Mean Tweets: The Libertarian Party of New Hampshire Tests the Limits
In the rest of the country, the Republican Party has a Trump problem; in New Hampshire, the GOP has a Libertarian Party problem.
On the anniversary of Senator McCain’s death, the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire last week tweeted a photograph of Meghan McCain crying over her father’s coffin, with the tagline: “Happy Holidays.” The tweet got 11,500 likes and thousands of quote tweets and replies, many of them critical.
Ms. McCain retweeted it six times with commentary, calling it “hideous — even by twitter standards.” Her retweeting gave the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire a larger platform than it usually enjoys and national attention.
On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning, New Hampshire’s Republican governor, Chis Sununu, condemned it as “horribly insulting.”
“That should pretty much be the end of the Libertarian Party in New Hampshire,” Mr. Sununu said.
Instead, the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire’s Twitter account gained thousands of followers — 4,000 since early August, in fact, for a total of 26,800, more than twice that of the New Hampshire GOP account.
While social media follows don’t necessarily translate to votes, what is clear is that the politics of confrontation are attractive to Americans in this polarized moment. President Trump’s base lauds his relentless assaults on the press, the left, and RINOs.
Ron DeSantis’s star is rising in the GOP because of the Florida governor’s attack-dog approach to policy and messaging. President Biden’s official Twitter account has also taken a noticeably more hostile tone lately, attacking GOP congressmen who opposed student loan forgiveness — much to his base’s delight.
The Libertarian Party of New Hampshire has taken the tactic a step further, and it seems to be working. The party is attracting a base — or, at a minimum, eyeballs — for its messaging. In the case of McCain, the tweet was meant to highlight the Libertarian Party’s anti-war, anti-interventionist position.
“Even though it’s not politics as usual, it’s effective. We have to defer to the numbers,” the chairwoman of the Free State Project, Carla Gericke, a Republican liberty candidate for the New Hampshire house of representatives, tells the Sun. While not a fan of the McCain tweet, she says there “is room for the edginess because it’s a younger brand and they are appealing to people who grew up with the internet.”
Much of the Libertarian’s “based” — meaning the opposite of woke — online crowd appears, at least on the surface, to be under age 40, interested in crypto and gun rights, and largely male. “We’re the Ron Paul kids who grew up,” the Libertarian National Committee’s vice chairman, Josh Smith, told the Sun in June, after the Mises Caucus took over the Libertarian Party at its national convention.
The Mises Caucus, now in control of the third-largest political party in the United States, conceives of itself as the Ron Paul Revolution 2.0, with edgier, confrontational messaging. The caucus took over New Hampshire’s Libertarian Party in 2021, a year earlier, after a public battle with the establishment “pragmatist” old guard, in large part over the party’s social media accounts. There are obvious parallels to how MAGA Republicans took over the GOP.
“We are the most libertarian, based organization in the country,” a Libertarian Party of New Hampshire member, Dennis Pratt, who is a free stater, tells the Sun. “We get pushback quite a bit from the Libertarian Party itself.”
The New Hampshire faction’s McCain tweet highlights these divisions within the Libertarian Party over its new direction.
“This is a horrible, disgusting tweet,” a former Libertarian congressman, Justin Amash, tweeted in response to the McCain post. “I already know the response will be that McCain advocated wars and military actions that are horrible and disgusting. That doesn’t justify being cruel to his family and loved ones. If you want to bring people to libertarianism, show humanity.”
The national Libertarian Party chairwoman, Angela McArdle, a member of the Mises Caucus, responded: “I have zero control over what the LPNH puts on their twitter. I will also say McCain was a war criminal, so I’m not personally offended.”
Instead of backing down following the criticism, the New Hampshire wing doubled down: “If we don’t dance on the graves of war criminals, who will?” It also tweeted an image of the Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate from New Hampshire, Jeremy Kauffman, holding a gun with the words, “Mean tweets will continue until liberty improves.”
This isn’t the first inflammatory tweet from the LPNH, nor will it likely be the last. In June 2021, the LPNH tweeted, “John McCain’s brain tumor saved more lives than Anthony Fauci.” Last week, it tweeted, “6 million dollar minimum wage or you’re antisemitic.” Condemned as antisemitic, this last tweet was deleted.
That the McCain tweet remains up while the minimum wage tweet was removed can be read as evidence that the LPNH is, in fact, sensitive to public opinion, but is willing to craft messages just on the outer edge of the Overton Window in an attempt to widen it over time.
Mr. Pratt says the New Hampshire account is run by “five or six pretty based New Hampshire Libertarians.” He doesn’t know — or wouldn’t disclose — who composed the recent McCain tweet, or the one about the $6 million minimum wage.
In the Granite State, the Libertarian Party is just one piece of a liberty movement that is gaining strength and becoming a thorn in Mr. Sununu’s side. Besides the Libertarians, the state hosts liberty Republicans, small “L” libertarians, the New Hampshire secession movement, and the Free State Project, a nonprofit that encourages liberty-minded people to move to New Hampshire to influence the politics of the state in a more libertarian direction. While these groups are distinct, they overlap in membership.
There are around 30 free staters in the New Hampshire legislature, and the house Republican majority leader, Jason Osborne, is a free stater. The group has also caused controversy of late, sparking anti-free state protests over local attempts to slash public school budgets and the governor’s condemnation of a few secessionist free staters for pushing to privatize a county-run ski resort, Gun Stock.
It may be easy to dismiss libertarians in other states, but in New Hampshire the liberty vote can decide an election. In 2016, Senator Hassan, a Democrat, won against the Republican incumbent, Kelly Ayotte, by only 1,017 votes. The Libertarian Party candidate that year, Aaron Day, got more than 17,000 votes.
This year, a free stater, Bruce Fenton, is running in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate on September 13. He is polling at 5 percent, but the frontrunner, General Don Bolduc is actively courting the liberty vote.
In a sign of the power of this liberty bloc, none of the GOP candidates for Congress in the first district would condemn the free-state movement during a recent debate, though one said the push for New Hampshire secession went too far. For the foreseeable future, New Hampshire’s GOP will have to contend with the liberty movement and the Libertarian Party, as well as some mean tweets.
Ms. McCaughey is a native New Yorker now based in New Hampshire. Her interests include politics, drug policy, and counterculture.