The Libertarian Party selects its nominee in Orlando this weekend, and for the first time since the mid-1990s, their leading candidate is polling at or around 10 percent nationally. That man — former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson — is a regular on network and cable television, and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, is settling into his own public role quite nicely.
The Libertarian Party certainly faces structural challenges in a nation dominated by two political parties. But their main problem is different — and it's one they have control over.
Take their platform, which is meant to organize the party's policy choices. Here's what the Libertarians say about health care:
We favor a free market health care system. We recognize the freedom of individuals to determine the level of health insurance they want (if any), the level of health care they want, the care providers they want, the medicines and treatments they will use and all other aspects of their medical care, including end-of-life decisions. People should be free to purchase health insurance across state lines. [Libertarian Party]
I can see two specifics in there. One is health care portability. Insurance companies should be able to sell policies that aren't just limited to a single state. National plans could be cost effective and cheaper. The second: Repeal the health insurance mandate imposed by the Affordable Care Act. Libertarians believe that Americans shouldn't have to buy health care if they don't want to.
There are arguments — pro and con — to be had about these two policies. But regardless of which side you land on, these two policies — the only two that seem embedded in these principles — are wholly insufficient to govern the health care of hundreds of millions of people.
What would Libertarians do for Americans who believe they are owed health insurance coverage but would lose that coverage if their employer stopped offering insurance? (GOPers who've proposed alternative health insurance plans always include "transitional assistance" for this pool, so that no one would go without insurance until the whole plan, whatever it is, takes effect.). What would Libertarians do to help insurers access new markets across state lines? (The issue isn't that they're regulated differently. It's that insurers have to create networks of doctors and hospitals. These do not self-organize. Putting them together takes time.)
Maybe the answer is: nothing. A Libertarian president would work with Congress to prune every health-related regulation as much as possible, and then let market forces work. Americans would oppose that approach, but it's what the platform suggests could happen.
But I don't think Gary Johnson and Bill Weld could stand the enormous pressure that would come from advocacy groups and the media and people without coverage… and do nothing.
A piecemeal dismantling of our quasi public-private health care system is possible, too. But Libertarians haven't said what that would look like either.
The point here is that Johnson is running to become the chief executive of an extremely statist entity, and he's doing so from a perch that is diametrically opposed to the modern state. This cognitive dissonance is hard for Libertarians to resolve. It would be near impossible to govern solely as a Libertarian if Republicans and Democrats split control of Congress, too. On economic issues, the Libertarian ticket might easily align with the corporate cloth-coat wing of the party, but on trade agreements, it would not. Nor would a Libertarian Supreme Court nominee please the right.
Riffing on the Libertarians after mentioning a poll showing that half of registered voters say they'd be open to a third-party candidate, Seth Meyers said:
A third-party candidate is a little bit like a Tinder date. You think to yourself, "What have I go to lose?... Can't be worse than my exes." Then you get the to the restaurant and sitting there in one of those Western-style fringe jackets talking about how we shouldn't have to pay taxes and how weed should be legal because the Founding Fathers smoked weed and you couldn't help but stop staring at their lazy eye, and then you walk into the subway, and you text your ex and say, "Hey, you up?"
The two exes: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. [Seth Meyers]
Perhaps Meyers is a bit unfair to the Libertarians. But some solid policy proposals — proposals that address the concerns Americans have right now — might wipe the smirk off his face.