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Exclusive: Libertarian Activist Austin Petersen Is Running for U.S. Senate...as a Republican! [Reason Podcast]

Second-place finisher in 2016 LP presidential primary aims to take on Democrat Claire McCaskill in home state of Missouri.

Gage Skidmore, FlickrGage Skidmore, FlickrIn an exclusive interview with Reason, Austin Petersen, the second-place [*] finisher (to Gary Johnson and John McAfee) in the Libertarian Party's presidential primary, explains why he is running for the U.S. Senate in his home state of Missouri—as a Republican.

The controversial 37-year-old former Fox Business producer tells Nick Gillespie:

I've pounded the pavement, metaphorically speaking. I called thousands and thousands of people, and you can bet that majority of them are registered Libertarians and I asked them all the same honest question "Which party do you think that I should run under?" And they all, 98% or more, said "Run as a Republican because we need some people to get in there and to support people like Rand Paul, and Mike Lee, and others in the short term while they go out and build up the Libertarian party."...

You know, Libertarians I think, especially my supporters, they want to win. They don't want to sit back and be footnotes to history, they want to be a part of history and they kind of see me right now as a little bit of a repository for their hopes and dreams, at least in the short term so I hope to make them proud and I hope to represent our ideas well, and to give the establishment hell, and hopefully get in there and start doing what we Libertarians say we really want to do, which is to cut the size and scope of government. That's what I want, that's what my people want.

While he may have switched parties, Petersen's platform is exactly the same one he put forth while making his run at the LP nomination: He is staunchly anti-war and is calling for an audit of the Pentagon; favors school choice, drug legalization, and gay marriage; wants to simplify and reduce taxes while cutting overall spending; pushes criminal justice reform, an end to regulations large and small. He remains opposed to abortion, which is a minority position among libertarians, but calls for strong religious liberty and a total repeal of Obamacare/Trumpcare. (Go here to read Petersen's farewell letter to the Libertarian Party.)

Missouri is an open primary state, meaning that voters don't need to be members of a party to vote in its primary (August 2 in Missouri), and Petersen hopes to turn out LP members and independents for the GOP contest. The incumbent, Democrat Claire McCaskill, is widely regarded as one of the most vulnerable sitting senators in the country and no high-profile Republicans have publicly entered the race. In fact, Republican Rep. Ann Wagner, widely touted as a likely challenger, has ended speculation that she would run. So Petersen's lack of experience in elected office may be less of a handicap than it would be otherwise.

[*]: The original story mistakenly reported Petersen was the third-place finisher in the LP vote.

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This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Nick Gillespie: Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie is this is the Reason podcast. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today I'm talking with Austin Petersen, who ran for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination in 2016 and has a big announcement to make right now.

Austin, thanks for talking to us, let's get right to it. What news are you breaking on this day, the Fourth of July?

Austin Petersen: Well, on Independence Day I am announcing that I am seeking the Republican Party of Missouri's nomination for the United States Senate seat, so I can beat Claire McCaskill.

Gillespie: Okay, so we've got a lot to chew on there and we'll go through it step by step, but first is you're running for Senate against Claire McCaskill, and you are leaving the Libertarian Party in order to run as a Republican. First, let's talk about the case against the sitting Senator, Democrat Claire McCaskill. She is generally regarding as one of the most beatable Democrats in the mid-term elections. What is your case against her?

Petersen: Well, there's the easy case, of course, she was the very first person to endorse Hillary Clinton on Capitol Hill. Hillary Clinton is obviously not very popular here in the State of Missouri, I think she lost to Donald Trump by somewhere around 19 points. So I think she's, you know, obviously she's very beatable. It'd be good to have a more Libertarian Republican in her place to vote on the issues that we are about.

She's not good on the issues that her base is good on, things like criminal justice reform, she's been a bit more of the drug warrior on things and so I think that someone who can come in and not only win all of the Republican votes, but some Democrat votes as well has got a really good shot to beat her.

She's very moderate in many ways and so I think given that I would be a different kind of Republican, I think that that would really make the case for me to take her out.

Gillespie: So what are your key issues, because ... Just answer that. What are your key issues in running for Senate?

Petersen: Good question. So I'm focusing on some big issues. Obviously, I want to talk about jobs, I want to talk about spending, I want to talk about debt, I want to talk about taxes, I want to talk about health care. You know, I make the joke, and we've all heard it before, but Republicans often run like Libertarians and then once they get elected they govern like Democrats. So we haven't seen a repeal of Obamacare even though President Trump has signaled that he's so exasperated, that we should just get a clean repeal, which I'm kind of excited about. I hope that happens.

I'm a victim of that legislation, my health insurance plan was canceled. I like hearing from people like Rand Paul who was a vision doctor who talks about how the free market has brought down the cost of health care, that's a big issue. I think government really gets in the way of job growth, I don't think government creates jobs. I think we need to talk about how to reduce regulations.

