Five Things The GOP Can Do to Win L(l)ibertarian Votes

While there are no doubt libertarians who will never vote for the GOP under any circumstances, there are many open to the idea of voting for GOP candidates.

It’s time for Republicans to start bringing in those interested libertarians. It’s not like they’re going to vote for Democrats. Heck, taking on some libertarian leanings can appeal to independent voters too.

As everyone points out in some way or another — there’s plenty of room for improvement in the party. These libertarian stripes not only provide a contrast with the Democrats, but fit within the confines of what one can realistically get the GOP to do. I’m for legalizing marijuana, but I don’t see the Republican party enthusiastically supporting that position any time soon (though, randomly enough, John McCain seems open to the idea).

It’s time for the GOP to get it together as a national party if they want to go back to what politics always comes down to — winning elections. 2014 isn’t too far away and here are five ways for them to appeal to the libertarian-leaning voter.

1. Don’t write off the “whackobirds” bringing attention to issues important to libertarians.

When John McCain dismissed Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Justin Amash as a bunch of “whackobirds” for expressing concerns about the government’s treatment of civil liberties, the GOP’s internal schisms shined. Protecting civil liberties is a battle that unites political opponents – and should. This administration’s assault on civil liberties has gotten out of control, but the GOP has to wrestle with being branded by the Patriot Act as well (the legislation itself passed with bipartisan support).

Politicians who speak out about these issues shouldn’t be written off as odd outliers. Americans recognize the destructive precedents the Patriot Act set, even those who initially supported the measure (including the guy who wrote it). So should the GOP.

When potential drone strikes against American citizens and the actions of the National Security Administration made it to center stage, there should have been more Republicans supporting their colleagues who were pushing back against the administration. Yet there were still 217 Democrats and Republicans who voted against Amash’s amendment to stop the NSA from collecting data on people who aren’t under investigation.

Let the Democrats flounder having to make up excuses for the administration’s failures when it comes to civil liberties. Hit them on it and take the torch.

2. Hammer the administration on increased denials of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

As civil liberties become a more important issue to the public, it’s time to hold the Obama administration accountable for its broken promises regarding transparency. Via LA Times:

An Associated Press examination of 17 major agencies’ handling of FOIA requests found denials 466,872 times, an increase of nearly 50% from the 2008 fiscal year under Bush.

That’s a significant number. Not to mention that the Drug Enforcement Agency has increased the amount of covered-up activities in the 100s of percents during Obama’s presidency — e.g., a 620% increase from 2010 to 2011 alone.

What are they hiding? Ask them.

An accessible and responsive government is something to strive for over a bureaucratic and incomprehensible entity. The Freedom of Information Act is in place for a reason — and the hypocrisy of a party that claims to support transparency should not fade out quickly. The GOP can go far by attempting to push back against a government that the average American has trouble trusting. Try to get them to open up.

3. Stop getting all excited about military interventions.

Democrats have done a stellar job at pissing off pacifists recently. Not only have anti-war groups been angered by secretive drone strikes, but the recent events with Syria were the final straw. A changing Democratic party was highlighted by TP Carney after the 2012 National Convention:

Democrats mentioned bin Laden from the podium 29 times … — that’s more than they mentioned solar, wind, geothermal and ethanol combined.

Obama’s 2011 military intervention in Libya was an applause line for John Kerry, who said Obama’s Tomahawk strikes and bombing attacks — none of which were authorized by Congress — “made America lead like America again.” …

Obama has dragged the Democratic Party closer to the Dick Cheney view on national security. Delegates … roared at the don’t-mess-with-America bluster from Biden and others. …

A Washington Post/ABC News Poll in February showed a vast majority of Democrats … supporting Obama’s keeping open … Guantanamo Bay. Also, 77 percent of liberal Democrats were cool with Obama’s use of drone strikes around the Arab world, according to that poll. …

Anti-war and pro-civil liberties voices persist in many corners of the Left, but the party leadership and the Left’s official organs ignore them. Just as Sen. Rand Paul is lonely in the GOP when he fights for peace and against the surveillance state, Sen. Bernie Sanders is an outlier among liberals.

