Reason Interviews

Vermin Supreme Says This Time, He's Serious

"The political duopoly electioneering of the presidential system has indeed risen to the level of a joke."

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In 2016, the Libertarian Party's presidential ticket, former Republican Govs. Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, had the most executive experience in the field. And yet America's third party is more synonymous in the minds of many onlookers with viral video footage of a nearly naked and heavily tattooed James Weeks, a distant finisher in the race for L.P. national chair, performing a striptease live on C-SPAN at that year's convention.

So depending on where you sit politically, it was either surprising or predictable that Vermin Supreme—a gray-bearded performance artist and serial joke candidate who promises free ponies for everyone and wears a giant boot on his head—concluded the month of March in second place for the 2020 L.P. presidential nomination, behind only longtime libertarian activist and author Jacob Hornberger. Unlike Supreme's previous runs in the Democratic and Republican parties, he says his Libertarian campaign reflects his actual political beliefs. In March, the satirist spoke with Reason's Matt Welch about his candidacy.

Q: Is it more difficult to sell what looks like a satirical presidential campaign during a pandemic? 

A: I don't believe so, because in the proposal that I'm putting forward, that is only the hook. That's only utilizing the notoriety that I have developed by running the satirical campaign for the past 30 years. And once again, the nation certainly could use a good laugh at this point. I am a beacon of hope to a vast number of young people and others who are still disillusioned and disgusted with the system.

Q: Talk a little bit about the difference between this run and your previous runs for office.

A: I've run as a Democrat, but I was not a Democrat. And when I ran as a Republican, I was not a Republican. I was just utilizing the New Hampshire primary as a vehicle to put forward my satirical critique of the system.

The No. 1 difference is that this is an actual and real campaign. Thirty years of notoriety have garnered me the audience, fan base, and potential voter pool that I believe that I'm able to make a legitimate offer to the Libertarian Party. I will say that if the L.P. was really smart, they would have siphoned me off into some sort of recruitment position and kept me out of the presidential race. However, they did not.

Q: Please explain the ponies.

A: I have been developing a set of iconographies, and the free ponies are indeed one of the more successful ones. The free ponies are used in a pejorative manner towards politicians and others that are promising free stuff.

Vermin Supreme promises free ponies for all Americans—that's sort of the tagline. And then the punchline is a federal pony identification system: You must have your pony with you at all times. So yes, it's a gift pony, but on the other hand, it is your identification card.

My mandatory toothbrushing law, for example—brush your teeth, it's the law!—that was inspired back in the early 1980s, when Massachusetts instituted the mandatory seat belt law. And of course, from there it spun into the dystopian nightmare that includes the secret dental police, and the dental re-education centers, and the preventative dental maintenance detention facilities, and all of these things. So, much like the ponies, it starts out as a critique of the giveaways or the nanny state, and then it quickly devolves into an authoritarian nightmare.

Q: Whenever you win a primary, there is one guaranteed reaction: "This is why I can't take the Libertarian Party seriously." In the wake of James Weeks in 2016 and other pratfalls that the party has taken, how do you respond to that reaction?

A: Can a serious party put up an individual perceived previously or continuously as a joke candidate? I say yes.

It's all in the framing. It would involve a very strong statement of getting ahead of the joke, owning the joke. We are the Libertarian Party, we are a very serious party of ideals and action, and we've been around for quite some time, and we are serious. However—and the pivot's always important!—the political duopoly electioneering of the presidential system has indeed risen to the level of a joke. And with love, and with spite, here is Vermin Supreme.

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.

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    1. This is getting boring. Find a new schtitck.

      1. I agree. It’s a bit repetitive.

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    2. Get a job instead of spamming Reason all day log. You bum.

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  2. Wait, Biden isn’t the joke candidate?

    1. He’s the punch line.

      1. Every single one is punchable.

    2. They’re all joke candidates.

  3. #InOnTheJoke

  4. I could see Vermin being hilarious in a debate doing a “Piff the Magic Dragon” bit with hand puppets of Trump and Biden.
    Being uber serious doesn’t seem to be working so why not The Libertarian Party: Party of Parody?

