TLR: This is Gary Doan talking to Todd Hagopian. Todd is a political commentator on social media who’s popular in libertarian circles on Twitter, where he goes by the handle Libertarian-In-Chief. Unlike many libertarians, he also has a family and a successful career. Todd, thanks for talking with me.
TH: No problem. I appreciate the time.
TLR: So, it appears the Libertarian-In-Chief is running for… Libertarian-In-Chief. Given that organizing libertarians is like herding cats, Why the hell would anyone actually want the job of Chair of the Libertarian Party in the first place?
TH: That’s an excellent question. I think, you know, as, as you have four kids and you start to look at what’s going around, going on in the world, then you try and think about how you want your kids to grow up… You know, I don’t want to be a part of a movement that never gets its legs and It’s always the third party. And I think at some point in time, we have to get serious and organize and become one of the major parties and, and…
There’s certain times when you find out that you might have the skills necessary to do something, and that’s the time to contribute and up until now, I haven’t seen it that way. And now that I believe in the party needs to be professionalized and organized better. I have that specific skill set that I think I can contribute at this point. So that’s why I decided to kind of step in now and take a look at whether or not the libertarians want me to help out.
TLR: How long have you been a registered libertarian and what have you done within the Libertarian party at your state or local level?
TH: Yep, great question, and I’m I get a lot of pushback here. So essentially, I’ve been a registered Libertarian since 2017. Although I did support and endorse Austin Petersen and ‘16. I just don’t think I got my card until ‘17. I’ve been giving to Liberian candidates for three years now. Prior to that I was a hardcore Republican in a pretty Democratic area and Ann Arbor, Michigan, you kind of get sharp elbows when you grow up that way. So I dug into the Republican ideology until about 2009, 2010 and then became a libertarian Republican.
And at that point, I never even been exposed to the party. I just knew Ron Paul, and I knew Justin Amash. And so I thought that was what a libertarian was. That was just a libertarian Republican. 2016 is when I really started looking at the party and decided to change affiliations and drop the “Republican” from that.
As far as local levels? I am a businessman that moves around pretty often. I move to new companies, fix them up, and then move to the next company. So I’ve never gotten involved at the local level because I’ve never stuck around for more than two or three years. I don’t think it’s fair for me to run for a local office knowing that I’m not going to be you know, in Oklahoma for another 18 months probably. And in Ohio, it was the same thing. So I have not been involved at the local level. And again, what I’m looking for here is not try and show that I’m the best activist in the party. I have a skill set that I think can turn around the organization. And that’s, that’s what I’m looking to offer in this room.
TLR: So who is the last major party candidates that you voted for and why?
TH: So Gary Johnson, because he was Libertarian, and… He was obviously the most Libertarian candidate running. Austin Petersen was my preference, but, but I believed in probably 85% of what Gary Johnson said, and that was enough for my vote.
TLR: So what specifically is the reason that finally made you give up on the GOP?
TH: Well, I mean, I could easily say Trump, but at the end of the day, it was it was about, you know, that budget under GOP leadership has gone up just as fast and under Democratic leadership. We’ve gotten into just as many if not more wars, under the GOP leadership. And then, and then when they finally started, it kind of started under Trump. But when they finally started, you know, overtly attacking some of the amendments and really not even.
So not even pretending to be the small government party anymore. Just really overreaching into the Bill of Rights, while raising taxes and while going in interfering with a bunch of other countries. That’s what really drove me over the edge. To the point where I started looking at like I said, you know, I considered myself a libertarian Republican. I thought that’s what a libertarian was, but that’s when I said are reaching out and saying, I just can’t vote for these guys anymore.
TLR: Have you read Robert’s Rules?
TH: I did way back when I was a president of a fraternity, but it’s been a long time.
TLR: Right. So you talked about your experience… you’ve got experience, among other things, and marketing and sales. What are the best ways to sell the libertarian brand and what has the party been doing wrong from a marketing standpoint?
TH: Sure. So I’m a disciple of the Pareto principle, the 80/20 principle. And basically what that says is 20% of your activities is going to cause 80% of your results. So you have to focus on the 20% of the activities that drives the most results. And if you look at the Libertarian party today, what happens is about 80% of our time is spent in fighting, which is essentially going up against the people who are your fundraising source, they provide almost 100% of your fundraising.
