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Austin Petersen Trounced in Missouri GOP Primary Election for U.S. Senate

2016 Libertarian Party presidential runner-up gets routed by establishmentarian Josh Hawley in the race to face vulnerable incumbent Claire McCaskill.

Austin Petersen. ||| Austin PetersenAustin PetersenTwo 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:

Image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr.

Photo Credit: Austin Petersen

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  • SparktheRevolt||

    The best part, is that he's running 5th behind the 3 candidates and "other".

  • buybuydandavis||

    Libertarian Moment!

  • Robert||

    Looking only at the numbers in the story, I see him as not having done so bad. There was a clear front-runner who got a majority of the votes, but if you subtract him, Peterson was competitive with all the rest in a crowded field. If you say Peterson was shellacked, then all those others were too. It's not like Peterson was an outlier on the low side, it's more like he's normal or modal. If radical libertarians could consistently be avg. like this as candidates, we'd have influence far ahead of our #.

  • JFree||

    If you say Peterson was shellacked, then all those others were too.

    The difference is those other campaigns were based entirely on trying to get Trump's endorsement - so if they had not been in the race, those votes would have gone to the winner. If Petersen stands for some libertarian principle, then the votes he got is the hard cap for anything overtly 'libertarian' in the GOP (Missouri at least).

  • josh||

    His mistake was he was trying to make America "free again". If he had bothered to make America "great again" and not bothered with any of that pesky freedom, he would've been embraced by his "betters" more easily.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Sorry, Austin, Republican primary voters don't care about soyboy ideas like free trade, cutting spending, and a non-interventionist foreign policy. Those kinds of ideas are not gonna own the libtards.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    It's almost like Americans refuse to vote for the people they say they agree with most frequently. Where are all of these people that we hear aren't on the fringes?

  • JeremyR||

    The problem is, he didn't ever actually run on any of that. He ran on open borders.

    Then when gun banning talk started, he flipped to that, but acting like a charlatan, he made a joke out of it by raffling off a gun.

  • buybuydandavis||

    From his web site:
    "The bottom line is this: if we want to solve the problem of illegal immigration, we must fix our legal immigration system. It's currently too complicated, takes far too long, and costs too much money to play by the rules. This incentivizes bad behavior (i.e. coming here illegally) and over time leads to exactly where we are today."

    Shorter: If we didn't say NO, they wouldn't have to come illegally.

    Curious how Reason didn't mention the part immigration played in his trouncing. Normally they're so interested in that issue.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Curious how you completely omitted the first part of his statement on immigration, posted below, which is something even you would agree with.

    Shorter: If we didn't say NO, they wouldn't have to come illegally.

    Well, yeah. How is that not the case?

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    I thought he would lose a lot of support over being too pro gun, saying there should be no restrictions, allowing machine gun ownership, etc. And pushing that issue made him seem like a nut, in the environment we have today.

  • Kivlor||

    Not in the Republican parts of Missouri. Most would either A) Support this or B) think it's hyperbole.

  • Frank White||

    Well, yeah. How is that not the case?

    If you want to solve the prison overpopulation problem, stop putting people in jail even if they're guilty. Simple.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    That would be a very good idea.

  • JoeJoetheIdiotCircusBoy||

    and it would absolutely fix the prison overpopulation problem technically speaking

  • Kivlor||

    Once they realize we let in enough immigrants to fill 2 cities the size of Kansas City every single year through legal immigration, people in flyover country start thinking "Hey, letting more in might be a bit too much"

  • Headache||

    Not to mention the 12 million illegals already here that would fill 3 cities the size of Chicago.

  • Kivlor||

    Yeah... keep believing that lie dude. It's more likely in the 30-50 million range.

  • Robert||

    Ah, appealing to the low info voter, who might be convinced there's just some technical problem w immigr'n procedures—not that it's designed to disqualify most potential applicants, but just that it's a hassle most don't want to be bothered w.

    Like how most users don't want to take the trouble to get a prescription for cocaine.