Gillespie: Yeah, talk ... If I can interrupt because this is, it's clear's like every poll everywhere at every level shows that, with virtually no exceptions, that jobs and the economy are the most important thing that voters care about. But from a Libertarian point of view, as you were saying, the government doesn't create jobs, the private sectors does, so what are the policies that you would actually outline that will say to people, "Hey, you know what, we're gonna do this and we're gonna get more jobs as a result," as opposed to, you know, Trump did this ... Trump and Republicans do this all the time, as well as Democrats, where they say, "Hey, look, that air conditioning plant left and they went to Mexico or they're making it in China now, I'm gonna pass laws to make sure they can't leave and they have to keep paying new jobs."

You don't subscribe to that kind of thinking, so what, from a Libertarian point of view, what are the policies that would push that would actually help the economy to create jobs?

Petersen: Yeah, well, I'd like to talk about things like occupational licensing. Obviously, I've been a big fan of a lot of the work that the Institute for Justice has done. There are a lot of areas where regulations are really hurting the little guy who's trying to get into the marketplace to do things like braid hair. I mean, how silly is it that you have to have a license to do something as simple as braid hair? And of course you had the issue with the D.C. food trucks. You know, those are local issues, but in a national campaign you can highlight those because they definitely come ... They hurt people on the local level.

But to me I think that occupational licensing is one of the big issues of the day, we need to talk about that, and it is about an overall philosophy, Nick, I mean, you know it, you've been in this for a long time because, you know, I think simple anecdotes to get the American people to kind of understand the way the government works is gonna be the best way to go. I mean, I was frequently criticized for talking in bumper stickers, but I think sometimes there was really the way that Trump with alacrity was able to describe some of the problems that we had and to address them in simple phrases or statements that, you know, maybe he could be accused of jingoism, but certainly if you say something like, if you say, "I want to live in a world where gay married couples can defend their marijuana fields with fully automatic machine guns," I mean, that statement, while hilarious, is also true and it allows you to talk ... sort of disarm people's hesitancy to discuss these topics.

Probably the cleanest, clearest, simplest way that I can describe the job-killing exercise here with the US government is the Grover Norquist story. You know, when you have a pool of water and you take a bucket and you dip it in one end and then you walk it around to the other end and you dump it back in have you created more volume in the pool? No you've not, but that's what government does when it taxes us first and then it says "Well we're going to create jobs over on the other end." Because in order to tax it must first destroy? Or, in order for it to create a job it has to destroy first right?

So, that's really how I'm going to picture this for the American people.

Gillespie: What are the other key issues particularly that will speak to voters in Missouri? Which, in a lot of ways, is a bellwether State. It's a microcosm of many issues and problems, and actually positive developments in America. So what are the other issues?

Petersen: Well tax is a big one. Cigarette taxes are meant to discourage people from smoking, what are income taxes supposed to stop people from doing? In an ideal world I'd like to get rid of the income tax. In the short term, as we transition that way, I was a big fan of the flat tax. 15% across the board. Get rid of all the special treatment; the handouts, the subsidies for the rich and powerful, and that's really what I'd like to do. Make it so that it's a simple flat tax.

Spending is a big issue. We have 100 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities that we have to pay. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, these are big issues obviously that Reason covers frequently.

But on the different kind of Republican pack I'd like to talk about criminal justice reform.

Gillespie: Wait, before we get off spending and we'll go to criminal justice reform in a second.

Petersen: Yeah.

Gillespie: But let me ask you this because that of course is sweet music to my ears, and I think to all Libertarians, but is Missouri a State where they're going to be like "Oh that's great. Let's get rid of Social Security." Or "Let's get rid of Medicare." Or "Lets start unwinding this and giving people the freedom from the taxes that pay for this stuff, or the deficit spending, so they can start funding their own retirement and their own healthcare." What are the vested interests in Missouri that you'll have to convince?

Petersen: Probably not. I think that when it comes to Social Security a perfect example is if you want to introduce a moderate reform, obviously the government stole our money from us in the first place so they ought to pay it back. I mean, I think that's a reasonable position to take, but when it comes to how we might reform it I like the idea that if you're 18 years old you ought to be able to get an option to opt out. Let the young people opt out.

So that's definitely going to be a centerpiece in my campaign when it comes to reforming things like Social Security, I mean Medicare and Medicaid, they're bankrupting us so if there is not going to be some form of reform then you're going to have to vote for Claire McCaskill in some States because I'm promising to reform these programs and these entitlements.

Obviously I don't agree with these programs, but we're going to have to find some way to balance our checkbook here. Quite frankly I would much rather spend it on Welfare than I would on the overwhelming National Security State, which I think abrogates our civil liberties.

Gillespie: Is that a tough sell in Missouri?

Petersen: Yeah.

Gillespie: To say defense spending, because we'll get to law enforcement in a second, but is Missouri a pro-military State? I mean obviously the government's been doing this for a long time and they've put Army bases and military operations everywhere.

Petersen: Absolutely. We've got an NSA center in St. Louis actually. It absolutely is an issue and quite frankly many of those people do vote Democrat for that reason. I mean, St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, these urban areas, they tend to be hubs of military activity and there's a lot of people who they work for. You know, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, and those are people who I'll have to interact with in the State.