And that the rest of the time is spent basically alienating new members through purist tests, purity tests. And those new members are your key to future fundraising and future party growth. So essentially, what we’re doing is we’re spending 80% of our time directly going against the two things that would allow us to grow as a party and become more successful, which is fundraising and bringing on new members.
So all you have to do is focus on the 20% The people who are our core fundraising group and serve those people better rather than try to invite with them, we have to focus on the 20% of people who are not voting libertarian, but are willing to, and convince them why the party is a good option for them and get them to join. And we have to focus on the 20% of elections out there that are actually winnable, which are more of the local elections rather than the national elections, and start driving our activities towards that.
And so in business, what I always tell people is, you should always try and make as much money as you can every minute of the day. That sounds extraordinarily capitalistic, but what it really means, what it comes down to is… be as effective and as efficient as you can. So that when you are done with the day, you can go home and feel like you contributed and, and that’s what I want to get. Most of the hours that are spent in this party are volunteer hours. And so why would we want people to spend all this time and basically spin their wheels? We really need to get them to focus on those three areas. So that we can drive more money, more members, and more wins into the party.
TLR: So we just talked a lot about fundraising. Who are the biggest donors right now? And how can the LP raise more revenue?
TH: From that financials that I’ve looked at, it looks like most of the donors come from the membership renewals, and then the automatic contributions. And so what it appeared to be is that the, the online contributions are now rising and have a really good ROI from what they’re spending versus what they’re bringing in. And I think what we need to do is focus on what’s been successful. So what is the ROI on phone, phone fundraising? What’s our ROI on online fundraising? What’s our ROI on membership renewals? And try to figure out where to spend our best time and where to where to be able to get the biggest bang for the buck. And if we’re not good at certain fundraising, then let’s outsource that. So that we can increase our ROI in that area.
TLR: So given the state of the parties finances currently, there’s obviously limits on where the money at has can be spent. How much of a focus, and you talked a bit about local elections as opposed to national ones? How much of the focus to go to local elections?
TH: Well, I think a great deal of the focus should be on local elections. I’m not sure that a great deal of the money should be spent on local elections, but the money should be spent on helping the state parties gear up and focus on the right things within local elections. So if a state has, you know, there’s… 90,000 elected officials in the country. If a state has 10,000 elected officials, we need to be spending the right amount of money on CRM and online tools that allow us to say okay, here are the 600 races in your state that are the most winnable for you, the easiest to get on the ballot. The ones less likely to have two major competitors.
And that’s the kind of money that we should spend and equip the state so that they can be better prepared to actually feel the elections that are winnable and drive their resources toward those so that again, they are more effective and efficient with their time. So when you’re asking how much money should be spent, it’s probably more spent from an organizational standpoint to get to the point where we can deliver that information and deliver that assistance to help drive the states towards, towards being more effective with the dollars they do actually have.
TLR: So how… just shift to more libertarian philosophy here, how important our property rights to the essence of libertarianism?
TH: I mean, property rights basically are the, the core of libertarianism. It’s, you know, protecting life, liberty and property. And, and again, I’m not running for this so that my views can get put out there as the, you know, as the views of the party. What I’m looking to do is turn around the finances, create the organization so that we can grow. But obviously, I mean, property rights are the core of all libertarian philosophy.
TLR: So as far as I know the only other major person to announce a run for chair is Joshua Smith. Do you have an opinion on him at all?
TH: Yeah, I’m completely fine with Joshua Smith. I think he you know, I’m glad he ran last time around. I’m glad that he got involved after he ran. I have, you know, he and I have traded tweets back and forth. I’ve never talked to him on the phone. But I have no problem whatsoever with Joshua Smith. I’m really glad that he’s gotten the Mises Caucus involved. And I think they’ve done a great job in the party.
TLR: What has Nick Sarwark gotten right and what’s he gotten wrong?
TH: Sure. By the way, I like Nick a lot too. And I have talked to him in the run up to this just to make sure, you know, I understood what I was getting into. And I wanted to be up front with him. And so the things he’s done right. I mean, I think he’s an excellent public speaker. I think he he runs a great meeting. He does good at articulating his message, whether it’s the message that we all share or not, I think can be debated.
I think what potentially is wrong is I think that our message gets watered down quite a bit. The way that we currently spread it, and what I’m what I’m arguing for when I talk about a branded national message is not a watered down message that is accepted by more people. It’s a core targeted message that will explain what libertarianism is.