Here’s the time for the GOP to be more cautious about jumping into foreign conflicts — especially in the wake of the Iraq War.

I don’t expect the party to give up most of its typical hawkishness, but they should be more wary. While there are some Republicans skeptical of military interventions, the problem is that party leadership was on board the Bomb Syria Train even though a majority of Americans (and a majority of Republican voters) did not support getting involved in Syria.

It’s safe to say that there are a whole lot of people upset with how President Obama handles foreign policy. And by the same token, there’s no reason for the GOP to support every opportunity to get entangled in foreign conflicts.

Perhaps it’s time to let the anti-intervention crew have their say more often. Let the Democrats self-destruct in the meantime.

4. Listen to this guy about mandatory minimum sentences.

You know where a heck of a lot of money is wasted? On the drug war, especially at local levels. Fiscal conservatives should be on board with legalization — or at the very least, decriminalization. But even though that is not the case, there’s one part of the War on Drugs that conservatives should be attacking in droves right now.

The general prison population has fallen from 7.2 million to 6.97 million inmates from 2008 and 2011, but the number of inmates in federal prisons specifically has risen ~500% since the 1980s. Prisoners with drug charges currently make up nearly half of the federal inmate population, with their time spent in prison increasing 250% since 1987. A lot of these statistics can be credited to mandatory minimum sentences for drug charges. In fiscal year 2010, 77.4% convictions involved drug trafficking offenses that carried mandatory minimums. Problem is that mandatory minimums haven’t led officials to drug kingpins.

Senators Rand Paul and Pat Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 back in March, which would grant judges the flexibility to mete out lesser sentences than mandatory minimums requires “if they determine doing so would not jeopardize public safety.” Attorney General Eric Holder agrees with the duo, and back in August stated that low-level offenders “will be charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins.” These changes were put in place immediately.

Of course, this belies the question whether federal courts will actually utilize this flexibility or things will remain the same. Given that Holder’s declaration was only put in place a few months ago, there hasn’t been enough time to gauge its effectiveness. If the Justice Department et al doesn’t clean up its act soon – the GOP needs to hit them on it.

Mandatory minimum sentencing takes away a judge’s power to do what he or she is supposed to do — make judgments. Mandatory minimum sentences do not allow the courts any discretion to determine the punishment based on the crime. Rather, absurd mandatory minimum sentences for small-time possession fills our federal prison system with non-violent offenders and turns jails into even more of a money pit. To offer just one example, Scott Earle received 25 years in prison for hooking up a woman at a bar with a dealer who could sell her 100 Vicodin pills. Mind you: the woman, a police informant, asked Earle where she could find painkillers.

And if you’re okay with mandatory minimum sentences, consider the following. The US holds ~25% of the world’s prisoners despite only making up <5% of the world’s population. As of 2012, the federal prison budget reached over $6.8 billion. Wouldn’t lowering that incarceration number be a great way to save some cash?

5. And stop running candidates like this guy.

There’s a world of difference between a social conservative running for office and running for office as a social conservative. Rick Santorum falls into the latter category. Harping on social issues can get the base excited, but it’s not a secret that the GOP runs into some major obstacles when it comes to espousing social conservatism. For example, Santorum need not pontificate on the entire litany of reasons he opposes same sex marriage, even when goaded by college students. And no need to even discuss Todd Akin.

Real talk: the GOP is not going to abandon social conservatism. It’s an important part of the base that Republicans need to win elections. But certainly there are ways for socially conservative candidates to address these issues — as every candidate inevitably will — without coming off like a Rick Santorum. Or, worse, a Todd Akin.

Any potential Republican voter knows that social conservatism isn’t going anywhere for awhile. The “whackobird” politicians mentioned in the beginning of this piece (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Justin Amash) are all social conservatives. But that’s not the way they have defined themselves in the party.

Can some libertarian leanings fill up “the tent” a bit more? I suspect so.