Gillespie: What's your pitch to them to say "Hey, I'm all for economic growth and I'm all for limited government and that means you're going to be probably out of a job."?

Petersen: No actually, because you know why? Because here's the thing. We've got a step that we have to take before we really can look at substantial cuts here and this is something that's kind of flown under the radar for a little while, but why not an audit of the Pentagon? Every soldier that I have spoken, every marine, every airmen, every single person to the coast guard that I have spoken with has said there is plenty of waste, fraud, and abuse at the department of defense so if we could get an audit passed, at a minimum, we could start putting cuts where it actually matters and start cutting down on some of these private contractors where we're way overpaying. You know, there's so many no bid contracts.

So, I think that that is a sellable message here in Missouri because it doesn't strike at the heart of actual National Security and nobody disagrees that there is waste, and fraud, and abuse that is going on. So, at the minimum I can say "Well listen, why don't we pass an audit at the Pentagon then we can take a look at where the unnecessary spending is happening before I start attacking things like creating the next F15 fighter, or the F35, or upgrading that" which I think is a boondoggle, but at a minimum if we had an audit then I think we could start looking at reasonable cuts.

Gillespie: Talk about civil liberties and law enforcement and whatnot, obviously Missouri, Ferguson was there and that really touched off this latest very serious round of looking at criminal justice reform, as well as the ways in which, I mean it's mostly municipalities, gouge relatively poor people through an interlocking series of fines and petty tickets to raise revenue. Where are you there?

Petersen: Absolutely.

Well, it's funny, I went to a Jackson County Republican Party meeting. This is the county that Kansas City is in, my home county, and a very urban area and there was one black Republican, a gentleman who was there, and he said "How are we going to reach out to voters here in this district?" So I started talking about things like criminal justice reform. I started talking about things like civil liberties and he was like "That's it! That's the first time we've heard a Republican talk about this. This is the key to me getting these votes here in the inner city." He wants to get Republican votes in places like Kansas City and St. Louis where his friends, and his family, and his neighbors, and his church say "We can't vote for a Republican because they don't agree with us on any of the issues."

But, if we want to penetrate into some of these blue counties here in Missouri then we're going to have to start talking about these issues. Things like mandatory minimums. Obviously that's an issue where we have gotten away from original intent. You know, we're taking the power away from the judiciary and we're giving it to the legislative branch. In essence we're saying we don't trust judges right? So I think from a Conservative point of view the Conservatives are going to like that because you're saying, essentially, that you're talking about original intent, you're talking about checks and balances.

So, I think that that could sellable message because you can not win this Senate seat here in Missouri without some support from the urban areas. So a traditional Republican it might be more challenging, but for a Libertarian Republican, like myself Nick, there might be an opportunity here.

Gillespie: What about school choice? Does that play well throughout Missouri because I've noticed, and I'm talking to you from I live part time in Oxford, Ohio. Ohio and Missouri, you know, there's differences but they're kind of Mid-Western States and one of the things that I've always found kind of interesting is that a lot of Republicans, at least in Ohio, are big government Republicans. They don't want to see the schools have to compete for students. They're happy with them the way they are.

Petersen: It's popular here. Missouri Senators actually approved an education proposal in April that would allow tax credit education savings accounts for some students. They would allow them to transfer away from low performing districts and schools. We've had a major failed experiment with Magnet Schools here in the city of Kansas City. It was a huge experiment. I remember when I was a kid, actually, my parents were talking about sending me to these Magnet Schools and they had all these special busing programs where they would come all the way out to the suburbs and bus all these kids and it just failed spectacularly, because again, it was a centrally planned experiment.

So, in Missouri actually they are looking at these kinds of programs so I think that it is palatable here. Missouri is kind of a funny State because it's a red State, but the Democrats here are pro-gun and they're much more blue dogs. They're more Conservatives. They're Conservative from a social standpoint, in many ways right?

Conservatism here is a major factor in both parties and the Democrats that I speak to tend to be very moderate so there's a very rare opportunity here in the state of Missouri because when you look at school choice and things like that they actually got a lot of Democrat votes too because it was like a 20 to 12 vote so there were several Democrats who were brought on board under that.

Gillespie: How do things match up in other kind of traditional culture war issues? Things like abortion, and gay marriage. I know you were among the Libertarian Party Presidential candidates, if not the only, you were certainly the most outspoken pro-life candidate. How does that play in Missouri, and then what about things like gay marriage and drug legalization?

Petersen: Okay, so I have to tackle each one of these individually.

Gillespie: Yeah.

Petersen: So when it comes to abortion, no question does it increase my support tenfold. Missouri, again, is a very traditional Conservative State and out of the 4,000 or so phone calls that I've made in the last eight weeks I've spoken to many voters in Missouri, including some progressive Democrats. I mean, I actually met a full blown Socialist at a Black Lives Matter rally here a few weeks ago. He said he would have voted for me because he was Catholic. He's like "I'm a Socialist because I'm Catholic, but I like you because you're pro-life."