  • Kivlor||

    If you informed those low-info voters that you are mocking that we let in enough immigrants to fill 2 Kansas Cities every single year, and that there's actually 30-50 million illegal immigrants in this nation, and that most immigrants/immigrant households get government assistance, you would find that they would be much less in favor of immigrants, legal or otherwise.

  • tlapp||

    Exactly, he was too flippant to be taken seriously.

  • Kivlor||

    I can confirm this. Most of the people I know were almost single-issue voters in MO, and the issue was immigration. A lot of folk like myself would have gladly voted for Peterson if he'd not been an open-borders cuck.

  • Raoul Duke||

    Is he also a globalist neocon? Usually cucks tend to be those as well.

  • Kivlor||

    Neocons are ridiculously pro-war, so I'd say no based on his rhetoric. Cuck is an apt term, he wants to invite millions of foreigners to fuck his nation.

  • Calidissident||

    Who wants to bet this guy's browser history is filled with interracial cuck porn?

  • Kivlor||

    Nope. I have a thing for redheads and bondage though.

  • Robert||

    If open borders hurt him so badly, then how to acc't for how badly all the other candidates but 1 did? I don't think you can conclude anything about policy from this, unless the winner stood out from all the others on some policy.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    The closed-border Trump suckers will blame "open borders" for everything.

    Fact of the matter is, Josh Hawley is an opportunistic turd who was already State AG and worked his way through the party to get his "rightful place" in challenging McCaskill. Peterson didn't do that, and that is why he lost.

  • Lajaw||

    Petersen lost because he is open borders and not a Republican. We have video of him belittling Republicans and talking of how he stealthily planted Libertarians throughout the Republican party. In 2016 he called Republicans low IQ or something like that. He was arrogant and I really don't think he was serious. If he was, he needs to do some soul searching and see what a fool he was.

  • Headache||

    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

    The winner stood out from all the others.

  • SIV||

    Welch is celebrating the Establishmentarian win with a cocktail of semen and soy.

  • ColoradoKook||

    Yeah, it seemed to me Welch has a real beef with A.P. I guess he's not cosmotarian enough.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Fuck me, you're a retard, SIV. Crawl back to the FEderalist with the other Trumpsuckers.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    Don't you have an episode of InfoWars to catch up on?

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Oh no, they're worse. At least the Missouri ones.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    What wereally need is another Ron Paul, or Rand. The greatest libertarians Ever.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Well that is too bad. I voted for Austin Peterson. I wasn't terribly thrilled with some of his antics, but he would have made a much better senator than the vile slimebag Josh Hawley.

  • Kivlor||

    Hawley is indeed a vile slimebag.

  • Robert||

    How do you think he'll govern? Don't write, "As a vile slimebag." I want to know how he'll differ in effect from the avg. person.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Vilely and slimebagilly, of course.

  • Kivlor||

    Since he's not going to be a governor, I don't think he'll govern at all. As to how do I think he'll vote in the Senate? He'll be another stooge that doesn't represent his constituents or his state, but represents whoever donates the most money and greases his palms best. Which is to say he'll be like just about every other Senator. He's a coward, a follower, and an opportunist. So he'll be most motivated by fear.

    We never should have made senators publicly elected. They should have remained positions to be filled by appointment of their state legislatures.

  • Lajaw||

    Thank you.

  • JeremyR||

    Before finding the gun thing (and even that he made a gimmick of, rather than treating the issue seriously), his main thrust of his campaign was open borders.

    Open borders isn't going to be a sell for any Republican base, much less in Missouri which is still heavily union dominated.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    his main thrust of his campaign was open borders.

    Umm, what?

    "I believe in border security and national sovereignty, and I support cost-effective measures to further secure our border and protect American citizens. I also favor completely eliminating any and all welfare programs provided to illegal immigrants. These welfare programs, while perhaps well-intentioned, provide negative incentives and encourage people to come to this country for the wrong reasons.

    "The bottom line is this: if we want to solve the problem of illegal immigration, we must fix our legal immigration system. It's currently too complicated, takes far too long, and costs too much money to play by the rules. This incentivizes bad behavior (i.e. coming here illegally) and over time leads to exactly where we are today."