So when you ask what a Republican is, people say, ‘smaller government, lower taxes, allowing businesses to be successful, and then that lifts us all up’. Is that true? No, of course not. But everyone knows that answer. Democrats, you know, ‘help poor people, help minorities, they’re going to tax the rich a little bit more and it’s going to be fair for everybody’. Is that true? No, that’s not true. But everybody can answer that.
What’s a Libertarian? When people ask us that we start talking about minarchists and an-caps and anarchists and Republican light and, and and… What Nick’s done, to his credit, has tried to make that message more palatable for the independents who who might come over. But what he’s done is he’s watered it down so that it’s okay if you don’t care about these 13 planks, we have 21 others.
What we really need to have that message be and here are the three to five core planks. If you believe in these three to five things. You are a libertarian, you just may have differing opinions on some of the non core planks. But we have to have three to five things where anybody that asked the question, what is the libertarian? This is what a libertarian is. And if you believe in this stuff, come join us and you’re allowed to have slightly different opinions on the other stuff because if you believe 100% of any platform, You’re probably not applying enough critical thought to the issue.
TLR: Someone once described you to me as… ‘Imagine if you focused on Twitter instead of Facebook’. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an over reliance on social media for political discourse?
TH: So, the advantage is… well… that’s a good question. It’s interesting. So first, I am on Facebook, I just kind of revitalized that account after several years. But as far as social media goes, we do have to keep up with the times, right? The finances I’ve looked at have shown that we are we have an over-reliance on telephone fundraising. I can tell you I haven’t given that telephone pledge except for one to a hospital in like 10 years.
So online pledges that are, you know, where the money is coming from now. And those are driving from social media from buzz, from things getting out there and in front of people. So I mean, you know, is social media important? Yeah, that’s where people spend hours and hours a day on social media and now that we have to change with the times. And I don’t think, you know, the occasional radio program and flyers, and, you know, having an office nearby somebody that’s those aren’t the things right now that are driving fundraising and driving membership. But it’s, you’ve got to get into the conversation.
And social media is where the conversation is. Twitter versus Facebook? You know, Twitter has kind of the really, you know, high, loud, sometimes more radical, but at least more opinionated folks. And Facebook, Facebook’s a little more guarded. So I think there’s benefits to both but but surely, you know, you have to be on social media and you have to be getting your message in front of people.
But the most important is to have the first conversation, and have the first conversation be something that leads to a second conversation. And I think that’s one of our biggest problems in the party is that the first conversation that we put out there is so divisive that we can’t get to the second conversation and that we don’t grow.
TLR: Right. Let me switch to immigration. You tweeted, “While I approve of DHS immigration raids of illegals from Central America isn’t our time better spent raiding illegals from the Middle East?” To be fair, this tweet is four years old, and I don’t quite believe in cancel culture while I do believe in growth. How has your opinion on immigration changed since then?
TH: Yep. Can you read it to me one more time cuz I don’t remember that.
TLR: Oh, yeah. “While I approve of DHS immigration raids of illegals from Central America isn’t our time better spent raiding illegals from the Middle East?
TH: Yeah, so yeah, obviously, my views have evolved over time. As I said, you know, I didn’t really start digging into every bit of my ideology until I started getting disenfranchised there right before 2016 election. So yes, it’s changed. But I would say that from a DHS raids perspective. So I mean, you can read a million tweets between the last three years that’ll say the exact opposite.
I mean, I guess I’m not gonna go and defend what I said four or five years ago. If I said it, I said it. My wife is Colombian, she came over here and became a citizen legally, four or five years ago. You know, I was in the middle of paying thousands of dollars to go through legal immigration with my wife. If I was a little salty about people coming over, you know, illegally, I could see that happen, and I could see a tweet being made that way.
TLR: You’ve communicated much of your ideas through written mediums. I know it’s a factor that maybe shouldn’t matter, but… your voice sort of sounds like Leia through the bounty hunter’s mask when she rescued Han from Jabba the Hutt. Like the show 20/20 is protecting the identity of Uncle Fester with a tracheotomy tube. Do you think your cadence will hurt you as a candidate?
TH: Yeah, I don’t care one way or the other. I mean, I’ve had this voice the whole time. I’m a 39 year old President of a $50 million business with 250 employees, everyone. And I’m five foot two also, people look at me and they say there’s no way a five foot two short, fat bald guy with a funny voice would ever amount to anything. And I just said, you know, moving on up, and I’m not I mean… You know what? Would it stop me from running for President? Maybe, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about me turning around an organization.