Among the narratives to emerge from the wreckage of Hillary Clinton's failed presidential campaign is the theory that she might have come out on top in the key state of Florida if it weren't for the impact there of Gary Johnson and William Weld, the ticket representing the Libertarian Party. At this writing, Clinton's Florida vote total is 119,489 shy of Trump's, with the Johnson-Weld combo collecting 206,189.
Does such finger-pointing offend Caryn Ann Harlos, communications director for the Libertarian Party of Colorado? Hardly.
"I'm pleased we've become enough of a force that they're blaming us for the loss in Florida," notes Harlos, who previously spoke with us for an August post in which Trump and Clinton were described as "terrible" by party chair Jay North. "And it doesn't matter who would have won. If Trump had lost Florida, I'm sure we would have been blamed by his people — and I'm sure we're going to be blamed by them for his loss in Colorado. But getting blamed by both sides is a great thing."
This viewpoint may seem strange given the winning-is-all-that-matters mentality many voters associate with political parties. But at least for now, Harlos says, the LP is focused on spreading its message of individual rights and small government, even if it's through politicians who aren't members. As she puts it, "This could be the first step in becoming a real voting bloc — and it could make the other parties start adopting more of our positions."
Overall, Harlos was "very, very encouraged" by the Johnson-Weld team's performance across the country and especially in Colorado, where the two earned 5.04 percent of the vote according to the most recent results published on the Colorado Secretary of State's Office website.
Still, she admits to being disappointed that the LP didn't reach the same level or higher nationally.
If the Libertarian Party had hit the 5 percent number across the country, it would have qualified for federal campaign funding. Harlos admits to being "lukewarm or opposed" to accepting such money when and if the the party meets this standard. But in her view, "It's better to have the choice and reject it than not having the choice. It's a debate I wanted us to have, and I don't believe in winning debates by preventing them from happening."
Indeed, Harlos feels the conversation about whether to accept federal funding should the Libertarian Party achieve the 5 percent threshold in the future will come up during its next national convention, scheduled for 2018. "Perhaps it will attract some really good candidates in 2020 if the option is there," she says.
Meanwhile, she argues that "it's absurd" for Clinton supporters to hold the Libertarian Party responsible for her shortcomings. "If they didn't get the votes from the people who voted for Gary Johnson, they lost them fair and square. That kind of entitled mindset from any party needs to die in a fire, because it's a horrible, anti-American mindset. To think Libertarians would have voted for Hillary is a stretch."
She tells the Democratic Party: "You didn't win them, so give voters something better next time, or we Libertarians will steal even more."
As for Libertarian candidates in Colorado, Harlos highlights the campaign of Lily Tang Williams, who ran for the U.S. Senate seat ultimately retained by Michael Bennet. "She got over 3 percent, but just looking at her raw numbers doesn't show the impact that she had," she maintains. "In each of the debates, she shifted the conversation. She's a little spitfire, and I do think she's going to be part of the party appealing to more freedom-minded people."
She also lauds Kim Tavendale, who collected more than 2 percent of the vote in the state-rep race in District 33, and Richard Longstreth, who collected in excess of 5 percent in the 2nd Congressional District contest that saw Jared Polis retaining his seat. She points out that "the party is very, very pleased with how they did, and we think we're in a good position leading up to 2018 to getting a larger support base and candidates for a victorious Libertarian campaign — which I think is one of the biggest legacies Gary Johnson has left. He's created a great template and expectations for serious Libertarian campaigns in the future."
Harlos acknowledges that what she calls "the general, utter unlikableness" of Trump and Clinton benefited Johnson. "Those two candidates opened a door — but when you open a door, someone still has to walk through it, and he did a great job of walking through it. Gary Johnson and Governor Weld brought some solid policy ideas, and they took advantage of the perfect storm. In some ways, politics is like advertising: You want to get your brand out in front of people. And generally speaking, they did that with the Libertarian brand. You can't pay for that kind of advertising. McDonald's would love to do that."
Regarding Trump's victory, Harlos thinks it will turn out to be "very bittersweet" for the Republican Party. "It was definitely an upset win. I thought Clinton was going to be elected, but from the beginning, I said that if Trump wins, the Republican Party might be dead — and I think that even more so now. By electing Trump, the Republican Party is moving toward this nationalistic, jingoistic type of view — and I think the Libertarian Party is now in a prime position to get all those small-government conservatives."
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The countdown to the Trump implosion has already started, she maintains. "Give him six months and he's going to start a civil war against all his political enemies. And after that, the Republican Party is going to go the way of the Whigs."
If that happens, feel free to blame that on the Libertarians, too. Harlos won't mind a bit.