Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Hornberger's narrative of wins

Hornberger's narrative of wins

by George J. Dance

May 20, 2020 - Things have certainly changed since my last post on the Libertarian Party (LP) presidential contest, back in April, just after Justin Amash had launched his exploratory committee. I concluded that post by writing: "The 2020 race for the LP nomination has not turned into a coronation of Amash. But it is now no longer a coronation of Hornberger, either. For the first time, it has become a real contest worth paying close attention to."

With Amash deciding not to run, the LP POTUS race is still worth paying attention to. However, there is a danger that it is back to being a coronation of Jacob Hornberger. Hornberger is the wrong messenger, with - not exactly the wrong message, but the wrong strategy of campaigning on that message. Despite his differing background and a belief in limited government, his is essentially the Abolitionist strategy of Murray Rothbard: the wrong strategy, out of sync with the public at large, potential libertarian voters, the majority of registered libertarians, and even (I believe) the majority of party members. Hornberger will have no easier a time getting his message across with his strategy than Vermin Supreme would; if the former gets media coverage at all, it will be only as a scary caricature.

At the same time, Hornberger could be the candidate the membership wants. After all, the LP has run three Gradualist campaigns in a row; why shouldn't the Abolitionists get a turn? Also, many vocal members, from Dave Smith to Tom Woods to the Mises Caucus to Hornberger himself, have spent the last 4 years trying to frame Gary Johnson's last campaign - the one that gave the party a record number of both voters and registrants - as a failure and even a betrayal. Finally, a different sort of framing has also been going on, with Hornberger cast as the rank-and-file members' choice opposed only by the party elite, the LP's very own Ron Paul or Bernie Sanders.

That last picture has been built through a constructed narrative that Hornberger overwhelmingly won the LP primaries. He and his supporters can be expected to puff up his record this way; but even non-Abolitionists like those at Reason have gotten in on the act. For instance, the headline of Reason's story on the Super Tuesday primaries (only one of which he won) began: "Libertarian Super Tuesday: Big Night for Jacob Hornberger...," telling those of use who might have missed it that "the trend line is unmistakable — the Libertarian front-runner at this point is longtime libertarian-movement hand and Future of Freedom Foundation founder Jacob Hornberger,"  adding for good measure at the end that, "for the moment, Jacob Hornberger is your Libertarian front-runner."

After Amash jumped into the race, Reason ran an article which told us in its second paragraph: "Hornberger, the 70-year-old founder of the Future of Freedom Foundation, has, after all, won a clear majority of the party's presidential primaries and caucuses, nonbinding though they may be."  The next day, when Amash jumped back out, Reason told us: "Jacob Hornberger has won by far the most of the party's nonbinding primaries and caucuses."

To evaluate that narrative requires examining the primary and caucus results in more detail; so let us do so. 

Hornberger won a clear majority vote in only two states, Missouri (in which he was the only person on the ballot) and Minnesota (after 7 rounds of instant-runoff voting). He also won 47% in Iowa - an impressive win which began the narrative. He won 2 primaries - Ohio and Connecticut - with less than a third of the vote, and another - California - with less than 20%. And he won New York with no votes at all: that state's Secretary of State disqualified all the candidates but Hornberger, cancelled the LP primary, and simply declared him the winner.

Against these 7 wins we have to balance Hornberger's 4 losses, winning just under 25% in Nebraska, 9.6% in both North Carolina and Massachusetts, and no votes, again, in Maine.

Even throwing out the New York travesty, that gives the man 6 wins and 4 losses; so he definitely won a majority; possibly even a "clear majority" (of states, not of votes, or even of votes in most of the states he won). But the winner "by far'? That sounds as if the LP, in violation of all social distancing guidelines, has clutched Hornberger and Abolitionism to its bosom; which is not what the vote results look like to me at all.

Which is precisely the misleading picture this narrative of wins seems designed to convey. It sends exactly the wrong message to those who haven't chosen Hornberger: that the rest of the party has. I expect Hornberger to last until the final ballot; as other candidates drop off, and their supporters lose their own preference, they may be tempted to vote for Hornberger in the belief that they will be putting the party's interests first.

They will not. This man has trouble getting even libertarians to vote for him; and I expect him to be a disaster as a candidate. But let that wait for the morrow. 

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