"The Republican Party hates libertarians," says Libertarian Party national chair Nicholas Sarwark. "And as they show their disgust and distaste, and try to punish their legislators, what they're doing is driving them into our arms."
Sarwark sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas to discuss the Libertarian Party's plans for 2018, Gary Johnson's impact as a presidential candidate, and Donald Trump's effect on libertarianism.
"The Trump presidency so far has been tremendous," explains Sarwark. "It is pretty much the best recruiting tool for the Libertarian Party we've ever had."
Edited by Andrew Heaton.
This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Nick Gillespie: Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason, and today I'm talking with Nicholas Sarwark. He is the chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, or the LP, as we like to call it around here. Nicholas, thanks for talking to us.
Sarwark: Thanks for having me, Nick.
Nick Gillespie: The Trump presidency so far, does it bear out your worst fears of what he was going to wrought?
Sarwark: The Trump presidency so far has been tremendous. It is pretty much the best recruiting tool for the Libertarian Party we've ever had. It's much better than anything I could develop inside the party. He's shown that the success of Republicanism is the death of liberty, which is a good way to show people that there's an option from the two-party system.
Nick Gillespie: What are the things that he's done so far that particularly, you think, drive that message home?
Sarwark: The nomination of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, a man who walked himself into lying to a senator during a hearing, which shows his incompetence as an attorney, and wants to bring us back to the failed policies of prosecuting the racist war on drugs, using civil asset forfeiture to steal money and things from citizens who haven't been convicted of a crime-
Nick Gillespie: Or necessarily haven't even been indicted or charged with anything.
Sarwark: Exactly. Basically highway robbery. Through bringing back an old failed program of adoption, he's able to work around state laws to try and prevent civil asset forfeiture abuse. Those sort of things are really putting a lie to the idea that the Republican Party or the Trump presidency is going to be any friend to somebody who favors individual liberty or small government.
Nick Gillespie: What is the LP strategy for the midterm elections and 2020?
Sarwark: We're laser-focused on the 2018 midterm elections. That's going to set the stage for 2020. Our goal right now is to have over 2,000 candidates running across the country as Libertarians to really show our presence as a national political party, to bring in a full-time person at the national office for candidate support and recruitment, to really go out there and take advantage of what's going to be a very unsettled midterm election. There are going to be a lot of people who voted for Trump, who had previously voted for Obama, looking for an alternative. Some of them will go back to the Democrats, but I think a lot of them will realize that that back-and-forth between right and left is not a productive strategy.
Nick Gillespie: Do you see any high-profile Republicans or Democrats who might defect to become Libertarians either in the midterms or in 2020?
Sarwark: Yes, we're already seeing that at the state legislative level with legislators in New Hampshire, Nebraska, Utah, Nevada, flipping over to being Libertarians. Oftentimes, it's not even them changing. What they're doing is more coming out of the closet and removing some of the baggage that they've been carrying in their old party and being who they are, actually showing their identity. I think that's going to happen more and more. The Republican Party hates Libertarians, both little-L libertarians in their party and big-L Libertarians in the Libertarian Party. As they show their disgust and distaste, and try and punish their legislators, what they're doing is just driving them into our arms.
Nick Gillespie: What are the national issues, the big issues that you think will help the LP really kind of punch through to the next level in 2020?
Sarwark: I think attacking the racist war on drugs and trying to end that, that's where a lot of the civil liberties violations and incarceration come from. Outside of a few isolated people in the Senate or the House, neither of the two old parties are addressing that issue. To date, no state Republican or Democratic parties have pushed for cannabis legalization. It's always been through voter initiative or through popular pressure.
Reforming the immigration system to have open immigration for peaceful people, where people can come in and we know who's going to be here, so we can address those safety concerns people have, but do it in a way where we're not deporting people who have been here for 20 years and sell us tamales around Christmastime.
The other thing is free trade. We really need to have a party that supports free trade, realizes that, while it creates some disruption, it makes all of our lives better. It lets us all live at a higher standard of living in this country, and we need to have sort of unilateral disarmament in the trade wars. We need to open up our trade policy for free trade with all countries. It will reduce the amount of strife we have overseas, reduce the amount of conflict, and really improve the quality of life for all Americans.
Nick Gillespie: How do you sell that to people who are like, 'Yeah, I don't think so'?
Sarwark: What you have to talk to is what it is that they're looking for. A lot of the Trump voters were looking for safety and security and the idea that we'd get past this stagnation we've had, where you have a generation of millennials who are looking at potentially having a lower standard of living than their parents did. The way you solve that is by not trying to fight against disruption in the market, not trying to fight against people coming here to build a better life, but welcoming them in and helping everyone succeed. The market itself will make better quality of life across the board for everyone. Yes, there will be job losses in certain industries, but in a robust market where the economy is growing, we're better able to have policies to deal with that than we are trying to throw up a wall and say, 'Nobody else come here.'
Nick Gillespie: Final thoughts on the Gary Johnson candidacy. He more than tripled previous high point totals for an LP presidential candidate, and yet there was a widespread sense that he didn't quite hit the mark that he might've. What are your thoughts on that?
Sarwark: Really, you can look at it both ways. If you look at it from the expectations of what people thought he might've been able to do, he didn't hit some people's marks. If you look at it from historical expectations from what we've previously done, he blew everything out of the water. What we're focused on now is building off of that momentum. Whether it was luck or serendipity or his hard work that led to the high vote totals, the increased voter registration, the defections, the revenue numbers, all of these things, I can't say. What I can say is we're going to try and build off of it so that 2018 and then 2020 are even more successful.
Nick Gillespie: Well, we'll leave it there. Thanks so much for talking.
Sarwark: Thanks for having me.
Nick Gillespie: We've been talking with Nicholas Sarwark. He's the chairman of the Libertarian Party. For Reason, I'm Nick Gillespie.