just to get on the ballot in most states. It would be less of a drain for a combined larger party. This in turn would lead to more effective advertising and campaigning.

Ron Paul was a fund-raising machine and has collected almost a million votes  in the Republican primaries and caucuses. Building on his momentum means that those who would have voted for him in the general election should rally around one and only one candidate who also would have voted for Paul. Splitting the third-party vote between two candidates who themselves are Ron Paul fans is a waste of time for everyone.

Comments (4)

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Tannim from Everywhere writes:
May 1, 2008
It wouldn't work.

Leaving aside the immigration issue, the secular vs. religion issue itself in all of its flavors (SOCAS and abortion, most prominently) would doom that marriage.

George Donnelly from http://wyattstorch.us/ writes:
May 2, 2008
Constitution Party members supporting their party’s platform do NOT accept the non-aggression principle (the idea that you may not use the initiation of force to achieve political or social goals). And you can not join the LP without accepting the non-aggression principle. Principles are more important than the expediency of the moment. End of story

The author wants the Libertarian Party to abandon its principles but he wants the Libertarians and the Constitutional Party to work together on common ends.

What ends could you possibly identify and rigorously pursue if you have no guiding principles? That is the situation we face today, where unscrupulous politicians, lacking in guiding principles, trade favors for terms in office and make laws that are diametrically opposed to the values of our republic.

James Leroy Wilson from Independent Country writes:
May 3, 2008
I have a follow-up piece at my blog:

It doesn't directly answer anyone's objections, but it does flesh out my perspective a little more.

Dude writes:
May 5, 2008
merging the CP and LP would work alot like the electoral college does: solve problems now but screw things up in the future. these two parties together could solve many problems now but the merging will become utterly useless after about 200 years. instead of merging the parties we should put someone in the white house to solve these problems

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