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Tom Knapp and Robert Stacy McCain debate direction of Libertarian Party

The Other McCain writes in Libertarian Skinny-Dipping in Daytona

Political news consumers in March 2007 were interested in the Libertarian Party’s prospects for . . . well, anything, really. When the Libertarians have nerds like George Phillies, stoners like Steve Kubby and fanatical purists like Mary Ruwart seeking the presidential nomination, and when the party’s 2008 convention requires six ballots to decide Barr is the better candidate, you can’t be blamed for wondering if they’re really serious about politics. However remote the chance that the LP could influence the outcome of the 2008 election, serious political news consumers were interested in that stuff.

Tom Knapp responds in Thoughts on being the GOP’s bitch,

I have to agree … sort of. The fact that Barr wasn’t eliminated by the second or third ballot reflected poorly on the Libertarian Party and indicated that maybe we weren’t really serious.

Let me break this down for you:

Bob Barr was retired from Congress as a Republican in 2002. And not just any kind of Republican, but a mossback social conservative with a righteous hard-on against anything and everything remotely libertarian — a hardcore drug warrior who moved to stop the votes from being counted on a DC medical marijuana initiative; author of the Defense [sic] of Marriage Act; Hammer of Heresy Among Military Personnel; supporter of the USA PATRIOT Act and the invasion of Iraq.

But by 2008, after a magical transformation that included a gig with the ACLU, he was running for President of the United States as a Libertarian.

Let’s paste that math on another political name or two and see how it works:

Like Barr, Texas Republican Tom DeLay left Congress in an off-year (2006). Like Barr, DeLay was not just a Republican, but an uber-Republican, loved by his party (Barr’s 2002 defeat was due to redistricting which put him up against another popular incumbent in the primary — unless you want to ascribe it to the anti-Barr ads run by, you guessed it, the Libertarian Party) and loathed by all others. If he reports for duty at MoveOn tomorrow and runs for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2012, or even 2016, the question is not whether he’ll make it to the sixth ballot, it’s whether he’ll make it six feet into the convention hall before getting bounced out on his ass. And I guaran-goddamn-tee that Robert Stacy McCain won’t accuse the Democrats of not being “really serious about politics” over it.

How about Hillary Clinton? She left the US Senate in 2009. Maybe she’ll quit her current gig tomorrow and go to work as a receptionist at Gun Owners of America, while volunteering on the side at the America Conservative Union. Think she can pull down the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2012 or 2016? Or, to put the question a different way, are you high?

Better yet, what about the Libertarian Party’s nomination? Would McCain suggest that the LP was not “serious” if it rejected, or at least took its time mulling over, a hypothetical Hillary Clinton candidacy on the LP ticket? Even if she spent a couple of years as a Cato fellow first?

Non-LPers are always bellyaching that the LP isn’t “serious” if it doesn’t act like the “major” parties — but I’ve yet to see a “major” party nominate one of its most vociferous recent opponents for election to the presidency on its ticket, or a pundit seriously suggest that it do so. The closest thing I can think of was the speculation that John McCain might choose Joe Lieberman as his running mate — a notion which The Other McCain called “probably farfetched” at the time.

And what, pray tell, did we get out of the Barr nomination? Dixiecrat vaudeville — a campaign which McCain himself trumpeted as the resurrection of George Wallace, and which turned in the fourth-best results (as a percentage of the vote total) of the Libertarian Party’s ten presidential outings. Our reward for taking a flier and running a conservative instead of a libertarian was middle-of-the-pack performance at the polls and incalculable damage to our reputation as a party with principles we weren’t willing to sell for a mess of … well, let’s just note that it was a mess and leave it at that.

We got used as an overflow area for disgruntled Republicans who didn’t think John McCain was “conservative” enough, in an election which every Republican with two or more neurons firing knew was a lost cause. Which, when push came to shove, didn’t amount to enough people to fill a phone booth.

The Libertarian Party has a tougher row to hoe than the major parties do in the first place. Allowing ourselves to be made into the GOP’s bitch at the presidential level for an entire election cycle was a detour from, not a shortcut to, where we want to go.

