A Libertarian Party Rift Opens After Faction Flying Flag of Ron Paul 2.0 Wins Control

‘Democracy,’ the ex-congressman once said, ‘is two wolves and a sheep voting on who’s for dinner.’

Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons
Ron Paul at Des Moines, Iowa, in January 2012. Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

New battle lines in a bitter rift within the Libertarian Party are being drawn up after the Mises Caucus — flying the flag of the Ron Paul Revolution 2.0 — took over the party’s National Committee during its convention at Reno, Nevada, in May.

The emerging struggle pits the Mises bloc, which favors brash, confrontational messaging, against an old guard. The anti-Mises faction is unhappy over the other side’s stridency and complains of what it sees as a lack of internet decorum and even bigotry.

It might seem at first glance to be a marginal story. The Libertarian Party, though, has emerged as the third-largest political party in America. While it rarely wins electorally, it does influence the policy debate over such matters as gay marriage, marijuana and other drugs, free trade, and our military — and nonmilitary — interventions abroad. The fight is also largely a generational one that is playing out to varying degrees in the Republican and Democratic parties as well.

Over the last several years the Mises Caucus, led by Michael Heise,  successfully gained control of a majority of state Libertarian parties, culminating in their victory in Reno elections this spring. So disgruntled is the old guard that 10 days ago the Libertarian Party of Virginia voted, 7 to 6, to dissolve itself.

It declared that the national party is “endorsing thinly-veiled antisemitism, explicitly welcoming bigotry into the party,” and rendering “the national image of the party functionally indistinct from other alt-right parties and movements.”

The now-former chairwoman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia, Holly Ward, makes no bones about singling out the Mises Caucus as the culprit. She calls the current national party leadership “a shell for Republican money” and tells the Sun the controversial tweets and the negative press they garner made it impossible for her to recruit candidates in her state.

Ms. Ward specifically points to Libertarian Party tweets critical of democracy and calling for “national divorce,” and to a recent tweet from the vice chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, Josh Smith, calling to repeal the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Also, Ms. Ward points to such tweets from the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire — not the national party — as one advocating the repeal the Civil Rights Act and another that reads “6 millions dollar minimum wage or you’re antisemitic.” That last tweet was deleted.

“If … you’re pushing a message that’s so antisemitic and racist and misogynistic, who’s going to be your candidate?” Ms. Ward says.

Last week, the State Corporation Commission of Virginia issued an official certificate of dissolution. The Libertarian Party of Virginia’s website, social media accounts, and emails went dark. The Libertarian National Committee, though, isn’t hoisting the white flag just yet.

“The LNC does not acknowledge that a disaffiliation has taken place,” the national chairwoman, Angela McArdle, tells the Sun. She attributes the action to “a small group of rogue individuals who basically exploited their positions of power.”

A national party parliamentarian has since looked into the Libertarian Party of Virginia dissolution and declared it “null and void.” 

At heart this is a fight over what it means to be a Libertarian. Critics of the Mises Caucus say they are moving the party to the right by removing its pro-abortion rights plank, watering down of the anti-bigotry statement in the party’s platform, and taking toward free speech an absolutist approach that, critics cavil, often offends. 

The Mises Caucus counters that it is returning the Libertarian Party to libertarianism à la Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. “People who are complaining that the party is moving far right, most of their critics would say they moved the party very far left,” Ms. McArdle says. “It’s more that we’re putting it back on track.”

The syncretic nature of the Libertarian Party — whose policy positions skew both left and right — opens the door to conflict when the party appears to be moving further to one side. Most of the Mises Caucus leadership came of age during Congressman Ron  Paul’s runs for president in 2008 and 2012, when he stood in the Republican primaries (and, at one point, was nearly tied in the polls with President Obama).

A Libertarian Party member, Brianna Coyle, who left the party in protest against the Mises Caucus takeover this spring, put it to the Sun this way: “I just care more about civil liberties and social issues than I do about guns and taxes.” 

“There’s a conflict inside the party that pretty clearly maps on to left and right,” a Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate of New Hampshire, Jeremy Kauffman, who is prominent in the Mises Caucus, tells the Sun. He defends the “transgressive” messaging as strategy. In a system unkind to third parties, he reckons, “a signal that can’t be ignored” is a kind of political capital that the Mises Caucus seems unwilling to squander for the sake of peace.

Messaging has been a source of conflict in the party since at least the 1980s, when Libertarian leaders debated whether the slogan “taxation is theft” was too extreme to attract voters. At the time, the fight was between the Pragmatist Caucus and the Radical Caucus. Ms. McArdle says the Mises Caucus has “picked up the mantle of the Radical Caucus and sort of carried it forward.”

A former chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, Nicholas Sarwark, an opponent of the Mises Caucus, disagrees, telling the Sun that “what they’re putting out there as an official Libertarian Party just isn’t libertarian.” He calls the Mises Caucus a “MAGA infection” and points to official party tweets on critical race theory and gender identity that sound more like Governor DeSantis than anti-state.  

Each side is digging its trenches. In late August, the Libertarian Party of New Mexico announced that it was disaffiliating from the Libertarian National Committee, writing in a letter to Ms. McArdle, “We regret that it has come to this, but you have left us no choice.”

Massachusetts now features two libertarian parties, though only the newly founded one, led by the Mises Caucus, affiliates with the Libertarian National Committee.

“I think what’s happening is a lot like Ukraine — we got invaded,” the Libertarian Party of New Mexico’s chairman, Chris Luchini, an opponent of the Mises Caucus, tells the Sun. “The reaction to the invasion of the party is going to continue and broaden. This isn’t a matter of a few disgruntled states that are in a minority.”

Ms. McArdle disagrees, calling the current schisms “more like a cold war with a small faction that’s gotten hot in a few places.” Despite warnings of a mass exodus, an August financial report shows the number of active donors to the Libertarian Party actually began rising after the May convention.

As for the Libertarian Party’s tweets, Ms. McArdle concedes that “sometimes we are going to blunder a bit when we try to communicate our ideas.” She says Mr. Smith’s tweet on repealing the 19th Amendment was a poorly communicated critique of all voting and democracy. She nonetheless gives little quarter.

“Ron Paul said it best when he said democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on who’s for dinner,” Ms. McArdle says.  

The New York Sun

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