I'm like "Okay, well that's an interesting little situation there." But, Missouri voters having a tag line where I say "I'm pro-life, pro-liberty, pro-Constitution." I think it instantly galvanizes their support in many ways. We don't get too often into the nitty gritty details, I was at a Republican meeting in rural districts a few weeks ago and abortion was a big issue and they were talking about what the Missouri legislature is attempting to do with trying to make it so that you can refuse to sell land to Planned Parenthood where before it was an issue where if you are making a public sale of land then you couldn't discriminate so they're trying to change that on the State level.

So, it is a big issue here in Missouri and one that resonates, and quite frankly I believe that human life ought to be protected, that is a human life, and I can make that argument from secular viewpoint, which I actually think a lot of Conservatives really appreciate because they've been harangued by the secular left as if abortion was a question of religion, when to me I think it's just a simple straightforward of whether or not it is human child and whether or not all human children deserve the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

You know, we could talk about that for an hour, but moving on to the next issue ... You had like three questions there Nick and I want to address them. What was the second one on the social side?

Gillespie: Drug war?

Petersen: Gay marriage!

Gillespie: Or gay marriage

Petersen: I think you said gay marriage.

Gillespie: And drug legalization.

Petersen: You know what I said the other night was, I was at a Republican meeting and I said "I like to describe myself as fiscally conservative, and socially it's none of the governments damn business." And that got a huge applause because I think innately the Republicans here in Missouri don't want the government involved in their personal lives.

Now, sometimes there's a bit of cognitive dissonance where they may say "Well we totally disapprove of gay marriage." But, when I propose the Libertarian solution to marriage, when I say "I think that the government ought to be out of the marriage business entirely." I mean, overwhelming support.

Gillespie: But.

Petersen: Yeah, go ahead.

Gillespie: But the government is not going to be out of the marriage business. So, in the context of until it is, should gay individuals, gay and lesbians, be able to get married?

Petersen: Yeah. Absolutely.

Gillespie: Yeah.

Petersen: I'm not going to back away from who I am or what I believe.

Gillespie: No, but do Republicans dig that or are they kind of like "Oh yeah, that's why I hate Libertarians."?

Petersen: No, the only time that I have seen some push back ... I think the gay marriage thing is just over. I think that they have accepted the Supreme Courts decision. I mean I think that the drug issue is going to be harder. That is when they're like "Oh yeah, there goes 'What is Aleppo?' You guys just want to legalize weed. That's all you care about. You're going to lose because of this issue." Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Well the truth is Nick, because what's right isn't always what's popular and what's popular isn't always what's right. You're not going to get reform in this country if you vote for the same old, same old. You know, a good friend of mine just died three weeks ago because you took some drugs and, yes, she was personally responsible but she took something that was laced with some counterfeit material and now she's dead because the prohibition makes these drugs more dangerous.

I mean, prohibition has done nothing but create ... Its been a war on our own people. Its been a costly, blood war, and its done nothing but divide this country up. If you want to talk about hatred, if you want to talk about why this country is divided, it's because people see this war on drugs as a war on our own people. Its hollowed out our urban communities and now they're hyping the next thread, which is the opiod epidemic. You know, my State is going after opiod manufacturers and I'm sitting here saying "Okay, well then you're going to have to go after the gun manufacturers next because they're the ones precipitating the gun crisis."

I think there are some ways, some palatable ways, to make these connections, but at the end of the day Nick I'm running as myself and what I believe and that won't change.

Gillespie: So, you are running as a Republican. Talk about why the shift into the Republican Party after a strong showing in your first shot at getting the LP Presidential nomination. Why a Republican?

Petersen: Well, there wasn't violent resistance to my candidacy, but there was a strenuous resistance to my candidacy and some for what could be perceived absolutely as legitimate reasons. You know, your first time around, fairly pretentious, I completely understand that. I did believe that Gary was not the strongest candidate so I thought he deserved a little bit of competition, which I think is healthy.

But, in terms of why I'm doing this, why I made this decision, quite frankly, I sat down for two months Nick and I've pounded the pavement, metaphorically speaking. I called thousands and thousands of people, and you can bet that majority of them are registered Libertarians and I asked them all the same honest question "Which party do you think that I should run under?" And they all, 98% or more, said "Run as a Republican because we need some people to get in there and to support people like Rand Paul, and Mike Lee, and others in the short term while they go out and build up the Libertarian party."

I'd like to see a healthy, thriving Libertarian Party. I've spoke to the Libertarian Party of Missouri, I spoke to an official here, I guess he's a former official, he stepped down just recently, and I asked him what my options were. We seriously considered running in the Libertarian Party here. We very seriously considered it. Well, what our options would be, and the Missouri Libertarian Party explicitly stated they had no resources, not get out the vote resources, no capability to offer us to have any sort of a structural campaign in order for us to bring anything resembling a Libertarian victory here in the State of Missouri. I think the best case scenario would have been 11%, which would have been a monster blowout in Libertarian terms but still a major loss.