McCain replies,

One of the reasons that the Barr campaign got so much national media attention in Spring 2008 was the widespread belief that, given the strength of the Ron Paul GOP campaign — especially in terms of online fundraising — and furthermore considering an established personal friendship between Barr and Paul, if the LP nominated Barr, he would bring much of Paul’s financial and grassroots support with him.

While this envisioned scenario did not actually develop after the “Dogfight in Denver” (in which Barr fought for six ballots to gain the LP nomination) this does not mean the original hope of Team Barr was misguided.

There has been a good deal of behind-the-scenes finger-pointing among Libertarians as to what went wrong after the LP convention in May, but a falling-out between Paul and Barr (which seems to have happened in June) could not have been anticipated when Team Barr organized its nomination campaign.

He continues,

Tom represents a sizeable faction in the Libertarian Party who hate and despise anything “conservative” or Republican. And, of course, there are any number of Republican conservatives who use “libertarian” as an epithet.

This is unfortunate, especially since most Republicans I know are, to some degree, libertarians (with a small “l”). And most Libertarians I know have been involved in primary campaigns for libertarian-leaning Republicans like Ron Paul.

Eric Dondero attempts to bridge this chasm by styling himself a Libertarian Republican. My friend Stephen Gordon has been an operative in both the GOP and LP. Personally, I have attempted to describe “Libertarian Populism” as a potential locus for opposition to both Democratic Party progressive statism and the Progressive Lite go-along-to-get-along approach of GOP “moderates,” by offering freedom as the basic answer to populist grievances.

What is at stake in all this is something much more important than divergent estimates of individual candidates or disagreements about campaign strategy. What is at stake is nothing less than liberty itself.

If our nation’s future is to be entrusted to Nancy Pelosi and her ilk, then the disagreements between Tom Knapp and myself are moot, no more relevant to contemporary politics than an historical discussion of how the Whigs self-destructed after 1844.

The latest reply from Knapp, with a still-active comment thread as of this writing, is here.

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  1. paulie paulie September 15, 2009

    There’s also a sense of NIH (No Invented Here.) They’re jealous that it’s been Right Libertarians and Conservatives who have invented the Revolts. Since they’re not leading the charge, they’re lost.

    Witness the irony of Tom Knapp’s own Boston Tea Party not being involved ANYWHERES! in the current Tea Party protests around the country.

    The BTP has participated in the Tea Parties. Of course, as a tiny libertarian splinter party about 1% the size of the LP at best, this involvement did not get a lot of major media (LOL).

    And the Tea Parties were not invented by conservatives; Libertarians have been doing them for years. Even Santelli got his idea from the LP.

  2. Robert Milnes Robert Milnes August 15, 2009

    Peter Orvetti, I’m still chuckling about Reverse Eagleton.

  3. Robert Milnes Robert Milnes August 14, 2009

    Eric Geib, don’t be surprised if you don’t find the word deportation there. I used to have an msn group but I lost it. I also have a Personal Web Page. The link is on Peter Orvetti, conFusion ticket, lol!. You are getting to know me well. Careful, you might morph into Orvetti-me.///Tom, OMG, you are getting lamer. Is that the best you can do? & I got $0.00 contributions & Ron Paul got 35 mil & Obama got hundreds of millions. Therefore the more contributions in 2008, the worse the candidate? I rest my case.

  4. Donald R. Lake Donald R. Lake August 14, 2009

    Mister Orvetti: you need to scope out ahead of time [fusion or other united efforts] what compromises you can live! I am a spiritual type who is virulently anti churchy in politics.

    I can ‘look the other way’ if I am prepped for it and there are no semi reasonable other candidates. I have even worked for inclusion of reform minded Dems and reform minded GOP and other non groups!

    [a] it takes some prep work

    [b] it often does not work out well —- due to structural conflicts

  5. Erik Geib Erik Geib August 14, 2009

    Is there a web archive anywhere of Bob’s more controversial statements (deportation, eugenics, etc.), perchance?

  6. Thomas L. Knapp Thomas L. Knapp August 14, 2009


    You write:

    ” Jay had no chance of winning because he didn’t have enough ballot access.”

    And how much ballot access did your campaign have? Not the campaign in your imagination, the real one.

