Jo Jorgensen, a senior lecturer in psychology at Clemson University, had such a wonderful time running as the Libertarian Party (L.P.) vice presidential candidate in 1996, on a ticket with Harry Browne, that she has contemplated taking a swing at the top slot ever since. On May 24, she won her party's nomination for president.
Reason's Brian Doherty spoke with Jorgensen by phone just before she was named the 2020 L.P. presidential nominee in an online convention. They spoke about how the party can appeal to Democratic and Republican voters and what libertarianism can offer America in the midst of the economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: What do you think the Libertarian delegates want in a candidate this year?
A: They want what I'm selling: a candidate both practical and principled.
Q: COVID-19, though not something anyone was thinking about when this campaign began, is going to be the dominant issue. What's your take on it for a national electorate?
A: The [pandemic response] has been the biggest assault on our liberties in our lifetime, and it's two-pronged. There's the personal assault, with us all under house arrest. We can't go to our jobs, we can't go to funerals [and] weddings, we can't see our families.
Then there's the economic aspect. The fact that the government is bailing out companies with $2 trillion.…Whenever the government spends money, [it goes] to their friends, special interests, and lobbyists. It would be better if Americans got to keep their money. Let them decide which companies deserve money, not the government.
Q: Are there any aspects of a hardcore Libertarian message you think are just totally unpalatable to a typical voter?
A: I am supporting the Libertarian platform plank for plank. But what is not persuasive is someone just saying, "I'm for liberty and freedom" and that's all. The people who will be [convinced] by liberty and freedom for their own sake are probably already in the party. What we have to do is convince soccer moms, businesspeople, the average person that our ideas will work better.
Q: What are some other issues you'd expect to be front and center?
A: Health care is urgent—literally life or death. If we don't stop the path to single payer, it's going to be disastrous for the country. It's the most frustrating thing that [many Americans blame our health care issues on a failure] of free markets. I want to shout from the rooftops that we do not have a free market system in health care and how if we tried free markets, they would work.
I'd also talk about bringing the troops home and the environment. I'd stress that if you look around the globe [historically], you see wherever there is bigger government, there's more pollution. As far as global warming, I don't want to get in a debate about how we got here. I want to talk about how to get the cleanest Earth we can get, and if we don't want global warming, then nuclear power is the best option.
On immigration, I would put forward the message of the party platform. A lot of so-called immigrant crimes are not stealing money but just crossing the border. If you look at the economic impact overall, it's a net positive. I'd also like to mention I'm the granddaughter of three immigrants and my attitude is not "I'm the last one in, close the door behind me." I want the country more open to everyone, not for their sake but for America's sake.
Q: What would you say to Trump voters?
A: I would tell them you voted last time—sometimes for the first time or the first time in 20 years—because you were tired of the same old politicians and wanted something different. But he got into office and acted like all the others. He said he'd cut the government's size, and instead it's bigger. He said he'd get rid of the deficit, and he's going in the other direction. You wanted something new. [A Libertarian] is something new—not just another big-government spender.
This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.