  • buybuydandavis||

    Shorter: If we didn't say NO, they wouldn't have to come illegally.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Did you miss the whole "end welfare for illegals" part?

    And how is that statement not correct?

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    So to get the votes of people like buybuy here, it's not enough to say "enforce the border", it's not enough to say "no welfare for illegals", the candidate has to basically lie and claim that our legal immigration system is JUST FINE, and those damn border hoppers break the law to come here because they're *bad people* with *bad motives*. That is what the Trumpists want to hear. Good for Austin Peterson for not succumbing to the Trumpian nonsense.

  • vek||

    If anything our legal immigration system lets in people that are TOO sub par, and lots of people know that.

    We should speed up the process, but it should in fact be more stringent than it is now. The chain migration thing is real, and it's bullshit. I have no problem letting in the Mexican doctor... But by the time it has filtered through to his 3rd cousin the janitor... We just really don't need that guy.

    Nobody, including black Americans or anybody else thinks we should be letting in those types of people according to polls. Open borders retarded libertarians do. Democratic party officials want their votes too! But not most normal Americans.

    So faster, but only quality applicants, people show support for. Not so much for what you want.

  • H. Farnham||

    That might be the most rational and coherent statement I've ever read from a politician regarding immigration policy.

    I guess it just doesn't have enough feelz or scare-mongering to be effective though.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    And just to show you how horrible Hawley is, when our former governor, Eric Greitens, got in trouble, Hawley as the State AG treated the entire situation like it was some episode of Game of Thrones. When it looked like Greitens might be able to weather the storm of the scandals, Hawley was concocting excuses about why he couldn't investigate the governor. But the moment the scandal took a turn for the worse, Hawley was right there at the front of the line to stick a shiv into the governor's political career. And just to be clear, the governor totally deserved it. He was a horrible little mini-Trump clone who was arrogant, defiant, and treated everyone else like dirt, including his own party in the state legislature. But Hawley was a completely opportunistic turd in the whole affair.

  • Kivlor||

    Honestly, I thought he put the shiv in Greitens when it looked like he could still muddle his way through.

  • Lajaw||

    Hawley screwed Greitens. Kim Gardner should be disbarred and flogged. Nasty politics here in MO. The unions still own this state.

  • ColoradoKook||

    Reason needs serious look in the mirror. Sell out principles for some stupid 10% poll number and gloat when a former LP member with principles doesn't win?

    Fuck you.

  • Qsl||

    Actually, many libertarians need to take a long look in the mirror.

    Potential unrealized is wasted energy. Libertarianism is the opposite side of the coin to SJW utopist . They stand on principle as well, and eventually, eventually , if they are just a little more adamant, people will realize how right they are and usher in a golden age of market communism and two minutes of shame for every white male.

    Libertarianism has been spinning its wheels for nearly half a century and has damn little to show for it.

    Maybe it is time to try a different tactic.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I respectfully disagree with you.

    I tend to believe about 80% of all people want an authority figure in their life - a parent, a mentor, a government, a religion. Something that tells them what to do in fairly simple terms. I even kind of understand - constantly trying to understand the long term outcomes of every decision you make can be kind of exhausting. Even the most adamant of individualists come up with some huge categorization metrics to keep from having to think deeply about things - "I will *never* watch a movie with Cher in it because they are all bad!".

    That 80% desire for authority is what libertarians are trying to influence, and it's hard. That there has been any movement at all is a miracle. Realistically, slowing down the growth of authoritarianism would be remarkable.

    I think the diminution of fealty to a religion has not quite been replaced by fealty to government, which I would like to believe (when not quite sober) is a net win for liberty.

  • Butler T. Reynolds||

    Gods are imaginary. Jackboots are real.

  • Qsl||

    And I respectfully disagree right back.

    Most of the culture war hinges on telling other people what to do. Each side (including libertarians) imagines finally ascending the seat of power and positioning themselves to reign for a thousand years. It is why the politics are so divisive now, and why each each gets more extreme. No need to work towards compromise if you can maintain a 51% majority indefinitely.