  7. Robert Milnes Robert Milnes August 14, 2009

    Tom, Jay had no chance of winning because he didn’t have enough ballot access. Barr (& Nader) had enough ballot access to win but also no chance of winning. This is the nature of the election in America “game” so to speak. A lot of it is psychology & emotionalism. Scared people vote more to the right. Distressed people split & vote Socialist (Allende) or get violent (Lenin, Hitler) If people see a fusion ticket get decent & climbing polling, they will respond favorably. They don’t see that with a third party/Independent fission ticket. Peter Orvetti, I don’t know what to call that ticket. Probably unconstitutional though.///Tom, I never used the word “deport”. & What you are describing -Amerinds-sounds more like racial panmixis-which is not what I’m talking about & I do not advocate. Where do you get this stuff?

  8. Donald R. Lake Donald R. Lake August 14, 2009

    Gene Berkmann: how dare you display such logic and common sense! Just sorry that sorry ole [so called] reform movement will not be on the barricades! [Do not feel too sorry for them, ‘we did it to our selves!’]

  9. Thomas L. Knapp Thomas L. Knapp August 14, 2009


    “We can’t propose a platform that will alienate the rest of America-60% or scare the bejesus out of them.”

    Yeah, because proposing to deport the blacks and genetically modify the whites into Amerinds won’t alienate or scare anyone.

    “Do you have or even know of any other strategy or scenario that could possibly get a progressive and libertarian ELECTED? If not, then you are coming from a can’t otherwise win situation.”

    You use that word “otherwise” as if to imply that your proposal is a “might win” situation. It isn’t. It’s at least as “can’t win” as other proposals, and more so than most (hint: Bob Barr had a very small chance of winning in 2008; Charles Jay had an even smaller chance; both had a better chance that your plan represents).

  10. Robert Milnes Robert Milnes August 14, 2009

    Tom, thank you for the constructive criticism and suggestion. I am willing to modify my platform and I have some. But my platform takes into account REALITY. If a progressive-libertarian ticket were to win, do you think a workers’ paradise & “Closed” signs on government offices would appear and all borders disappear the next day? We’d be lucky if a coup d’etat doesn’t appear with tank columns the next day. We can’t propose a platform that will alienate the rest of America-60% or scare the bejesus out of them. Why don’t you work with me instead of against me. This ticket would get a “fanatical purist like Ruwart” into the Vice Presidency! What more do you want? You say it is fantasy/fairy tale. Do you have or even know of any other strategy or scenario that could possibly get a progressive and libertarian ELECTED? If not, then you are coming from a can’t otherwise win situation. And you wonder why there is voter apathy. No, work with me. Help me to talk fanatic purist Mary into a dirty rotten fusion ticket. Help the ticket get ballot access. Help me modify the Independent platform. but don’t ask me to wave a red flag in front of the tank columns. OK?

  11. Thomas L. Knapp Thomas L. Knapp August 13, 2009


    You write:

    “Party activists are interested in their party & voters are interested in a wide assortment of issues; a platform.”

    BINGO. You nailed it. Now think about it.

    Your idea has been for two parties to run a fusion ticket. Since party activists are, as you say, “interested in their party,” the only way to get them together is on “a wide assortment of issues; a platform.”

    Your 2008 campaign was not premised on a platform geared toward bringing together Greens (or other progressives) and Libertarians on common ground they shared (opposition to the war, support for immigration freedom, etc.). It was premised on a platform that 99% of members of both parties found overwhelmingly noxious.

    – War without end in Iraq.

    – A “virtual” border fence.

    – Eugenics (yes, originally a “progressive” idea, but a bad one which progressives have desperately hoped for oh, 50 years or more that everyone else would FORGET was originally a “progressive idea”).

    – A return to “Clintonomics” — too “neoliberal” for progressives, too socialistic for libertarians.

    The only thing you offered was:

    – Humor (“TR was a left-libertarian!”); and

    – A “prospect of victory” that was half delusional fantasy and half fairy tale.

    Follow your own advice. If you want an alliance between progressives and libertarians, put together a platform that progressives and libertarians wouldn’t gouge their own eyeballs out with forks rather than support.