You know, Libertarians I think, especially my supporters, they want to win. They don't want to sit back and be footnotes to history, they want to be a part of history and they kind of see me right now as a little bit of a repository for their hopes and dreams, at least in the short term so I hope to make them proud and I hope to represent our ideas well, and to give the establishment hell, and hopefully get in there and start doing what we Libertarians say we really want to do, which is to cut the size and scope of government. That's what I want, that's what my people want.

Gillespie: So, reducing the size and scope of government is a pretty good shorthand of what Libertarian governance is about, and you talked about being "fiscally conservative and socially it's none of your damn business." Those are pretty good definitions of Libertarianism. How will work to move the GOP in Missouri and possibly further, you know, both through your campaign and then if you win. How do you move that more in Libertarian direction?

Petersen: Well, without playing my hand too much here Nick, what I can tell you is that Rand Paul Republicans played an important role here in the State of Missouri actually. If you kind of go back and look at the nitty gritty there were some Rand Paul sweeps in many of the primaries out here in Missouri. As a matter of fact I've met many elected county officials here in the State of Missouri who specifically got their positions because they were pushing for Rand Paul in 2008 and 2012.

And Ted Cruz, actually a traditional conservative did pretty well. He almost beat Donald Trump in the primary here, so there is a strong streak of true traditional, I guess I wouldn't necessarily Burkean Conservatism, but I mean it's definitely a traditional conservatism of the Rand Paul, Ted Cruz bent.

So, it's actually not a tough sell. I've been getting emails from dozens and dozens of Rand Pauler's who are in their party officials, there actually have been Libertarian Republicans who have been elected on the State level. I spoke to a person who is in the State legislature who has told me that he was going to endorse me if I had won the Libertarian Parties nomination, so there are actually quite a bit more of us than I even expected because as soon as it was rumored I started getting pounded from all these State Counties, from all these officials, and we may even get an endorsement from a high level official here in the State of Missouri.

Gillespie: Who would that be?

Petersen: I'm afraid I can't say because ... I know, I would love to break news for you.

Gillespie: I don't know, I feel like you're stringing like me along. Well who are your likely opponents for the GOP bid? I mean I know Representative Ann Wagner is talked about a lot. She's a Congresswoman from Missouri, and then people are floating names like the former NASCAR driver Chris Edwards. Who are your opponents and how are you going to handle them before you get to the big show?

Petersen: Well, I'm a little shocked to report Nick that it looks as if Ann Wagner has dropped out. This is, I mean by the time the listeners are hearing this it will be everywhere, but Ann Wagner appears to not want to lose her seat in St Louis, and I've also heard that perhaps Josh Holly might not run as well. It seems Carl Edwards, I've heard that he might be going back to NASCAR.

Gillespie: Oh, Carl Edwards, yeah. Okay, so you are scaring everybody out of the race?

Petersen: That's what we believe, yeah.

Gillespie: They're getting out of the pool? Okay.

Petersen: They see us coming and they're running like hell Nick, I won't lie. But, honestly, there's really only one declared candidate. Seems to be a good guy, don't know much about him, seems to be a former military guy, running on that record, but it looks Republicans have mostly stepped aside. I don't know what's happening. I don't know if there's sort of divine intervention happening right now, but I'm kind of shocked because honestly I just heard the news right before we spoke, and so now our entire strategy was based on the idea that there would be some establishment Republican who was going to step up, but now it seems as if all of the establishment Republicans have stepped to the side and now we really look at this field and we say "This is totally open. It's as if the clouds have parted and the sun is shining and it's like we're running like hell."

Gillespie: Okay, well lets ... I have a couple of more questions I won't to ask you first. Let's talk about the 2016 Libertarian race for the Presidential nomination. You said you didn't think Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico, was the strongest candidate. What was your biggest beef with him, and you know, he ended up tripling the outcome for the LP in the Presidential race, what do you think of his campaign ultimately?

Petersen: I guess the thing is you can't really know until you run for President that's a special sort of an experience. So I did see very up close the sort of hustle that I was exhibiting, and that John McAfee was exhibiting, I didn't really see from their camp. And I'm a hustler, you know I work hard and I expect the people who are going to represent our ideas, especially at that level, are going to kind of bust their butts as hard as I am and so I was disappointed because there were many opportunities that I saw that were given to him, that sort of were behind the scenes opportunities, that he didn't take advantage of which were just standard political moves. You know, go and shake this persons hand, go and win this persons vote, which he just didn't do.

So, that was what was distressing to me. Not that he's like ... It wasn't so much that he's an impure Libertarian, sure I had some beef with him but I voted for the guy because I felt good about a lot of his policy platform planks, but I'm talking about just hustle here. You know, you're trying to do something incredible, all these peoples hopes and dreams are on you, and on your back, and on your shoulders, and I felt that responsibility. I felt responsibility because my supporters saw me out there hustling, saw me fighting, you know, trying to make everybody proud and I guess I just didn't feel that. That's why I felt that way Nick.

