The Trump phenomenon has splintered the libertarian movement into three distinct groups. The massive political realignment taking place has exposed fractures that have existed for a long time. How will these factions reconcile and will they constitute a unified movement in the future?
Left-libertarians – Typically DC beltway libertarians and wannabe respectable types. The biggest of the three groups, they are best represented by Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson. They value left social issues and are animated by anti-racism, gay marriage, and baking of cakes. They also think Trump is racist and hates women. Any good that may come from Trump’s challenge of the establishment is overshadowed by his being Pure Evil.
Paleo-conservatives – People like Lew Rockwell and Jeff Deist. They value nationalism and traditional right views on culture, immigrants, and political correctness. There is a silver lining to every one of Trump’s totalitarian or economically destructive proposals.
Voluntarists – The smallest faction, with people like Robert Wenzel and James Corbett. They see Trump as not much different from Hillary or any of the other candidates, and a potential disaster for the country and the libertarian brand. They tend to point out both the good aspects and terrible aspects of Trump’s proposals.
Here I am on my post-election gloating tour, with another prediction that’s finally been picked up on by the media. In July, I asked “Is Trump the ‘Asia pivot’ candidate?“, and showed how his candidacy may be the culmination of this major shift in US geopolitics. Well, here’s a sampling of the Google News results on this issue, now that Trump has been elected.
Looks like there’s something to this. He may ease tensions with Russia, while at the same time putting us on a war path with China. Dangerous times!
Back in August, I concluded my last post with the following prediction:
However, as the clock ticks towards the election, it is likely that the race will be forced into a Trump-Hillary binary, diminishing the third parties, and giving Trump a much-needed small boost.
Sure enough, this is exactly what happened. Gary Johnson’s collapse helped push Trump over the top in a highly competitive race, as you can see from the RealClearPolitics chart below.
In the end, third parties may not affect the narrative of the election much, but they do have an effect on who is perceived to be winning or losing, especially in a tight race. This has an outsized effect on the race, compared to the raw vote totals, and should be further studied and exploited by future campaigns.
How is Gary Johnson affecting the 2016 presidential race? Is he helping Hillary or Trump? How does Jill Stein factor into it? For an in-depth analysis, I looked at 4-way presidential polls going back to May 2016, aggregated by RealClearPolitics (CSV data download). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gary Johnson seems to hurt Trump more than Hillary — but Jill Stein turns out to have a very surprising role!
Let’s look at how the combo of Johnson and Stein affect the race. Here we see a positive correlation between their combined share of the vote and Clinton’s numbers. This means Johnson and Stein take votes from Trump, on average. But how does Johnson affect things individually?
Johnson helps Hillary only very slightly by himself, in the graph below. Yet in the next graph, Johnson helps the leftist bloc of Hillary and Stein much more than he helps Hillary alone. What is going on here??
To make things even weirder, Stein seems to help Hillary even more than Johnson does. That implies Stein is taking more votes from Trump than Gary Johnson does! How can that be??
Finally, a moment of clarity. There is a solid, almost 2:1 correlation between Gary Johnson and Jill Stein’s poll numbers. That means they magnify each other, instead of subtracting. Probably because whenever the media gives Gary any attention, they also mention Jill Stein, so she gets a boost. There is a strong “third party bloc” dynamic here, more so than the individual third party candidates. Ideology seems to have little effect compared to simple media exposure.
The best explanation I can think of is that there is a contingent of potential Trump voters, who evenly split between Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. That would account for why Johnson has a smaller effect on Hillary’s lead than does Stein. The rest of Johnson’s supporters would otherwise evenly split on Trump and Hillary.
In the end, Jill Stein acts as a magnifier for Johnson’s effect on the race. Trump would definitely be better off if they both left the race, but his biggest marginal gain would be Jill Stein dropping out.
Prediction: A 2-way debate in late September will shift the focus back to Trump vs. Hillary and diminish the attention on Gary Johnson (and Stein). This should be a net positive for Trump, the debate results notwithstanding. A 3-way, or even worse, a 4-way debate, would potentially be devastating for Trump, as it would give a national platform for the third party bloc which is on net drawing votes from Trump. However, as the clock ticks towards the election, it is likely that the race will be forced into a Trump-Hillary binary, diminishing the third parties, and giving Trump a much-needed small boost.
