Speculation is arising that Austin Petersen, the one-time candidate for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, may soon leave the party. According to his own posts on the Internet, he is not satisfied with the present course of the party and its decisions over the last year.
Vice Presidential nominee Bill Weld especially, who Petersen himself criticized, drew a lot of controversy among libertarian activists. The former Massachusetts Governor became an eager Hillary Clinton apologist during the election, positioning himself more as an Evan McMullin-style Never Trump warrior than an actual principled libertarian.
And yet the Libertarian Party embraced Weld, while criticizing individuals like former Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
Given all of this, should Austin Petersen leave the Libertarian Party?
It’s a complicated question. On the one hand, it gives the appearance that he is an opportunist. Individuals like Wayne Allyn Root and former Congressman Bob Barr previously were the party’s presidential nominees, but fled after trying to advance their political careers in a different arena.
Ron Paul also once ran for president on a Libertarian ticket, before returning to the Republican Party. His logic was that the only way to be successful in the political mainstream is to be apart of one of the two major parties. The concept was converted into an actual strategy in 2012 when he ran for the Republican nomination with a caucus-focused strategy that also took on party leadership positions.
Thus, if Petersen decides to leave to pursue a bid for United States Senate, leaving is probably his best bet. Paul likely would’ve had a more difficult time being elected back into Congress if he didn’t have the party banner behind him.
The bigger question at this point then lies with Petersen supporters who once viewed him as the future of the Libertarian Party. Will they remain or will they follow?
Petersen’s base tried to take over the Libertarian Party with a strong, grassroots driven push for the presidential nomination. He was overcome by the money and established power of the previous nominee, Gary Johnson.
Alternatively, the Republican Party has been more successful with libertarian-leaning candidates. Ron Paul’s son Rand is a United States Senator representing Kentucky. The House of Representatives has Justin Amash and Thomas Massie, while numerous other liberty activists hold other positions at municipal or state levels.
President-elect Donald Trump has some questionable positions, but has moved his potential administration in a more conservative direction than recent presidents on either side of the fence. The wave of support that elected is also reminiscent of the 2010 Tea Party wave that brought in a lot of new blood to Washington.
This explains why individuals like Senator Rand Paul went from staunchly opposing the President-elect to becoming a defender and ally. It also explains why Congressman Massie supported President-elect Trump in the first place.
Libertarians often used the excuse that Gary Johnson and Bill Weld’s views didn’t matter, because they themselves would be a medium for libertarianism. The fact that Weld frequently defended Hillary Clinton while having a history of supporting gun control and the USA PATRIOT Act wasn’t relevant, as Johnson himself said he was the “original libertarian.” By their own logic, Trump could be a medium for liberty as well, for the views of the top politician don’t matter.
At this point, like Petersen himself likely did, his supporters should question the future. Are libertarian principles best advanced in the Libertarian Party with its new left-moderate direction or in the Republican Party, with at least a few federal legislators who can lean in the right direction and win elections?