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By Elias Atienza
Back in January, I wrote a long-winded article about Austin Petersen’s potential Senate bid, which he confirmed yesterday. I also wrote in June 2016 that he was the ‘future of the Libertarian Party.’ That article didn’t age well, but I think it serves as a good launchpad for this article.
I expected Petersen to run as a Republican. The Libertarian Party, though it falls more in line with my beliefs, doesn’t have the resources to win a statewide race, let alone a national one. Though 2016 was a record year for the Libertarian Party, they still failed to make five percent nationally, have never won a federal office, and all of their legislators have come from people switching parties.
Petersen highlighted this in an interview with Reason’s Nick Gillispie.
“I’d like to see a healthy, thriving Libertarian Party. I’ve spoke to the Libertarian Party of Missouri, I spoke to an official here, I guess he’s a former official, he stepped down just recently, and I asked him what my options were. We seriously considered running in the Libertarian Party here. We very seriously considered it. Well, what our options would be, and the Missouri Libertarian Party explicitly stated they had no resources, not get out the vote resources, no capability to offer us to have any sort of a structural campaign in order for us to bring anything resembling a Libertarian victory here in the State of Missouri. I think the best case scenario would have been 11%, which would have been a monster blowout in Libertarian terms but still a major loss.”
In an ideal world, it shouldn’t matter which party you ran from. If you ran from the Libertarian Party, or the Democratic Party, or the Republican Party, or the Green Party, you should be able to win or lose elections base on your merit and not your party. But that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world where people will check the box if they have an R or D next to their name. It’s frustrating but true.
The Republican Party, for all of its failures and authoritarian tendencies, has libertarian-leaning individuals such as Justin Amash, Rand Paul, and Thomas Massie. Ron Paul, after running as the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 1988, launched his movement with his presidential campaign in 2008 as a Republican. Jack Hunter from Rare highlights that this movement exploded onto the national scene because of Paul’s debate answer. He wrote,“That historic moment marked the first time libertarianism in the United States began to explode as a new and potentially formidable political force. Paul’s political enemies who declared his campaign dead after that exchange couldn’t have been more wrong.”
Libertarianism and the Republican Party, despite the efforts of many people and the Libertarian Party, will always be mixed together. From Ron and Rand Paul, to the Republican Liberty Caucus, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie and a host of others like Maine state Senator Eric Brakey (who also happens to be running for Senate as well), all of them are libertarians in a party where the vast majority of people disagree with their core beliefs. The influence libertarians have today in federal politics is because of the Republican Party.
In my mind, Petersen made a logical choice to jump ship in order to advance libertarian ideals. It’s harsh for Libertarian Party members who are hoping to build up their party, but you can’t build it up when you have no resources like the Missouri Libertarian Party. And Petersen hasn’t changed his policies. He’s still pro-life, still anti-drug war, and for non-interventionism.
Principles make the man, but the two-party system makes American politics. While we should be working to breaking the two-party system, we should also be working to advance liberty in any direction. If Ron ran as a Libertarian in 2008, he’d be thought of a crackpot like he was in the 1980s. Libertarianism would still be talked about on internet forums, instead of on the national stage.
So I’m rooting for Petersen. I would have rooted him on if he ran as a Libertarian, would have rooted him on if he ran as a Democrat, or if he ran as an Independent. But that’s because most libertarians realize that party doesn’t matter. We realize that individuals and their defining character traits should matter. Their policies should matter. Not which letter shows up next to their name in a voting booth.
Unfortunately for us, the majority of Americans don’t see it that way. So we have to play the long game. Time will only tell if we’ve played it well enough.