It wasn't entirely personal, I just felt that if everybody is investing their time, their money, their energy, their dollars, and their hopes ... I mean, this was the Libertarian moment right? This was what we wanted to see. We never had better opportunity, and in the end I knew what my chances were Nick, I knew that it was slim for me, but in the end I thought "Hey, by making this a competitive race I actually helped Gary because look at all the media that's here." You know, I think, would there have been a Libertarian Presidential debate on Fox if I wasn't in the race? You tell me Nick.

Gillespie: You tell me, you're the one who used to work at Fox, and I want to get to that in a second too, but what are your biggest detriments? You know, in the LP you mentioned before a lot of people were annoyed at you, a lot of disliked you. What is it that they're responding to? What is it that you will try and do differently going forward than what you did running for the LP nod?

Petersen: Well they didn't like me because I'm a skeptic at heart. Before I am anything, before I'm a Libertarian, before anything, I mean maybe an individualist first, but a skeptic definitely second and I'm the type of person who takes any sort of dogma and is willing to challenge it in order to determine whether or not my principles hold true to the real world. I'm constantly sort of running these intellectual exercises and puzzles, and sort of tossing them out there for others to chew and digest because I like to be an educator, I like to learn.

You know, I was inspired by Rand Paul because he always challenged me, and made me think, and would question my positions, and I like to do that frequently, and I don't like dogma. You know, I take a very heterodox approach to things, very much am not an orthodox, you know, I'm willing to change my mind if evidence conflicts with it. I think that that is the intellectually honest position.

So, in the beginning I think that I rubbed people the wrong way when I did this about the nonaggression principle, which some see as the soul end-all be-all definition of Libertarianism. And I contested that, so I think that that was a problem. You know, when you attack peoples one true faith and you start killing sacred cows there's going to be bloody war over the corpse of that cow.

So, that's a problem. You know, in some sense politicians, I wish their job was to question, but in some sense the sad truth is it's really about telling people what they want to hear, and I'm not saying that that's what I'm going to do, but I think I did come to some sad realities that there are some battles that are better left unfought when you have real questions that you need to address. So maybe having that intern assigned squabble was not in my best interest so I would probably say that that was it. And, people see me as smug. They see me as smarmy, perhaps condescending, but I'm also very frustrated Nick.

I think that maybe part of that is an inability to communicate the fact that I saw this rising Libertarian moment, we all saw it, we all were talking about, New York Times was writing about it, we wanted Rand Paul, we thought we had a shot here, the Tea Parties had sort of coalesced to put many of our friends and allies into positions of power, and then I just saw it wasted away. I saw it being frittered away by peculiarities of "What about the NAP and what it has to do with child starvation?" I saw it being wasted away into dogma rather than the political activism which I saw as, you know, didn't put Rand Paul in the White House, but I saw it as very productive. I saw people taking positions amongst many parties. I saw that the Libertarian Party was getting more attention.

And instead I saw all of these splintering factions, you know, the Paleo-Conservative Faction which found new blood in the era of Trump, which had been a runt movement of the Libertarian Movement for so many years, now its ascended and we have the cult of Kek, you know, talk about the alt-right. Those people call themselves Libertarian's in many sense and I'm frustrated because these people, maybe they agree with us on foreign policy things but they're sure as hell talking about "build the wall."

So, I think that my frustrations with the movement to be a little more cohesive as it was during the Rand Paul years may have led to some of my more frustrated outbursts, perhaps, and I think people saw that and saw that as a negative and as a turn off, and I'm trying to turn that around because I'm not a negative person. I'm actually a pretty sunny, bright, optimistic, pretty cheerful actually. If you would ask anybody who knows me personally, you know I like to goof and I have a sense of humor, and I'm very playful, but I get a little frustrated with Libertarians who are so obstinate as to be needlessly divisive, and perhaps I've contributed to that but that's something that I'm trying to work on.

Gillespie: In terms of being playful, were your comments about swimming, your infamous comments, about swimming in a pyramid of pussy, were those playful or are those personal issues that are going to come back to bite you on the ass?

Petersen: Maybe. You know, Donald Trump has certainly thrown up some chaff with his remarks thrown in there. I mean, the question is do you think that that makes me a bad person? At this point I better just come out and tell you that I have smoked, I have drank, I have cussed.

Gillespie: Have you danced and gone to magic shows as well?

Petersen: Yes. I am a single bachelor, 36 years old, no wife, no kids. I mean, you can imagine all the parties that I've been to in New York City, but here's the thing, I've never screwed anybody over. I've been a good person. I've treated people in my life well and I want what's best for this country, so if you think the single disqualifying factor for someone is that they've said bad words, well, come on. You know, Robert Byrd was in the KKK. I'm not trying to pull a little bit of Soviet Whataboutism here.

But here's the thing, I'm not a hypocrite Nick. I'm not going out there telling people that they need to live by some sort of moral code that I don't myself, you know, some standard that I'm don't hold other to. You know, you get into an insult battle with a shock jock and you say some bad words and ...

