Yet again, the old political order is being disturbed by the pesky grassroots that simply refuse to go away. This time, the culprit is a young, charming Missouri firebrand named Austin Petersen. Petersen burst onto the political scene when he nearly pulled off what would have been considered the biggest electoral upset of 2016—defeating Gary Johnson for the Libertarian Party’s Presidential nomination. He is now running for Senate in Missouri as a Republican with hopes of ousting incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill. While his betrayal of the third-party outsiders infuriated some, Peterson hopes the Republican party will afford liberty a greater platform and an opportunity to unseat an establishment Democrat accused of being too cozy with Obama and Clinton.
At the start of his 2016 campaign, Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, had been criticized for years on his switch to the Libertarian Party. He proceeded to play into every Libertarian stereotype one could think of, whether wagging his tongue like a crazed dog on national television or making any of a series of cringe-worthy gaffes. In addition to his many foibles, Johnson had a fatal flaw that would doom his Libertarian candidacy—he wasn’t terribly Libertarian. He supported carbon taxes, opposed freedom of association, and generally found himself on the wrong side of every Libertarian issue. Petersen, a true champion for liberty, gave him a much-needed challenge.
Petersen did not take the traditional route to political prominence. As it says in big, bold letters at the top of his campaign website, he was “Born in Independence and raised in Peculiar—near a town called Liberty.” He did not attend an ivy league university or enjoy a top tier law school education. He attended Missouri State University, where he graduated with a degree in musical theatre. You will not find think tanks or judicial clerkships on his resume, as he opted instead for modeling and demonstrating at the famed New York toy store FAO Schwartz. While working there, he even appeared in a Late Night with Conan O’Brien sketch.
Later, Peterson delved into politics, working for the Libertarian National Committee and the Atlas Network, in addition to the Ron Paul campaigns for President in 2008 and 2012. He moved from there into television, working as an associate producer for the Fox Business program Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano. He then worked as director of production at the advocacy group, FreedomWorks. In addition to running for Senate, Petersen is the owner and CEO of a photo and video consulting firm called Stonegait LLC, named after the family farm, and is founder of The Libertarian Republic and Liberty Viral—libertarian news and commentary websites. So really, he is just your everyday musical theater buff turned model, turned operative, turned TV producer, turned media consultant, turned Senate candidate.
Peterson has gained a cult following among lovers of liberty, as he is unafraid to challenge conventional political norms or advocate fiercely for his most deeply-held beliefs. Naturally, his fierce engagement in the time-honored Libertarian tradition of sharing memes and trolling absolutely everyone has earned him the respect of liberty lovers everywhere.
But now, Peterson has shed the stench of the Libertarian Party and embraced the once-villainous two party system. He now embraces conservative and classically liberal thought leaders like Ben Shapiro and Dave Rubin, while strongly condemning the utter chaos of the Libertarian sideshow. His move to the Republican Party drew the ire of many Libertarians, as doctrinal a group of people as you will find who lack a central doctrine. Some accused him of selling out, others of abandoning his lifelong principles. These same people accuse Rand Paul of being a closet statist, but are happy to cast a vote for interventionist and anti-gun Bill Weld, former governor of Massachusetts. In other words, the dogmatic hardliners who demonize anyone who blindly tows the party line are often willing to sacrifice a great number of their own principles in order to blindly tow the party line.
Austin Petersen has done an extraordinary job of exposing hypocrisy while maintaining his own dignity and integrity. His decision to leave the circus sideshow disguised as a functioning political party in order to give liberty a greater platform was one that he knew would be met with controversy and indignation, but ultimately was the only decision that could be made for the greater good—the advancement and diffusion of liberty.
In a deeply red state like Missouri, Peterson might just have a chance, even against an incumbent Democrat. McCaskill is sure to have the full support of the DNC, which sees 2018 as an opportunity seize Congressional control from stagnant Republicans. However, in today’s political climate – where voters seem to be fed up with the bickering and lackadaisicalness in both parties – former Libertarians like Peterson have their best shot in years to rule the day.
Special thanks to Nick Briscoe and Daniel Bruce for their help in writing, editing, and researching this article. Nick is my Law Firm Manager and a graduate of the University of Alabama. Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student at Auburn University and my Chief Consultant. They both plan to attend law school in 2019.
Photo courtesy of WikiCommons under Fair Use