  12. Robert Milnes Robert Milnes August 13, 2009

    Erik Geib, now, now, let’s not exaggerate. I do not comment on EVERY post. Not even close. I usually comment on one post several times. Evidently there is more than one kind of fusion ticket. The Nolan here mentioned a kind of fusion ticket that I had not heard of before. Near complete disregard for party membership & affiliation. That caused me to pause & say I will a little tink. Fortunately I long ago eliminated Ron Paul due to counterrevolutionary tendencies. However I still felt I should reexamine it because after all it is THE Nolan. But no, a ticket based on mostly anti-fascist positions is not good enough. Party activists are interested in their party & voters are interested in a wide assortment of issues; a platform.

  13. Erik Geib Erik Geib August 13, 2009


    For the umpteenth time, you are neither the first, nor the last, person to propose a ‘fusion’ ticket. Stop pretending like this is a unique idea, and please stop talking about it every 5 minutes on every post on IPR.

  14. Robert Milnes Robert Milnes August 13, 2009

    David F. Nolan, You say you think a “fusion” ticket might be best. I’ll take that coming from you as a compliment as I’ve been saying that for quite some time now. I have already checked out and rejected Ron Paul. I have just completed an analysis of Naomi Wolf as possible fusion ticket material. First, you have it reversed polarity on both. The progressive should be male president, the vp female libertarian. You say ‘Neither of them is a pure libertarian by a long shot.” You got that right. Paul endorsed CP Baldwin. So being an elected republican and endorsing a CP theocrat is clearly not libertarian. For purposes of a fusion ticket, Paul is virtually the exact opposite of what would be needed. Anti-fascist? Shakey at best. + I doubt if he would be willing to be so strongly tied to a progressive. & Wolf is a self described “progressive” but previously self described as “liberal feminist” which is virtually a contradiction in terms. Recently she has said some things alluding to a libertarian awakening. So her political position seems to be uncertain and changing. So I would be skeptical of her also as fusion material. This ticket, even if reversed, Wolf/Paul, would be very problematic in my opinion. And I was hoping I would not conclude that because the presidential ticket, other than Milnes/Ruwart is extremely difficult to put together. I was hoping you had something. & even Milnes/Ruwart has problems. Ruwart is obstinate evidently being ill advised by Knapp & Paulie against me. & My formal resume is weak. It would be helpful if I could get some academic accomplishment or my political theory get academic recognition. Nevertheless, I clearly am a recognized qualified progressive & Ruwart clearly a recognized libertarian. Neither have military experience which could be spun as a positive though. This ticket offers a recognized libertarian an opportunity as opposed to your Paul/Wolf. During the last cycle I advocated Gravel/Ruwart but now I would only advocate that ticket if BOTH indicated some level of understanding what we are talking about. I have no such assurances. Would you care to respond to my opinion here?

  15. Andy Andy August 13, 2009

    “I believe that the best chance to turn things around is a “fusion” ticket like (for example) Ron Paul and Naomi Wolf.”

    I didn’t think that Naomi Wolf was that big a name.

  16. Aaron Aaron August 12, 2009

    This story was tweeted to me with the title “Circular Firing Squad Alert: LPN Debates Future of Party” I had to click…

    Although the LP is just a glorified debate club, I’d much rather these types were in charge in Washington. Not only can they not get anything done, they can’t agree on anything else either. Perfect government!

    Not like the elephant asses we have in charge now. The only thing they debate is how they’ll justify screwing us over THIS time… :/

  17. Gene Berkman Gene Berkman August 12, 2009

    Dave @ 21 – I am in general agreement with you.

    Working out details will mean more after Libertaraians and other anti-Fascists have worked together for awhile.

    In the meantime, in 2010 – we need to be serious about supporting limited government candidates regardless of party.

  18. Robert Milnes Robert Milnes August 12, 2009

    Andy @19, I just wrote that I agreed with Dondero @11 on @13. You write that Dondero is “completely absurd.” How do you figure that?

  19. David F. Nolan David F. Nolan August 12, 2009

    Gene@18 – As you know, I’ve long stated that the LP is a non-factor at the Presidential level. The people we have run for President in the past are, for the most part, decent men and more libertarian than not. But we’ve never had the resources to compete seriously – to even qualify for the phony “debates.”

    Given how bad things are in the USA now, and how fast they’re getting worse, I believe that the best chance to turn things around is a “fusion” ticket like (for example) Ron Paul and Naomi Wolf. Neither of them is a pure libertarian by a long shot, and they are not entirely in agreement themselves. But they both see the rapid emergence of fascism in America for what it is, and might be able to pull together a coalition of (mostly) freedom-minded voters.