    1. Uber-serious? Surely you’re not serious?

      Bill Weld? Amash? Lamar Alexander? Freaking whale-fucking John McAfee? (JK on that last one. Please don’t kill me.)

      1. The LP always fumbles the ball. Someone who is serious, doesn’t lean progressive, and focuses on fiscal responsibility could do well. Just stay away from kook platforms like open borders and they would be taken seriously. Maybe someone with an abrasive personality, but toned down more than Trump, but still won’t take shit from the media.

  5. “Can a serious party put up an individual perceived previously or continuously as a joke candidate? I say yes.”

    If the Democrats and Republicans can do it, why not the Libertarians?

  6. “Vermin Supreme … concluded the month of March in second place for the 2020 L.P. presidential nomination”

    And yet he wasn’t included in the debate? It’s a swamp all the way down

  7. Alice Cooper: A Troubled Man for Troubled Times

  8. I’m holding out for Malcolm Peter Brian Telescope Adrian Umbrella Stand Jasper Wednesday (pops mouth twice) Stoatgobbler John Raw Vegetable (whinnying) Arthur Norman Michael (blows squeaker) Featherstone Smith (whistle) Northcott Edwards Harris (fires pistol, then ‘whoop’) Mason (chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff) Frampton Jones Fruitbat Gilbert (sings) ‘We’ll keep a welcome in the’ (three shots) Williams If I Could Walk That Way Jenkin (squeaker) Tiger-drawers Pratt Thompson (sings) ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ Darcy Carter (horn) Pussycat (sings) ‘Don’t Sleep In The Subway’ Barton Mainwaring (hoot, ‘whoop’) Smith.

  9. A: I’ve run as a Democrat, but I was not a Democrat. And when I ran as a Republican, I was not a Republican.

    This guy switched parties more than Bill Weld.

    1. You have to do that when you’re very principled.

  10. Dan Gurney for POTUS!

  11. Still better than Hornberger.

    1. Horberger is just a states rights conservative. He is fine with police force monopolies administered at the local level because have fewer constituents just magically solves the problems of government.

      1. Yup. Fever Swamp fauxtarian. So long as it’s the state and local government coercing you, then it’s all right. Somehow it’s okay because surely you must have signed the local social contract. If you don’t like it, just move to a different state!

        Way too many of these types in the libertarian movement. The classic case was RJ Rushdooney, who was great on Federal issues, and FEE had him as a writer. Then they discovered that he was a Reconstructionist and kicked his butt out. But not before infecting the movement with his type. He wanted local theocracy, rule by what he considered to be divine law.

        Nowadays the formulation is more on the lines of “The Constitution is sacred except for that pesky 14th Amendment that limits the rights of states to do whatever the fuck they want”.

    2. That’s a very low bar.

  12. Vermin Supreme Says This Time, He’s Desperate But Not Serious.

    1. subtle innuendos follow…

  13. I’m assuming that photo is showing Vermin’s entire fan base. The best way to spin this is to say that 50% of his followers are hot girls. Unfortunately, the rest is stereotypical libertarians.

    1. Fair enough, but that is a very hot girl

  14. Watch Vermin’s campaign. When he’s wearing the hat, he’s insulting his opponents. When he takes the hat off, he’s serious. He has some good ideas. He knows the Libertarian Party’s planks better than most of the other candidates. During the Olean debate, they were each asked about immigration. Vermin happened to go last. After listening to each of them maunder, he whipped out his printout of the party planks and read the one on immigration, and then shut up.

    Which is what the rest of them should have done. It took a joke candidate to be serious.

    1. But what type of D&D character does he play? You know he does.

      1. Two dwarves in a man outfit

  15. The libertarian party will always be a joke when it’s policies conflict with its principles.

    If you can overlook that, you can probably vote for boothead.

  16. “a gray-bearded performance artist and serial joke candidate who promises free ponies for everyone”

    So he’s really a Democrat.

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