    And as the LP regularly polls in the single digits, they are stuck in the middle where doubling down on extremism isn't going to work. At best, libertarians get to ride the avalanche of populism and guide it in a more liberty oriented direction. In an age of extremes, the radical center is going to have the most sway.

    That is not to say libertarianism should abandon its principles, but leading with what is most approachable at least for its public face. Most people are sick of the petty ideologues. Libertarianism needs to be the default choice for them.

  • Robert||

    That 80% desire for authority is what libertarians are trying to influence, and it's hard. That there has been any movement at all is a miracle. Realistically, slowing down the growth of authoritarianism would be remarkable.


    Then we are in a remarkable age of miracles. Over the world as a whole, whether you look at the last 5,000, 500, or 50 yrs., the avg. person is much freer now than then. Authoritarianism is not growing. It has temporary local spurts, that's all.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I'll reverse myself and agree that you are right.

    I think it's because of technology empowering people to resist oppression.

  • vek||

    If you ask me, libertarians need to become realistic.

    The purist libertarians on here are every bit as retarded and autistic as communists. They really believe in some utopian future that will NEVER happen. Ever. Ever. Ever.

    Because human nature. Just as communism ignored the individualistic sides of human nature, pure libertarianism completely ignores the group dynamics of human nature.

    In short taking libertarian principles, and then applying them in full where you can, IE when it doesn't clash with human nature. And then having merely libertarian-ish laws when pure libertarianism butts up against human nature. And perhaps even just conceding on some points that the libertarian point of view is completely impossible due to human nature.

    Being realistic in short. As an example, the open borders globalist viewpoint is never gonna happen without jack boots. It runs contrary to human nature. So you can come up with a realistic alternative, OR you can use jack boots like the progs are doing to force it on everybody, or you can simply be ignored like libertarians. I think the realistic alternative makes for the best solution right?

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    I didn't see the gloating. I might have missed it. I think the message was more that he got beat handily by the front runner. That's a factual statement, not gloating.

  • AmendmentXMigrant||

    Right-to-work struck down. Shit is trending in the wrong direction, the will of the voters is what matters.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Dog bites man story.

  • perlchpr||

    Your "Auctioned off a machine gun" link says nothing of the sort. He not only didn't auction off a machine gun, he didn't auction off any sort of gun at all. He appears to have auctioned off a CNC mill.

  • Headache||

    What, you expect a Reason contributor to do their own fact checking?

    (Can't stop laughing)

  • Conchfritters||

    He should have stuck with happily married gay people defending their marijuana fields with fully automatic machine guns - - - although in Missouri, the gay thing may not have gone over so well, and they prefer meth over ganja.

  • General_Tso||

    8.1% Are you sure he left the LP?

  • Headache||

    Must have, 8.1% > 2%.

  • Shawn Levasseur||

    I'm betting that Austin is in "Post Election Depression", and any statements about his future path are premature.

    The man's got a lot of drive, so I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him. In what capacity? Who knows. I'd prefer him to come back home to the Libertarian Party (though I hope he does hold to his word on not running for president again, I suspect it'll be a crowded field in a year or so, and I think he still needs to mature a bit before trying that again)

  • gaoxiaen||

    Yep. Otherwise he is dead to me and should suck a bag of cocks.

  • Dizzle||

    I mean, what is the national lp doing? All this turmoil leaving voters for the party to poach. All these issues like free trade, lower regulations, and constitutional sc judges we should be out front on...

    I feel like my couch has more money than the national party. What the hell are they doing besides nothing?

  • Nicholas Sarwark||

  • Hank Phillips||

    Yep. And making looters choose between repealing bad laws or losing to someone who more wisely fears the Law of Supply and Demand. Je je je...

  • Uncle Jay||

    Missouri might get another establishment republican instead of an establishment democrat.
    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Ha ha ha ha ha! Petersen's website steals money from ex-subscribers, but not even the other looters want anything to do with the joik. Schadenfreude, yes!

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