Looking at the difference between Trump’s and Hillary’s attitudes towards Russia, one can’t help but feel that there’s something deeper going on. Hillary’s hostility to Russia, contrasted with Trump’s amiable gestures, raises the question of what Trump’s objectives are. Or more accurately, those of the team of national security insiders he has assembled, including former Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn.
Let’s get this out of the way: it is not non-interventionism, no matter what some libertarians may wish to believe about Trump. These are serious military-industrial complex heavy-hitters in his inner circle. He is not against using American power, he is simply pushing a different agenda from the neocons formerly in power. His well-known antipathy to China may provide a clue. Here’s Trump’s plan to “get tough” on China (there is no “get tough” on Russia plan):
Declare China A Currency Manipulator
End China’s Intellectual Property Violations
Eliminate China’s Illegal Export Subsidies And Other Unfair Advantages
Strengthen the U.S. military and deploying it appropriately in the East and South China Seas
Donald Trump campaign website, July 30, 2016
Increased trade barriers, sparking a possible trade war, combined with amped up military presence in China’s backyard sends a pretty clear signal of Trump’s intentions. This falls in line with the elite foreign policy consensus of an “Asia pivot” in the past few years – away from the Middle East and towards containing a rising China. Let Russia help us mop up ISIS and “radical Islam”, Trump seems to argue, which leaves us free to confront China.
At a press conference a few days ago, Trump said he doesn’t want to see Russia and China “teaming up”. He seems to understand, or has been made to understand, the fears underlying thia Asia pivot. Closer military and economic cooperation between Russia and China presents a major stumbling block to Western globalist hegemony. The election contest between Trump and Hillary can be seen as a contest between the foreign policy realist “pivot” faction and the anti-Russia neocons. Far from ushering in an era of non-interventionism, Trump would merely shift the target of American power.
Since Trump and Putin seem to like each other, is it likely that a President Trump’s newly-befriended Russia would throw Edward Snowden under the extradition bus?
Let’s see what Trump has said about Snowden.
I think Snowden is a terrible threat, I think he’s a terrible traitor, and you know what we used to do in the good old days when we were a strong country — you know what we used to do to traitors, right?
The Washington Times, July 2, 2013
When you just asked the question about Snowden, I will tell you right from the beginning, I said he was a spy and we should get him back. And if Russia respected our country, they would have sent him back immediately, but he was a spy. It didn’t take me a long time to figure that one out.
Newsweek, March 4, 2016
Here’s what Putin has said about Trump.
[Donald Trump is] a really brilliant and talented person, without any doubt. It’s not our job to judge his qualities, that’s a job for American voters, but he’s the absolute leader in the presidential race. … He says he wants to move on to a new, more substantial relationship, a deeper relationship with Russia, how can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome that.
The Political Insider, December 17, 2015
And what Trump said of Putin.
It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond. I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.
CNN, December 17, 2015
With warmed relations, Snowden may quickly lose his value as a geopolitical “trump” card and find himself on a one-way flight to Guantanamo. Maybe he should start country shopping?
I mentioned before my theory that Trump, far from being rock-solid and independent, is very susceptible to manipulation. His political persona requires projecting “strength”, “winning”, “decisiveness”, regardless of private hesitation or reality itself. Anything else risks collapsing the house of cards underlying his populist mandate.
Now we have the first inkling of this phenomenon at work. In response to the Orlando shooting, Trump advocates … airstrikes against ISIS! “We have to really increase the bombings.” Because the shooter apparently “pledged allegiance” to ISIS in a 911 call shortly before his shooting. The reality is there was no operational link between the shooter and ISIS, or any other organized group. He was simply a mentally unstable person who used Islam as rhetorical cover for his actions.
The political consensus seems to be on the right-wing this time – this was Islam vs. innocent gays and therefore we need to hate Muslims. Trump fell right into this narrative trap and took it to its most absurd, yet internally logical, conclusion. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how he could be easily goaded into a brand new war.