    I still want to see the LP grown and gain influence, but running someone like Barr, Root, Kubby, Ruwart, etc. at the top of the ticket will not accomplish that. Far better, IMHO, to join a broad coalition behind an anti-fascist ticket like Paul & Wolf that has some chance of being taken seriously.

  20. Erik Geib Erik Geib August 12, 2009


    My sentiments precisely.

  21. Andy Andy August 12, 2009

    “Eric Dondero // Aug 12, 2009 at 5:25 am

    The Left Libertarians like Knapp are just lost in the wilderness right now. They aligned with the Hard Left to ‘defeat the Bush agenda,’ and now the entire Nation is turning against their Leftist friends, and using hardline Libertarian arguments against big government: Tea Parties, Town Hall protests.”

    I am by no means a fan or supporter of Tom Knapp, but in all fairness, the above statement from Eric Dondero is completely absurd.

  22. Gene Berkman Gene Berkman August 12, 2009

    One outstanding factor of the 2008 election was that none of the candidates for the Libertarian nomination for President was qualified by experience or aptitude to run for the office, let alone hold it.

    Give Steve Kubby the button? Surely you jest. George Phillies spends more time attacking other libertarians – including Ron Paul – than he does attacking the state.

    None of them except for Barr and late-entry Mike Gravel had any elective experience, and their records were at best mixed from a libertarian perspective.

    It is time to grow up, start at the bottom, and try to recruit people who have a realistic notion of what Libertarians can accomplish. We need to elect libertarians – regardless of party – to Congress and other offices to put up some opposition to bipartisan statism.

    Our candidates for President have not prepared us for effective political action. Why bother going down the same road of failure over and over?

  23. Erik Geib Erik Geib August 12, 2009

    The biggest problem with our presidential candidate selections is that we never have any organically grown politicians to choose from. Activists, sure. But actual L politicians? Almost never (Marrou aside- and even he wasn’t very high profile).

    Until we finish taking down ballot access laws, debate access restrictions, gerrymandering, and plurality voting (hopefully with the help of others), it barely matters to argue. We run presidential candidates largely as marketing/advertising, but what good is it if they’re not actual libertarians? I say run real Ls until we can actually build up a cadre of elected L officials to choose from.

  24. Leymann Feldenstein Leymann Feldenstein August 12, 2009

    There’s no question the LP prostituted itself to the likes of Bob Barr and Wayne Root and became a dumping ground for frustrated GOP rightwingers. Even Ron Paul sold out when he endorsed the likes of a Pat Buchanan paleocon like Chuck Baldwin.

    As far as I’m concerned there were no libertarian candidates for president in 2008. Just a bunch of Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond/Lester Maddox/George Wallace wannabees.

    Maybe George Phillies/Mary Ruwart/Steve Kubby would not have gotten as many votes but at least the LP could proclaim itself the party of principle without fraudulant misrepresentation.

    The danger now is whether the LP becomes “Little Sir Echo” to the Sarah Palin/Rush Limbaugh/Newt Gingrich GOP talking points. Now that “conservatives” are out of power and in the political wilderness, no White House and no Congress, it’s easy for them to talk like libertarians until they get back in power again. We’ve been there and done that.

    The LP should stop mimicking GOP press releases and focus on those issues that differentiate from both parties. A good start would be an end to the Republocrat foreign policy of overseas military involvment and aid to foreign countries, as well as a strict policy of neutrality and nonintervention.

  25. Donald R. Lake Donald R. Lake August 12, 2009

    Spector is known to be good for abused veterans. Hype. He is just a poser on this issue. [The first such Senator in national history, not!]

  26. Robert Milnes Robert Milnes August 12, 2009

    It is no coincidence that Root threw his support behind Barr instead of Ruwart. It also is no coincidence that BTP grew phenomenally after the LP convention. It is too bad they didn’t nominate me & Mary Ruwart. We could have at LEAST given it a good run, if not actually win. & set the stage more definitively for 2012.

