Where’s your will to be weird?” Jim Morrison once asked, but this election might have been a little too much even for the self-styled Lizard King. El Chapo! Russian hackers! Bulimic beauty queens! And now we have the most Twilight-Zone moment yet: The Democratic Party nominee flinching in terror from the Libertarian party candidate.
That’s right: Hillary Clinton’s campaign braintrust, worried that Libertarian Gary Johnson is going to cost her the election, has unleashed its sock-puppet super PACs to nip his support in the bud.
Priorities USA, NextGen Climate and ShareBlue, three big pro-Clinton political action committees technically unaffiliated with her campaign, are unleashing a tidal wave of spending, millions of dollars between them to trash Johnson and, to a lesser extent, the Green Party’s Jill Stein.
“We’ll be launching a multimillion-dollar digital campaign that talks about what’s at stake and how a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Donald Trump, who is against everything these voters stand for,” Justin Barasky, a strategist for Priorities USA, told the New York Times.
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That Clinton, who has raised more than half a billion dollars for a campaign that has been running nonstop since the day after the 2012 election, is worried about the little Libertarian Party, which has not gotten more than 1 percent of the vote in any presidential election in the 45 years since its birth, speaks volumes about her support.
Nonetheless, her campaign bosses aren’t crazy. Johnson, who is on the ballot in all 50 states, is picking up 7 percent of the vote in the Real Clear Politics average of eight big polls. Stein, on the ballot in 45 states, has 2.4 percent.
Among younger voters, Johnson’s support rises dramatically. In a Christopher Newport University survey of Virginia released last week, Johnson was supported by 27 percent of voters aged 18 to 34 — ahead of Trump, who had only 23 percent.
With Clinton leading Trump by about 2.5 percentage points in most national polls, it’s clear why her campaign thinks the balance of power could be at stake here.
So what’s the best strategy to woo those third-party voters back? The obvious way is to woo them, to convince them that you stand for the things that they believe in. Then there’s Clinton’s way: to scold them, patronize them and ask just who the hell they think are to imagine they can vote their own values rather than hers.
“The harsh reality is that we have two principal choices,” warned one of Clinton’s newly deployed surrogates, Al Gore, in an interview last month. Wrote Paul Krugman, one of her principal media cheerleaders, in the New York Times: “I’d like to make a plea to young Americans: your vote matters, so please take it seriously.”
Chimed in Michelle Obama: “It’s not about voting for the perfect candidate.”
That is, this election is all about Hillary, not you. Her entitlement to the presidency is more important than your right to vote for your values. A vote for anybody but her is not a serious expression of political intent, but an immature temper tantrum by hot-tempered little kids who just won’t accept that she beat Bernie Sanders.
But the fact is that libertarian political values — a belief that the government tries to do too much — is growing steadlily among the U.S. electorate. Gallup polls over the years show support for libertarian ideology has grown from 18 percent of voters in 2000 to 27 percent — that is, more than a quarter of the electorate — in 2015.
The support for Stein’s Green party candidacy is just as authentic. Sanders, in his stunning successful insurgent campaign against Clinton (13 million votes! for a Vermont socialist!) brought in millions of first-time voters who were otherwise disillusioned about American politics. Some of them are supporting Stein — and if she weren’t on the ballot, they wouldn’t vote at all.
If Clinton really wants the support of third-party voters, she could try to convince them that she shares their values: Stay out of foreign military adventures. (But then she’d have to explain her support for the Iraq war and the disastrous intervention in Libya.) Or that she rejects Wall Street raids on the U.S. treasury. (But then she’d have to explain those votes to bail out the banks.)
No wonder she thinks bullying them is easier.