Libertarians have been around long enough to have had good years and bad years. They've won a few elections here and there, and have been appointed to plenty of offices. People have shown an enormous interest in their political philosophy, but just haven't got around to voting for them in big numbers yet.
Still, the Libertarian Party has seen considerable growth. Indiana represents one of the stronger Libertarian states in the nation and is often (not regularly, but often) included in main stream news stories about what's going on in politics around the area.
2012, though, represents a year that has the potential to really see the Libertarian Party explode. If things come together right, this year has the makings to create a perfect storm for Libertarian growth. It may not be the year that they win a ton of big elections, but it could very well be the year that sets them up for big wins down the road.
Here's five reasons why the LP just might make the leap into the mainstream this year:
1) Ron Paul - The longtime Texas Congressman is running for President. He, for all intents and purposes, is a Libertarian. He was even the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate back in 1988. He's held office as and is running as a Republican, but has made no secret over the years that he is strongly committed to libertarian ideals. People on both sides of the aisle, love him or hate him, have made comments that he is the most principled and consistent member of Congress in the last 30 years. He also brings with him one of the most passionate and engaged group of supporters you'll find in a candidate.
But let me let you in on a little secret....Ron Paul is not going to win the Republican nomination. And at the point where that is made official, either by his dropping out or by it becoming mathematically impossible, all of those hardcore Ron Paul supporters are going to have to turn their energy elsewhere. Which brings us to...
2) Gary Johnson - The former New Mexico Governor also held office as a Republican. He, too, was running for President as a Republican, but dropped out of the race after being excluded from early debates and not grabbing any real support from the GOP. Even as a Republican, Johnson was also very libertarian-minded. He cut costs and refused to sign any bill that increased taxes. In fact, he refused to sign pretty much any bill that ever extended the size or scope of government. Over his two terms as New Mexico's Governor, Johnson vetoed over 750 bills...a number that Johnson proudly states was more than all other governors at the time...combined.
Johnson doesn't have enormous name recognition across the nation, but he arguably has better name recognition than any of the Libertarian presidential candidates of the last several election cycles. According to a recent Public Policy Polling poll, Johnson is currently polling at 7% versus Obama and Romney.
Seven percent doesn't sound like an important number, but is is. You see, to qualify for participation in the Presidential debates, there are a handful of prerequisites. Most importantly, you have to be on enough states' ballots to mathematically be able to win a majority of the electoral votes. Being a Libertarian candidate, Johnson will qualify easily for that. Another debate participation requirement is polling at at least 15% in five major polls leading up to the debates.
So why should you believe that Gary Johnson has a shot at polling at least 15% heading into the debates? For that answer, we refer back to my #1...Ron Paul. You see, when Ron Paul publicly acknowledges that he will not be the Republican nominee, he'll have to make a big decision about who, if anyone to endorse. He could endorse Mitt Romney. Since Paul will no longer be a Republican Congressman, something tells me his ideals may keep him from throwing his support that way.
Paul may choose to endorse no one...definitely a possibility since there are no Republican candidate will truly match with his political ideology. But if Paul wanted to endorse the candidate that most shares his views, he'll be endorsing Gary Johnson. And with Ron Paul's endorsement comes the possibility of gaining the support of a large chunk of Ron Paul's followers. If enough of the Paul supporters begin to follow Johnson, Johnson will easily eclipse the 15% support number to find himself in the national debates.
Making it into the debates will bring a lot of attention to the LP from people that have never considered them before. Making it to the debate, for many who are skeptical about a third party, suddenly makes them viable.
3) Mitt Romney and Barack Obama - There are two kinds of Obama supporters...those that will support him no matter what, and those that supported hope and change in 2008 and find themselves disgusted with him today. Those that are die-hard supporters will be voting for him in November no matter what. Those that are disgusted are looking for another option.
On the Republican side, it looks like that option will be Mitt Romney. Hardcore Republicans will be supporting Romney because he has an "R" next to his name, but other other voters are unlikely to find Romney to be a refreshing option.
Those disgusted with Obama and not finding Romney refreshing are, in any other election year, those that are just going to stay home on election day. If Gary Johnson can prove to them that he represents the change they want to see, then they just may be willing to go out and vote for him. If not out of thinking he can win, then perhaps out of a statement of principle.
4) Rupert Boneham - It's taking a while for many members of the voting public to warm up to the idea of voting for a former reality TV star for Indiana's Governor, but it is happening. When Rupert first announced he was considering an Indiana gubernatorial chase as a Libertarian, many, including this author, were unsure if it was a good idea. A lot of people worked very hard for a lot of years to grow the positive public perception of the Libertarian Party, and letting a celebrity run for the state's top spot seemed a dangerous gamble with the potential to throw it all away.
After looking beyond his television past and furry beard, though, people are beginning to see Rupert's strong philanthropic side and sensible ideas for running the state. Many skeptics are meeting with Boneham and walking away saying, "Hey, this guy is for real. He's worth giving a listen to." Really, in politics, getting people to open their ears to you is where it all begins.
But even if Boneham doesn't put a dent in Indiana politics, he's already increasing name recognition for the Libertarians. From the second he announced he was running, there have been countless national news stories on the campaign. Win or lose, the fact that Rupert Boneham running for Indiana Governor is great news for a Libertarian Party that has often had trouble getting into mainstream news.
5) Ross Perot - Whhhhaaaaaaaa?!!? How in the hell, you ask, can Ross Perot help the Libertarians in 2012?
The simple answer is that he can't. Ross Perot isn't going to directly do anything to help the Libertarians in 2012. But he has the unique position of having provided a historical precedent that we all need to remember.
I'm old enough now that I have to consider that many of my readers don't know much about Ross Perot. Perot is a Texas billionaire that ran for president as an independent in 1992. He polled very strongly throughout most of the race, participated in the presidential debates, and ended up taking down about 20% of the popular vote in that year's election.
So what does an independent candidate from 20 years ago have to do with us today? It has to do with the overused argument that people just aren't ready yet to vote for a candidate in a major race that isn't a Republican or Democrat. Ross Perot, I submit, is evidence not only that we are ready to vote for such a candidate, but also that we have been ready to do so for at least twenty years. Perhaps we've just been waiting for the right candidate to present themselves.
So does all this mean that 2012 is the Year of the Libertarian? Maybe, maybe not. It definitely has all the right pieces to make it happen, though. It is going to be very interesting to see if the pieces will come together.