We all complain about our broken two-party system. Few meaningful reforms are ever passed in our federal government because one of the two major parties is always blocking or investigating the other party. An environment like this would seemingly guarantee the emergence of a successful 3rd party. Despite being the most well-known 3rd party group available, the Libertarian Party has been unable to attain much success running as a 3rd party, failing to win elections or even garner significant support. This failure is due to both the failure of the Libertarian Party to apply the principles of other major political parties in the past, as well as the fundamental philosophy of Libertarianism in general.
A close look at the formation of the Republican party will give insight as to why the Libertarian Party is unable to find success. The Republican party was a loose formation of 3 main political parties, the Whig party, the Free-Soil Party, and the Know-Nothing party. The Whig party was the main counterpart to the Democratic party in the first half of the 19th century and collapsed in the 1850’s when it hopelessly splintered over sectional differences on slavery. The Free-Soil party was a minor political party active in the 1840’s and 1850’s, located almost exclusively in the northern part of the country, whose main purpose was to oppose slavery, The Know-Nothing party was a minor nativist political party also active in the 1840’s and 1850’s, which arose in opposition to the increase in immigration from German and Irish peoples. The splintered fragments of the Whig party, along with the minor Free-Soil and Know-Nothing parties threatened to hopelessly splinter the northern vote, handing many national elections to the southern-dominated portion of the Democratic party. The only way to stop the dominance of the southern portion of the Democratic party was to unify the fragments of many political entities into a new party behind a strong unifying presence. Abraham Lincoln was the strong unifying presence who was able to seamlessly mold the Whig, Free-Soil, and Know-Nothing parties into a new powerful Republican party that would go on to dominate American politics for decades to come.
The Libertarian party is a very fragmented group of political entities that have no common voice. Occasionally, a figure like Gary Johnson in 2012 and 2016 will emerge who claims to be the voice of the Libertarian Party, but often will not even have a lot of support within the party itself. Also, the Libertarian principles of strong independence in opposition to strong governmental forces in the federal government by nature discourage unifying into a strong political entity.
If the whole purpose of Libertarianism is to limit authoritarian and centralized power, it is hard for those same principles to be applied to then unify into a strong entity which could then become authoritarian and centralized. Ultimately, if it wants to become a major player in American politics, the Libertarian Party will have to unify its fragment portions into one general political party, and then choose a strong unifying individual to become its leader.