  27. Robert Milnes Robert Milnes August 12, 2009

    Kimberly, yes, Paulie is prolific. Too bad a lot of that is as a detractor against me./// Once again I find my self in agreement with E.D. He is correct in saying the left coalesced behind Obama & now are starting to regret it. & BTP doesn’t seem to have much to do with the Tea Parties. Which begs the question “What is the purpose of the BTP?”. Is it merely a protest against the LP rightists? OR could it grow enough by 2012 to HELP elect a left progressive & left libertarian ticket? When I tried to get Mary Ruwart to bolt the LP & join my Independent ticket, it was not just a random thought. Barr & Ruwart split the LP almost exactly in half on ideological right-left lines. If Ruwart were to go Independent and/or pick up BTP support & ballot access, Such a ticket could actually win the election! Even though it was late in the cycle. THAT would be a worthy purpose for BTP.

  28. John C. John C. August 12, 2009

    McCain is a conservative. What do you expect? And if he is known for anything, it is pandering to racists. Weren’t we just talking about Barr’s racial issues? Leave that shit to the republicans.

  29. Eric Dondero Eric Dondero August 12, 2009

    The Left Libertarians like Knapp are just lost in the wilderness right now. They aligned with the Hard Left to “defeat the Bush agenda,” and now the entire Nation is turning against their Leftist friends, and using hardline Libertarian arguments against big government: Tea Parties, Town Hall protests.

    There’s also a sense of NIH (No Invented Here.) They’re jealous that it’s been Right Libertarians and Conservatives who have invented the Revolts. Since they’re not leading the charge, they’re lost.

    Witness the irony of Tom Knapp’s own Boston Tea Party not being involved ANYWHERES! in the current Tea Party protests around the country.

    That must be a huge embarrassment for Knapp, his friend Jim Davidson, and anyone else connected with BTP.

    So, what’s a Left Libertarian to do? Be cynical, castigate, and lash out at other Libertarians who are actually getting things done.

  30. Jeremy Young Jeremy Young August 12, 2009

    The last time a politician tried to switch between major parties and immediately run for President — indeed, the only time I can think of that happening — was when John Lindsay switched from Republican to Democrat in 1971 and immediately began running for president. Needless to say, that didn’t work out so well for Lindsay.

    On the flip side, the Democrats have certainly rolled over for Snarlin’ Arlen, so perhaps they don’t have so much on the Libertarians as it is.

    However, I’m not so willing to condemn the Libertarian Party just for picking a big name. That strategy has worked for third parties before: in 2000 for the Greens with Nader, in 1900 for the Socialists with Debs, and with the various big-name Prohibition Party candidates, some of whom included former Governors from major parties. The problem wasn’t that Barr came from another party, it was that he wasn’t really a libertarian, and also that his handlers were a bunch of fraudsters who took the LP for a ride.

  31. paulie paulie August 11, 2009

    @7: Good deal, I need me a woman who cooks. About the only thing I can cook is crack. I’m spending way too much eating out.

    @8: Quirk aka OCD

  32. libertariangirl libertariangirl August 11, 2009

    P where does that diet come from ? religion , culture or quirk?

  33. libertariangirl libertariangirl August 11, 2009

    yes i cook , just made apple pie from scratch , including the crust . Picked the apples from my neighbors tree

  34. Michael Seebeck Michael Seebeck August 11, 2009

    LG, they were penguin eggs. Sea part. 😀

  35. paulie paulie August 11, 2009

    I’m pro-choice as far as dietary OCD goes. Eggs do not count at all. By the way, do you cook?

  36. libertariangirl libertariangirl August 11, 2009

    P , do eggs count as the air portion of your air-land-sea diet , since hey would fly if they were allowed to grow? or are they land?

  37. paulie paulie August 11, 2009

    you must have eaten your Wheaties this morning!

    Breakfast: two bowls of berry nut oatmeal with milk, two large lattes, whole wheat bagel with turkey, swiss and tomato slices.

    Lunch: Chicken Satay, Green Curry with catfish

    Dinner: Bowl of chili, two glasses barleywine

  38. paulie paulie August 11, 2009

    The copying and pasting took me about 30 minutes total for the 11 stories, I think.


  39. Kimberly Wilder Kimberly Wilder August 11, 2009

    I am sorely tempted to make a post to our web-site with the title:

    Traveling Paulie contributes eleven stories to IPR in one day!

    Wow! Paulie, you must have eaten your Wheaties this morning!

    (Thanks for the link to my husband’s story!)

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