The funniest part about this Nick, and I've wanted to say this for so long, the only people who complain about that are the Liberal Atheist Libertarians who say that the Conservatives are never going to support me for that, and all the Conservatives don't give a damn because I've been such an advocate for things like life, and for religious liberty, that they don't care that I said bad words on a radio interview. Glenn Beck didn't care. Mary Madeline didn't care. It was only the Liberal Libertarian Johnsonites who were like "Well, we can't support you because you said bad words." Meanwhile they're out there, you know, "Free the nipple." Living their Libertine lifestyle, so they're the hypocrites, not me.

Gillespie: To wrap it up, what is your Libertarian origin story? You've mentioned Rand Paul multiple times. You've also worked on Judge Andrew Napolitano's Fox business show Freedom Watch. How did you become a Libertarian and what does that say about where you want the country to go?

Petersen: I think I've always been a Libertarian. You know, I was raised on a farm and independence, and self sufficiency, and hard work, those were the ethics that were-

Gillespie: What about crop subsidies? Did you get crop subsidies on that?

Petersen: Well, I actually asked my father about that because we live on an old tobacco plantation and so they do have a subsidy for paying you not to grow tobacco, but I think he told me he doesn't collect it. Don't hold me to that, but I'm pretty sure he said he doesn't collect it. So, no, we don't take subsidies.

But, that's sort of, what's the word? Pathos, or the ethos, the whole concept of my origin story was that sort of farm living. Rural boy goes to work in a big city, makes it big in the big city, moves home and runs for office.

So, I think it's very much an American Dream story, but to me, we also never cared about people's social lifestyles. Yes, I was raised in the church. Yes, I was raised in a Conservative household, but we just weren't judgemental on people's personal lifestyles. It was very much, I mean, I was very lucky because I had a very loving childhood, but unfortunately my mother passed away when I was very young but at least we had enough time together that she instilled in me her sense of ethics, and she was very much a loving mother.

And that's the thing is that I very much adopted the Christian, the true Christian philosophy "Live and let live." You know "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" which I think at its heart is a very Libertarian type of lifestyle and I agree with, in that sense, I really agree with those principles. I have my beef and quarrels with certain sects of faith and I think in terms of the larger picture things like religions like Radical Islam have got a problem and these are things we'll have to address on a national level.

But from my base, at my very heart, I come from the rural America which it has a very Libertarian independent streak, maybe a little Conservative bias, but when Rand Paul ran for President in 2007 I was one of the Rudy Giuliani babies. You know, when he crushed Rudy Giuliani in that debate that was the moment that I stood up and said "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." And I went downtown to New York City, raised a million dollars for Rand Paul, brought in 1,200 person activist group, and then it was all uphill or downhill from there depending on how you decide to look at it.

Gillespie: It's amazing isn't it how many people in the mainstream media say that moment as Rudy Giuliani crushing Rand Paul, you know, because Paul questioned the idea that American foreign policy might have had something to do with why terrorists attack us, and it's fascinating because that was actually the moment, that was Giuliani's peak. He basically dropped like a stone after that, whereas Rand Paul kept going around.

Petersen: Exactly.

Gillespie: So, what then do you ... We started out talking about your ability to speak in bumper stickers kind of like Donald Trump, do you have one for your Senate campaign?

Petersen: Well we've started off with something nice, and clean, and simple. "Choose Freedom." That's exactly what we're trying to say. We want the voters of Missouri to choose freedom. We want to give them an option, we believe in a representative republic. You know the Missouri voters, I like, it's an open primary system. I think that that simple statement exactly encompasses what we believe in. If they want to get a little deeper then we're going to continue to bring out things like "We'd like to take over the government so that we can leave everyone alone." That has been a very successful ... We've tested that in the marketplace and it pulls well with nearly all audiences.

So, we'll continue that theme. Very simple, clean statements. One little joke that I've been testing with Republican audiences as I talk about "Well, yes we definitely want to America great again, but more importantly we want to make taxation theft again." And you'd be surprised at some of the cheers that we get in the audiences. People like that play on Donald Trump's popular catchphrase and I'll continue to do so because I think Libertarians, we like a little bit more meat, but at the end of the day we're 3% of the vote so we're going to have to figure out the ways to communicate with larger audiences and I will continue to be a popularizer of Libertarian ideas as I have been for the last 10 years to the very end.

Gillespie: Okay. Well we'll leave it there. Thank you so much Austin.

Petersen: Yeah, really appreciate it.

Gillespie: We have been talking with Austin Petersen who ran for the Libertarian Parties Presidential nomination in 2016 and is announcing his bid to run for the Republican Nomination to take on Claire McCaskill in the 2018 Senate Race in Missouri. For Reasons Podcast, this is Nick Gillespie. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Thanks so much for listening.

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  • Cathy1026||

    He finished in second place at the LNC convention. Weren't you guys there?

  • WakaWaka||

    I thought McAfee ended in third place?

  • Fk_Censorship||

    Unfortunately, true. McAfee was superior to both Petersen and Johnson, if only for name recognition (which really mattered in this recent election, as we saw).

