The argument made by people who support nominating former Republican [GOP] candidates as Libertarian Party [LP] candidates is they want to grow the party. They want it to be a big tent. They want to draw the biggest possible audience as possible. But does running these candidates actually build interest in the party itself? Just looking at Google Trends suggests otherwise. Instead, it appears that prior efforts to educate people on the principles of liberty have been more effective in building interest for the Libertarian Party and libertarianism.
Searches for Libertarianism and the LP spiked in 2004 with the Michael Badnarik race. While Gary Johnson had a significant increase over that of Bob Barr, there still were not as many searches for the LP or libertarianism as there were in 2004. Searches for Gary Johnson don’t necessarily lead to searches for the LP.
The Mississippi Libertarian Party [MS LP] has also been running former GOP candidates and has yet to match the 2006 spike in searches for “Mississippi Libertarian Party” and “Danny Bedwell.”
In 2006, Danny Bedwell started a campaign to educate the public on the principles of liberty. Through these efforts, Danny had established his position in the MSLP and became Chairman in 2009. Between the years of 2008 and 2010, MS was the second largest growing affiliate, and they had no candidates running until 2010 (or at least none listed at LPedia.org [it needs to be updated]).
In 2010, Ron Williams ran as a Republican and lost the primary. In 2012, Ron Williams ran as a Libertarian. While searches for the MSLP also rose, a more principled candidate, Danny Bedwell, was also running in another district. From this data, we cannot differentiate which candidate drove the searches in the fall of 2012. But what we can see is that the sum of the searches driven by both candidates did not even come close to the spikes in 2006 and the sustained levels from 2008 to 2010, which were driven by the educational campaign lead by Danny Bedwell.
In 2014, Ric McCluskey ran as a Republican and lost the primary. Now in 2016, Ric McCluskey is running as a Libertarian. No significant bump to the searches for the MSLP have been observed. However, we may have to wait until Fall to see what effect, if any, Ric McCluskey has on searches for the Mississippi Libertarian Party.
What does this tell us? Nominating former Republicans does not seem to grow interest in the party as much as previous efforts to educate people on the principles of liberty has. The most pragmatic approach is the principled approach. While it may seem like a grueling and thankless task at times, nothing promotes the ideas of liberty like actually promoting the ideas of liberty.