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Written by Brian Nichols
Throughout the 2016 presidential election, many voters, especially those within the GOP, were desperate for an alternative choice that they could stand behind based on principle. Trump, by nearly all standards, was/is not a conservative, constitutionalist, nor libertarian. Countless members of the Republican Party found these shortcomings a bridge too far, leading them to seek alternatives rather than sacrificing their principles and voting for Trump.
*Cue Libertarian Party*
With the lesser of two evils still being evil, the best alternative for many disenfranchised GOP voters came from that within the Libertarian Party. Gary Johnson proudly proclaimed that the 2016 elections was a time for the “party of principle”. The Libertarian Party, a party that “promotes civil liberties, non-interventionism, laissez-faire capitalism, and the abolition of the welfare state”, became an easy party for wayward GOPers to find safe-haven. After all, principle is what matters over all else.
Except when the Libertarian Party decides otherwise.
2017 marked the launch of former Libertarian presidential candidate Austin Petersen’s second bid for elected office. In his announcement of his candidacy for his run for U.S. Senate in his home state of Missouri however, Petersen announced that he would be seeking the seat not as a Libertarian, but as a Republican.
Upon Petersen’s announcement, many within the establishment Libertarian Party circles lambasted Petersen for not sticking with the Libertarian Party. Through his aggressive grassroots/viral outreach, Petersen had established a strong, vocal base of supporters that carried him to a second place finish behind Governor Gary Johnson during the Libertarian Party convention while simultaneously growing the Libertarian Party. Petersen also ruffled many feathers in his decision not to endorse Governor Bill Weld, the establishment favorite, for the vice-presidential spot on the Libertarian Party ticket.
Interestingly, now those same Libertarians who promoted the notion of “principle over party” are curiously silent/against Petersen in his bid to promote liberty and libertarian ideals as a Republican in his U.S. Senate bid.
The questions then must be raised: “Why not be willing to support a candidate who carriers the banner of liberty forward, regardless of party?”
We have many champions of liberty in the GOP currently, from the likes of Senator Rand Paul, Congressman Justin Amash, and Congressman Thomas Massie. Does their not having the letter (L) after their name hurt their credibility in their mission in promoting liberty? What’s often forgotten is that parties are merely vessels to carry ideals forward. So why not support any candidate, Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian, who carries those principles forward with a goal of actually implementing those principles into practice.
Petersen has made his positions very clear, and I think it’s safe to say that he has rooted himself firmly on principles that many within the Libertarian Party agree with. He represents the most practical means to bring these principles to Washington. That’s no disrespect to the Libertarian Party, but rather a realistic means of looking at our political climate.
We’ve been able to watch as Amash, Paul, and Massie do more than “make-noise” through their respective positions, and have gone past simple grandstanding to actually making libertarian issues mainstream. From standing up and raising issues such as ending the Federal Reserve, promoting criminal justice reform, opposing droning without proper congressional approval, anti-NSA mass surveillance, etc… they have been able to use procedural barriers to cripple the GOP/DNC duopoly while raising awareness for libertarian ideals on a much larger scale than otherwise possible.
And to be clear, I’m not trying to belittle the Libertarian Party, but the reality is that there are no elected Libertarian representatives in federal office, meaning the Libertarian Party will be resigned to being keyboard warriors and state fair afterthoughts instead of having actual means to cause policy changes that will take our principles beyond mere afterthoughts to realistic policy implementations.
Yes, I am pragmatic, because I wish to see liberty expand beyond the libertarian echo-chambers and actually make an impact. So far, the likes of Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Amash, and Massie have been able to accomplish much more of substance as elected Republicans in the name of liberty than anyone from the Libertarian Party.
None of these men would have the credibility they do now if it weren’t for the GOP. Many within the Libertarian Party welcome them in now after the fact, but forget that they would never have gotten to such notoriety were they solely resigned to Libertarian Party politics. Even Ron Paul didn’t garner national attention until he was a Republican and causing havoc.
Call the GOP what you will (and I will likely agree with you), but you cannot ignore the vast infrastructure the GOP has behind it. It is one hell of a formidable foe, with thousands of volunteers and boatloads of money. When liberty candidates get on the ballot under the GOP umbrella, they can then use that infrastructure to help promote liberty, which is exactly what Ron/Rand Paul, Massie, and Amash have done. They have brought more people into the liberty movement then I dare say anyone in the Libertarian Party has, as they not only are able to articulate libertarian ideals to a vast number of individuals, but are able to have a semblance of credibility based on their holding office and having a record to stand on.
So, in conclusion, when I hear Libertarian Party officials state, “I’m not going to endorse, contribute to, or vote for, Austin Petersen because he’s a Republican and I’m a Libertarian”, know I shake my head in disbelief for not standing by “principle over party”. Were it not for liberty-loving Republicans who helped bring libertarianism mainstream, the Libertarian Party would be nothing but a fringe group of keyboard warriors who are more concerned about “who’s more libertarian” than actually getting things done.