WASHINGTON—"Life was a bitch," says Bob Barr.
We are sitting in the coffee nook at the Mayflower Hotel, the aged Washington, D.C. institution where, some 76 years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote his first inaugural address. We are not yet talking about the campaign for president that Barr finished in fourth place with 512,000-odd votes. Barr is talking about his habit of downing a high-single-digit number of espressos every day, and how hard this was before Starbucks came along.
"Most countries I'd lived in had cultures of much heavier coffee," Barr explains. "In South America you've got café con leche. In the Middle East you need a knife and fork to drink the coffee. It was hard to get strong coffee here—I was delighted when Starbucks made it big."
Barr is in Washington to speak with fellow alumni of Georgetown Law School at a meeting of the Federalist Society, and to build up the client list for Liberty Strategies, his consulting firm. "I absented myself from producing income for about eight months," Barr says. "I'm a working stiff." Hence the coffee, and hence a packed schedule that's meant to introduce Barr to the people who can get him back in the black.
Over the course of a six-month campaign, Barr spent more time than he might have liked dealing with intra-Libertarian squabbling, lower-than-expected fundraising numbers, and what his running mate Wayne Allyn Root called "the ghost of Ron Paul"—persistent media attention on the indecisive Republican candidate who, contrary to some expectations, did not endorse the Libertarian ticket. Over coffee, Barr hashed out how he got the nomination, what went right and wrong, and what he's doing now.
reason: What did you get out of your stint in the Libertarian National Committee?
Bob Barr: From my standpoint, it gave me an opportunity I've not had before to learn the personalities in the Libertarian Party, and to learn the structure of the party. It gave me the opportunity to assure at least some Libertarians that I wasn't a Trojan horse. I wasn't a Republican trying to use the Libertarian Party to further the Republican agenda, or some such nonsense. I think I accomplished that working with the LNC.
reason: There are still LP members who aren't satisfied—less than there were in May, but various voices on the web who make this argument.
Barr: In any political movement you're never going to be able to satisfy everybody. Reagan didn't. I really don't think that anybody with a straight face could make that argument now. I really don't. Which does not mean that everybody in the Libertarian Party loves Bob Barr. I doubt that that's the case. I do think that over the course of the campaign, the people that we worked with, the issues that we presented, I think gave lie to any lingering doubts that I was not a Libertarian.
reason: In December of last year, you proposed, and the LNC passed, a resolution asking Ron Paul to drop his GOP bid and run as the Libertarian candidate. Was that more for attention, or was it a real attempt to get him to run?
Barr: I meant it exactly how it was worded. I saw at that point, and I don't think anyone saw otherwise, that Ron was not going to get the Republican nomination. He had, in fact, built up a significant amount of public attention, a persona as a libertarian with a small l, and my thought was, "Let's make a serious effort here, an honest effort to get him formally back into party and take advantage of what he's done." At the time, had he taken advantage of it, it would have been a significant boost for him and the Libertarian Party.
reason: You had joined the LNC saying you would not run for president. When did you privately decide to make the race?
Barr: I introduced Ron Paul at CPAC. His speech came a few hours after Mitt Romney left the Republican race, which made it much clearer that McCain was going to win the nomination. For whatever reason that's when I started being approached very consistently by a lot of Libertarians about throwing my hat in the ring.
reason: Why did it take two months for you start an exploratory committee and another month to announce? I've heard two explanations. One was the financial consideration of losing your clients, which you've already talked about. The other explanation I heard was that you could not risk running and losing the nomination.
Barr: I was never assured to win the nomination. Some people might have thought that. I didn't. I knew it would be a battle right down to the wire, which it was. I didn't get into it because I was sure I would win. I ran because I thought it was important to do it. Most of the time between February and May, I was working through the personal side of the run—talking to my wife, my son Derek.