But does the trend of Libertarian acceptance in places like Congress mean that this third party is on the path to becoming a major player in American politics? Voters consistently complain about not having more options to choose from in a race, but will this discontent solidify into third-party backing and registration?
Howell notes that the major parties have grand-scale voter participation campaigns and bases that are very disciplined about voting. If more Americans “get off the couch once every two years” and vote, she said, “that’s what will change America and it may be what will save America.”
“Don’t vote or vote for the status quo — either way, you get the status quo,” Hinkle said.
Hinkle said he expects the continued integration of Libertarian ideals into candidates’ platforms once they realize that Americans are clamoring for less government. “If the Democrats and Republicans see these ideas start to gain popularity, they’re going to co-opt those ideas,” he said.
“If people don’t think third parties have a chance, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he added.
Johnson noted the cool factor that Libertarian ideals enjoy in a growing segment of American politics today. “No politician seems to shy away from being labeled a Libertarian,” he said.
One of the challenges for any third-party is getting face time with the American public. You can’t get into the debates if you don’t meet a certain threshold in polls set by parties and networks, but you need the polling organizations to include you in the first place.
Hinkle said if polls included Johnson, he feels that the nominee could clear the 15 percent threshold to be included in the presidential debates. “It’s a goalpost that Republicans and Democrats have set,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Gary Johnson pulled close they’d push it to 20 percent. Any way you shape it, it’s pure politics. It is the system we have to live with.”
Howell feels it’s “possible” that Johnson will be included in the debates.
“It’s going to take running the best campaign we can, a modicum of fairness from major media that controls the debate, and willingness on the part of Democrats and Republicans to be fair and inclusive and give voters real choice,” she said.
“The mission would actually be to win,” Johnson said. “I realize that’s really pie in the sky” — but if he gets on that debate stage, he said, “anything is possible.”
“I have more executive experience than Obama and Romney combined,” he added.
Another obstacle for the party is getting on the ballot in the first place. The Libertarian Party currently has ballot access in 29 states. Hinkle said in some states Libertarians will have to run as independents as “Republicans and Democrats have put all sorts of roadblocks to getting ballot access.”
Johnson, who vetoed 750 bills with just two overrides in a Democratic state during his two terms, said that “as governor of New Mexico I saw a lot of legislation that made ballot access easier — I always signed on to that legislation. I always made it easier.”
Howell said the party boasts a “growing list” of candidates running for office this year from congressional to state races, but continually has to battle the ballot access obstacles that arise due to everything from gerrymandering to “the power of incumbency that we’re up against.”
“Our candidates are a longshot, but they have a much better chance of winning than you do when you buy a lottery ticket,” she said.
Howell said she see the trend toward Libertarianism as more people hear about the party. “Every election cycle, the Democrats and Republicans lose credibility and voter approval,” she said. “People come to see that Libertarians are offering what they want: less government, fiscal sanity, more peace, lower crime, more financial security, and above all more jobs — private sector jobs.”
Hinkle said a path to his party is being carved by the machinations of Washington. “If Republicans and Democrats continue to botch things as they have, the frustration will continue to grow,” he said.
Johnson said that recent polling showing that half of Americans support marijuana legalization is just one example of people talking more about the personal responsibility and balanced budget ideology of his party.
“There is nothing about being a Libertarian that I cannot and will not defend,” Johnson said. “I don’t think either of the two old parties are identifying the solutions at all.”