The 2016 Libertarian Party Ticket In an Alternate Universe


By Ian Tartt

This is intended to be a fun “What If?” article. Without further ado, let’s dive right into some alternate history.

Everyone knows how well the Libertarian Party presidential candidate did in the 2016 election, but few remember the events leading up to election night. It all started on September 23rd, 2015, when entrepreneur and blogger Austin Petersen officially announced his candidacy for president. Many were surprised at this announcement due to Petersen’s record of online shenanigans, but those who had followed him for years noted that he had matured over time. Over the next several months, he personally reached out to hundreds of people and won over their support. They, in turn, pointed him out to their friends and family members and helped build up a large grassroots support network.

This support network made Petersen a well-known candidate throughout the LP and, along with his appearances in various media leading up to the national convention, caused many to speculate that he would likely be the LP presidential candidate. Most, though, believed that former New Mexico governor and 2012 LP presidential candidate Gary Johnson would get the nomination. But, as Johnson got more media attention and people saw how he often looked awkward or rambled while trying to explain his ideas, his popularity began to wane.

Johnson’s situation didn’t improve at all at the national convention, despite his name recognition and an impressive, professional-looking both. His weak performance in the LP presidential debate, lack of delegate support, and especially his support of Bill Weld for the vice presidential nomination resulted in Petersen narrowly winning the presidential nomination. In his concession speech, Johnson graciously conceded to Petersen, presenting him with a pair of running shoes as a show of support. In addition, Johnson gave a short speech in which he asked the delegates to choose Weld to be Petersen’s running mate.  His request fell on deaf ears, however; later that day, Larry Sharpe, longtime activist and LP member, easily beat out Weld for the VP spot.

After taking a brief post-convention rest to recover, Petersen and Sharpe jumped right into campaigning. Petersen’s years spent working on television and creating his own media, along with his and Sharpe’s communication skills, helped the two in getting their message out to the world. Those who had endorsed Petersen for the nomination continued their support, while Sharpe’s smooth style and likeability helped cut through ideological differences among libertarians and helped unite the LP behind the ticket. The two ran a solid campaign under the slogan “Taking Over The Government to Leave Everyone Alone”.

During a CNN Libertarian Town Hall, a woman whose son died of a heroin overdose challenged them on their views about ending the “War on Drugs.” Sharpe sympathized with the woman for her loss and explained how drug addicts are able to get effective treatment in countries where drugs are decriminalized, which he’d like to see happen here so people wouldn’t die or spend their life behind bars. His comments earned him a round of applause and presented a consistent libertarian message to tens of thousands of people, as did the rest of the town hall. Petersen received some pushback for his support of allowing businesses to refuse service, but won some over by tying it into the greater concept of property rights, explaining how the free market punishes discrimination, and asking if a Jewish baker should be forced to bake a Nazi cake. Both during and after the town hall, social media was buzzing with positive reactions to the candidates and excitement for the election.

Due to their sizeable following and ability to clearly articulate the ideas of liberty to the average person, Petersen and Sharpe were often asked if they would have a spoiler effect on the election. In response, they pointed out exit polls which revealed that most third-party voters split about equally among Democrats and Republicans, and a small percentage would have abstained from voting entirely if the third-party candidate they supported had not run. They also commented on how strange it is that third-party candidates get the blame when unlikeable major-party candidates do poorly. This helped ease concerns among those leaning toward supporting the ticket and caused many to jump onboard.

As the presidential debates drew near, a massive wave of support for including Petersen and Sharpe arose. Many who participated in polls enthusiastically named the LP ticket as their preferred choice, and supporters all over social media added “Let Austin Debate” to their pictures. Unfortunately, the two didn’t get enough support in the polls to be included. However, not missing an opportunity to get their views out to millions of people, Petersen livestreamed his responses to the questions Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton got during the presidential debates, and Sharpe did the same for questions asked of Mike Pence and Tim Kaine during the vice presidential debate. As a result, the ticket gained even more attention and support after the debates.

After what felt like an eternity, the big day finally arrived. Voters finished selecting their candidates of choice, polling places closed down, and millions of people tuned in to watch the fireworks. No matter the outcome, this would surely be a record-breaking year for the LP. Sure enough, it was. The disdain for the major-party candidates, the growing disdain for government expansion, the solid team of Petersen and Sharpe and the united LP behind them, and the influence of social media all came together in a way never before seen in modern politics. Once the dust settled, the final numbers blew everyone away: 7,010,351 votes, approximately 5.12% of the popular vote, and two electoral votes from faithless electors.

Although they didn’t win the presidency, Petersen and Sharpe shattered every previous LP record and accomplished some significant milestones. For one, they were the first LP presidential ticket to get an electoral vote since John Hospers and Theodora Nathan (the first LP presidential ticket) in 1972. Next, they topped 5% of the popular vote, which meant the LP officially qualified for minor party status and gained the option to accept federal matching funds if it so chooses (whether or not it should is up for debate). And perhaps most significantly, they presented a clear, consistent message of liberty to more Americans than any LP presidential ticket in history. In doing so, not only did they likely draw in many new converts to libertarianism, but they also set up the next LP ticket to go even farther.

Because of their efforts, Petersen and Sharpe are now respected throughout the LP. Petersen has returned to managing his many websites and business ventures, and Sharpe is being discussed as a potential future presidential candidate or a candidate for New York governor in the meantime. And though infighting is a recurring problem in the liberty movement, libertarians were able to mostly set aside their differences and support the ticket, meaning the LP is in better shape than it’s been in a long time. In a year with so much hostility and division, it’s nice to know that so many people, both in and out of the LP, were able to come together in support of liberty.



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