I’d like to begin this post with a pretty sobering confession. I am a college graduate whose home-of-record is in swing-state Pennsylvania. I have been politically active for my entire adult life. This year, like most educated, politically active people, I recognized that Hillary Clinton would make a better president than Donald Trump – and then I voted for Gary Johnson anyway.
At the time, I reckoned this was a pretty safe gamble. The polls had Clinton leading Pennsylvania pretty comfortably, and most experts I read online expected Clinton to win the presidency in a landslide. Why not vote my conscience, I thought? It probably wouldn't matter anyway.
To my horror, the polls were wrong. As it turned out, Trump won Pennsylvania by a narrow margin (about 68,000 votes, compared to the 142,000 Johnson received in PA) and it was this very state which (chronologically) nudged him over the 270 Electoral College voters he needed to win the presidency.
Having glumly reflected on my role in all this for almost a week now, I’d like to own up and say a few words to Hillary Clinton and her supporters. They come from the heart, and while I cannot speak for everyone who voted for Gary Johnson (we libertarians are notoriously resistant to being collectivized) I do suspect that most of those four-million Americans would say the same to you, if they could:
You’re WELCOME, Clinton fans, that our joint efforts to get Gary Johnson on the ballot in all 50 states allowed you and your corrupt, warmongering, universally despised candidate to save face by winning the popular vote.
Now, thanks all the votes we drew away from Trump, you can continue to lie to yourselves and the world in asserting that Hillary Clinton was the true “people’s choice.” Now, thanks to us, you can assuage your troubled heart with the consolation prize of feeling slighted by an antiquated system. Now, thanks to us, you can attack a tired scapegoat for a little while longer before being made to confront the deep-rooted failings in both your 2016 candidate and your long-term strategy for enacting social change.
Oh - was that not what the message you were expecting?
If not, perhaps you read Jezebel’s headlines the morning after election day – “Fuck Gary Johnson” followed by “Oh, and Fuck Jill Stein too” – and in your anger, eagerly surmised from this that they had crunched the numbers and determined third-parties cost Hillary Clinton the election. If so, fret not: your truth-seeking skills are no worse than those of the inquiring journalists at CNN, whose headlines reported this same finding as fact (leaving it to the reader to fill in the F-bomb implications).
Or perhaps you listened to Rachel Maddow – who basically brought libertarian VP nominee Bill Weld on her show for the explicit purpose of getting him to convince his own supporters not to vote for him – when she lashed out at those who ignored her advice on election night. True to form, a dude on her NBC blog followed up with an argument that “third-party voters had an enormous, Nader-like impact” on the 2016 election” on the logic if 100% of Stein and 50% of Johnson’s voters had voted for Clinton – without ANY Johnson voters voting for Trump! – it would have been enough for her to take the presidency. Within hours, this faulty reasoning had become “proof” that Jill Stein and Gary Johnson made the difference, and by the following day Vanity Fair was so certain of this that they called it “undeniable that third-party voters cost Clinton the election.”
With all this talk of undeniable proof, you’d be forgiven for declining to check the numbers yourself. That would be time-consuming, and surely our media wouldn’t dare report it if it weren’t true, right? Surely they’re much too invested in their sterling reputation as dispassionate fact-finders to risk whipping-up unfounded partisan mud-slinging at such a time as this. That would be irresponsible of them, especially at a moment of fierce national tension, when everybody’s looking for something or someone to blame!
But for whatever reason, a nagging voice in my head told me to go check it out with my own two eyes. So I did. And because I’m a nerd who gets excited by Excel, I made a nice little color-coded project out of it that took up my entire afternoon. You can see my full handiwork here. If you’re short on time, though, I’ll save you the hassle: it’s all bullshit. Third-party voters might have swung Michigan from Clinton to Trump, and they might have swung New Hampshire from Trump to Clinton, but no other states would likely have been flipped in a world with neither Johnson nor Stein on the ballot. In order for Clinton to have won the election in that world, even assuming 100% voter turnout among those disillusioned third-party voters (which is preposterous), she’d have needed 100% of would-be Stein voters to prefer her (unlikely) and 57% of would-be Johnson voters to prefer her (absurd). In fact, when you isolate the effects of my candidate, you find that Donald Trump would probably have won the popular vote too had there been no Libertarian on the ballot. So again, you’re welcome.
Listen, the left is right to be angry by what happened on Tuesday. I sure as hell am. But that doesn’t make this recurring myth of a scapegoat any less pathetic. It is the height of illogic to blame Gary Johnson or Jill Stein for who won the White House last week. Period. Even supposing Johnson drew evenly from both sides (an eyebrow-raising assumption for anyone familiar with the conservative tendencies of most libertarians) there was simply no plausible mechanism by which to peel off half of Gary Johnson’s supporters towards Clinton without sending the other half scurrying to Trump. Maddow tried, to be sure, but that blew up in Weld’s face. You can’t implore an entire class of people to abandon their preferred candidate for one with a chance to win, unless they would otherwise prefer the opposite candidate from you, in which case they should totally stick with the guy with no chance to win. There is no actual world in which your strategic voting could have been applied by only that half of Johnson supporters who preferred your candidate.
Many commentators wouldn’t even settle for half, anyway. I am sincerely amazed by how many imbeciles on my timeline are simply looking at the margin of victory in battleground states, noting that third-party vote totals exceeded that margin, and then literally just ADDING that figure to Clinton’s totals to conclude that third-parties cost Clinton the White House. Since when has libertarianism EVER been a left-wing ideology? Since when has the left EVER been expecting our votes? And if they were hoping for our vote this time around, when did they EVER indicate that to us beforehand?
My hypothetical conversation with any Democrat frustrated by libertarians voting for the libertarian candidate would go something like this:
Democrats: “God, why didn’t libertarians grow-up and vote for Clinton???”
Me: “Did you ever try to draw them into your coalition?”
Me: “Did you ever try to draw them into your coalition?”
Democrats: “No, I called them all assholes, but they should have got the message!”
Hillary Clinton’s vote was never mine to lose. I would not have bothered to request, fill out and mail-in an absentee ballot from halfway across the world had she been the best option on that ballot, and I won’t be guilt-tripped into regretting that based on faulty logic. I, on an individual level, could not have changed the outcome by strategically voting for my preferred major party candidate. And we, as both Johnson voters and third-party voters on a collective level, could also not have changed the outcome by strategically voting for our preferred major party candidates. There’s no story here.
I started off this post by confessing that a week ago today, I never expected my vote would make a difference. Sure enough, it fucking didn’t.