  • Elias Fakaname||

    He would be a huge impovement over McCaskill, or some establishment left leaning RINO. If he wins it will also encourage more libertarian leaning people to run elsewhere.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    A good incremental move. If I lived in Misery, I'd vote for him in a heartbeat.

  • Fk_Censorship||

    I met him. I got the vibe of a snake oil salesman. He had great one liners and slogans, but once we began having a real discussion, there was no depth to him, only slogans and BS. He avoided substance like the plague. He did seem to enjoy the free beers and female attention coming his way (but I would have, also). But it seemed that was his primary motivation to do what he does. That was my impression, maybe somebody has a different view and I'd be open to hearing it.

  • SIV||

    which is a minority position among libertarians

    That all depends on how one defines "libertarians". I'd say it was more likely a 50/50 split a few years back but the "libertarian brand" has suffered quite a bit of damage since then.

  • WakaWaka||

    Why is he 'controversial'?

  • Eek Barba Durkle||

    He's a disingenuous, shitmouthed little lying piece of trash.

    Fuck Austin Petersen, and thank God for the future of our party that this piece of shit is gone. Now I won't have to spend the rest of my adulthood fighting to keep his grubby little shithead fingers off of the levers of our party.

  • Kivlor||

    Yeah! GayJay 2020! Make the Libertarian Party Great Again!

  • VicRattlehead||

    Well Said!
    I would have voted for McAfee in a heartbeat, but i stayed home and had to say fuck them this year because of Gun Ban Weld and Nazi Cakes Johnson.
    NAP
    Not Austin Petersen

  • MarkLastname||

    What exactly did he do to arouse your hatred?

  • Mark22||

    It's obviously the LIBERTARIAN STEALTH PLAN to TAKE OVER AMERICA with money from the KOCH BROTHERS and BRING BACK SLAVERY!

  • Blue Star||

    Ajit Pai's cock holster interviewed Drumpf's coick holster wannabe? And posed as a libertarian?

    lol at You Republican posers

  • MarkLastname||

    OMG LOL you are so funny, where do you get this stuff!!! Oh, make a joke about his tiny hands!

  • JFree||

    the Missouri Libertarian Party explicitly stated they had no resources, not get out the vote resources, no capability to offer us to have any sort of a structural campaign in order for us to bring anything resembling a Libertarian victory

    Good to hear that THIS is the sort of thing a candidate needs - regardless of their ideology. This is what the LP needs to put in place in order to attract candidates. This is what differentiates a political party from say a church or a debating society.

  • Roger Barris||

    "And, people see me as smug. They see me as smarmy, perhaps condescending." Can we add "shallow opportunist" to this list?

  • Peter Verkooijen||

    Politics is a game of opportunism. Trump played it ruthlessly, putting the authoritarian nativists in charge. Anyone getting in the game for individual liberty and limited government has my support.

  • Mongo||

    Nice thinking outside of the box, dinkwad.

  • tlapp||

    I don't care about the label, I care about the belief in individual freedom and limited government. Good luck we need more like you in office.

  • Robert||

    Why they talk school choice in US senate campaign? US senate no run school! US senate no marry people either!

  • technovelist||

    What does Austin "I don't accept the validity of the NAP" Petersen have to do with libertarianism? He's about as much of a libertarian as Gary "Bake that cake at gunpoint" Johnson, which is to say not at all.

  • Hank Phillips||

    This is really good news. Peterson was not a passable libertarian impersonator any closer than a block away. Instead of an ugly cross-dresser embarrassment to the LP, he may well become an ally of Randal Paul, helping restore those back-alley abortions that ended then the Supreme Court copied the 1927 Libertarian Plank on abortion into American jurisprudence via Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, Canada has since scrubbed its statutes clean of all laws meddling in the individual rights of women. Once the last of the force-initiating Prohibition Party, Klan, John Birch, Tea Party and Consta2shun pressure-groups has died of prostate cancer, These States will be eligible to help Canada carry the torch of freedom instead of the suicide vest of Sharia Law prohibitionists. The GO-Pee needs more men like Randal and Austin, and fewer fossils like J Beauregard Sessions.

  • John Schultz||

    Quick skim, the article mentions Josh Holly. That should be Josh Hawley, the freshly-elected Attorney General who is a darling of Missouri conservatives. I'm not sure why Austin thinks he won't be running when most political commentators in the state see Ann Wagner's exit from the race as backroom politicking to clear the Republican primary for Hawley. He's a pretty face and likes to trumpet what he's done, but doesn't seem even close to what you would consider a typical resume for a US Senate run.

  • Mary Washington MD||

    Yeah, I'd say it was more likely a 50/50 split a few years back but the "libertarian brand" has suffered quite a bit of damage since then.

  • Peter Verkooijen||

    The only path to a more libertarian future is still a takeover of the Republican Party. Rand Paul didn't get anywhere last year, but might have more success in 2020 in a primary challenge against a very old, tired, unpopular Trump. It would help to have a few more libertarian senators by then and no Libertarian spoiler campaigns.

  • Buy Crypto||

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