Two years ago, Austin Petersen, a former cable news producer at the then-tender age of 35, came in second place behind Gary Johnson in the race to secure the Libertarian Party presidential nomination—one that would end up being three times more successful than any of its predecessors, however otherwise frustrating.
Last July, Petersen announced that he was leaving the L.P., without rancor, for the opportunity to confront one of the Democratic Party's most vulnerable senators, Claire McCaskill. He would be reinforcement for the lonely libertarianish likes of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), talking Constitution and debt and free trade at a time when those once-bedrock conservative values are in open retreat. The only catch? He would have to beat a crowded Republican field for a coveted seat.
Tonight, emphatically, that did not happen.
At the denouement of a campaign in which he was known mostly as the candidate who auctioned off machine guns and periodically got banned from social media platforms, Petersen finished on the business end of an old-fashioned rout. Ninety minutes after polls closed, establishment frontrunner and state Attorney General Josh Hawley was declared the victor, with well over 50 percent vote in an 11-candidate primary field. With 1,687 of 3,228 precincts reporting as of 10:45 p.m. ET, Petersen was struggling near the bottom of a three-way race for a distant second, with 8.1 percent of the vote, compared to Air Force veteran Tony Moretti's 9.1 percent and 2016 senatorial challenger Kristi Nichols's 8.1.
Petersen, the onetime producer of Fox Business Network's Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano, had run on being "Pro-Life. Pro-Liberty. Pro-Constitution." His campaign in recent weeks had emphasized the demerits of President Donald Trump's pro-tariffs agenda, as well as continuing to stress his own Second Amendment bonafides.
Hawley, who had been criticized for running a lackluster campaign ("GOP golden boy mails it in," ran one Politco headline), nevertheless drew endorsements from Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and just about every other major donor or supporter you could name.
Though Petersen lagged in the GOP endorsement race, he did all right with key figures in his former home at the Libertarian Party. New York gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe issued a late-campaign testimonial, and newly elected L.P. Vice Chair Alex Merced tweeted that "if things don't go your way tonight there is a home for you and your supporters to continue the fight in the LP with @yefeth into the general election."
So is there a future for A.P. in the L.P.? On last night's episode of Fox Business Network's Kennedy, Petersen was asked point blank whether he was "going back to the Libertarian Party." His answer? "I'm going to stick with the Republican Party, because my people asked me to, and because I believe it's the party of abolitionism and the party of freedom, and I will work to make America free again."
"So," Kennedy nevertheless persisted, "you will not run for president on the Libertarian ticket in 2020?"
Petersen's response: "No, I will leave that to my betters."
Reason has interviewed Petersen several times over the years, including Nick Gillespie's podcast when the candidate first announced 13 months ago: