Governor Matt Bevin (R-KY) appears to have lost his re-election bid. As with everything in our politics these days, Bevin’s loss has led to a debate about Donald Trump and his responsibility for the loss because everything leads to a debate about Trump.
The Kentucky GOP swept the rest of the statewide races and won a supermajority in the state legislature, so there’s not a great case for blaming Trump. There are much better examples of Trump dragging the GOP to defeat last Tuesday: the Virginia state legislative elections and elections in the Philadelphia suburbs. But Matt Bevin did not have a Donald Trump problem, he had a Matt Bevin problem.
However, Republicans don’t blame Trump or Bevin’s loss. They are blaming the Libertarians. The margin between State Attorney General Andy Beshear and Bevin accounted for .4% of the vote, Libertarian John Hicks received 2% of the vote. Kentucky State Senate President Robert Stivers told USA Today that most of the votes that went to Hicks would have gone to Bevin in a two-man race.
For their part, the Libertarians are happy to take the blame:
“We are always happy to split the vote in a way that causes delicious tears. Tonight there are plenty of delicious tears from Bevin supporters,” the party said in a Facebook post.
The party also claims Bevin’s decision to not have Lt. Governor Jenean Hampton as his running mate for reelection played a role in Bevin’s results along with many political positions that go against what many libertarians believe in. The statement concluded with a final parting shot for Bevin supporters.
“For the Bevin supporters, your tears are delicious.”WKYT.COM
When I talk about the need for a new party for Conservatives, many right-leaning Libertarians point out the Libertarian Party. In We Can Do Better, America, I reject the Libertarians as a viable alternative and this post from the Kentucky Libertarians illustrates why.
They’re far too used to losing. A good 98% of the state voted for somebody else and they’re happy because they made other people unhappy. That’s not how you change the country or build a successful political party, that’s just being mean-spirited. In addition, it’s reinforcing the idea that voting for anyone other than the GOP and Democrats is splitting the vote.
Without the Libertarian on the ballot, would Bevin have won? It’s hard to say. If you’re a Republican like Stivers, you just add Hicks’ 2 percent to Bevin’s 48.8% and voila, instant victory. However, the reality is often far more complicated. It’s a popular Republican myth that Ross Perot’s independent candidacy cost George H.W. Bush his re-election in 1992 but, as I’ve written before, actual polling shows this isn’t the case and some suggest Perot took more votes from Clinton. Similarly, studies have shown that George W. Bush would have Florida by a wider margin in 2000 without Ralph Nader on the ballot, contrary to conventional wisdom.
As a general rule, a 1/3 of people who vote for Third-Party candidates wouldn’t have voted otherwise. So that would leave 1 1/3% of Kentucky Voters up for grabs. Generally, the remainder would have voted about 2:1 for one of the major candidates. This would leave a margin of 6,352 votes which is more than the difference between Beshear and Bevin. However, we have no idea which way the 28,000 Kentuckians who voted Libertarian would have gone. Were they primarily right wing voters or anti-Bevin voters? Despite their pretense, the Kentucky Libertarian Party doesn’t know either. A party that is happy with 2% of the vote doesn’t have the capability of doing a political deep dive to find out how their voters would have voted otherwise. Mean Facebook posts are the limit of what the Kentucky Libertarians can produce.
If we wanted to find out who the second choice of Libertarian voters were and to avoid “splitting the vote” elections, there’s a simple solution. It’s called ranked choice (or instant runoff) voting. Had this system been in place in Kentucky, voters would have cast their vote for Governor by order of preference. If no one got a majority, votes for the last place candidate would instantly be redistributed to those voters’ second choice.
If I were (for example) the President of the State Senate in a state where my party held a Supermajority and I was convinced that a third party effort had cost my party the Governorship, I’d definitely want to introduce a bill to put such a system in place. Under a ranked choice system, major party leaders wouldn’t have to worry that a third party effort would “split the vote” and cause the other major party to win.
Why won’t Senator Stivers bring forth such a bill? A ranked choice voting system takes away the stigma of voting third party. You’re not going to split the vote. You can vote for the candidate you actually want (and if you’re so inclined) you can order your vote so it automatically goes to the major party candidate you’d prefer. It increases the risk that citizens fed up with the Republicans and Democrats will come together to start a new political party that won’t be satisfied losing every major election it enters for 42 years if it gets a few tears from the major parties. In essence, it will encourage competition and Senator Stivers and Kentucky Republicans can’t have that.
Instead Stivers will use John Hicks’ candidacy as yet another argument against people voting third party and risking splitting the vote. As a bonus, Stivers and other Republicans may also use this argument over how Libertarians would have voted to overturn the result of the close election in the legislature, a prospect that should leave us all in tears.