Internet Troll Runs for President: The Sad, Strange Campaign of Austin Petersen

One of the things Libertarians pride themselves on is that our nomination is a competitive and open process. Literally anybody can run for President, so long as they’re constitutionally eligible and a member of the party.

The downside of that is…. well: anybody can run for President.

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 This means that alongside the serious contenders to be the nominee, as well as sincere message-candidates aiming to shape the debate, we usually have a parade of delusional vanity campaigns trying to weasel their way into 15 minutes in the spotlight.

Typically, these candidates are harmless eccentrics, easily ignored by most in the party. Some years, however, there’s a candidate who manages to stand out… and not in a good way….

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For those lucky enough to not know, Austin Wade Petersen (“three E’s” – he is very particular about that) is a 35-year-old resident of Missouri and, as we’ve previously described him, a “semi-professional Internet troll.” He briefly worked at the LNC HQ for a year during the Bob Barr campaign, had an unsuccessful foray into film production, and currently prefers to describe himself as the “founder” of a clickbait site so infested with pop-up ads and malware I won’t even bother to link to it here.

Running on zero relevant experience, Mr. Petersen’s main campaign issue, if you could even call it that, has been picking a fight with the radicals in the party over his condemnation of the “non-aggression principle,” which he derides as “pacifist anarchism.” There is, granted, a more intelligent conversation to potentially be had about the role of the N.A.P. in the Libertarian Party, but he doesn’t offer it.

Even Ron Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy has come under fire from him as “sound[ing] like he hates America” and “a Soviet apologist,” while he also promises that “the [LP] platform will change in 2016 with me at its head.”

Beyond any substantive issue positions (which he’s pretty skimpy on), Austin’s campaign is based on open emulation of Donald Trump’s tactics: lie, insult, smear, be outrageously childish, and then when people object, ride the wave of negative attention. Except that unlike Trump, Austin is neither rich nor famous nor raking in large amounts of free media coverage. Still, here’s a representative sampling of the things you’ll see this self-proclaimed presidential candidate saying on social media, where he spends almost all of his time:

“I don’t take crap from losers like you.”

“You tubby piece of sh*t, you couldn’t even approach 1/4 of the pyramid of pu**y that I swim in on a regular basis. It’s because I have class, motherf***er!”

“Suck it up, buttercup.”

“low testosterone, as evidenced by his spindly frame.”

“lol. neckbeard!”

“If I wanted your opinion I would ask for it. Otherwise cram it.”

And that’s what he has to say to voters and Libertarians and interviewers! When it comes to other candidates, Steve Kerbel is “sleaze”and “the lowest of the low,” while John McAfee is “a drug addict.”

The main target of his vitriol, of course, has been the presumptive nominee Gov. Gary Johnson, whom Austin has attacked as “a low-energy drug dealer.”  The Chair of the Libertarian National Committee has fared no better, with Petersen posting Nicholas Sarwark’s personal cell phone number and encouraging people to call and complain during dinner, because the party accurately reported that Austin lost his home state to “uncommitted” in the Missouri primary.
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Even Libertarian activists and volunteers like Colorado’s Caryn Ann Harlos- well-known in the party for her hot-pink hair- have been subject to organized harassment and bullying from Austin’s army of sock-puppet accounts and spammers. And that “low testosterone, spindly frame” comment above? That was said in reference to myself– who among other things got the Libertarian Party back on the ballot in my state– after which he sought to clarify at the Illinois L.P. convention that he wasn’t being homophobic, just an asshole. This was also after he commented on my personal FB page almost twenty times in a row with nothing but cartoon emojis.

On April 1st, appropriately enough, John Stossel will air a presidential forum among the “top-three” LP candidates, as measured by an easily-stuffed online poll. This was after Austin threw a very public screaming hissy fit, complete with knowing lies and willful slander, over the fact that Johnson did not cancel a planned debate at a state LP convention in order to have a non-televised debate moderated by Stossel at a conference. So, now, Austin has managed to get himself on T.V. as a presidential candidate the only way he can: by getting a real candidate to show up and treat him as the serious competitor he is not.

On April 1st, you’ll no doubt see a highly-polished and over-rehearsed Rubio-esque bit from Austin on FBN, and if he isn’t forced to go off-script he might even make a good impression. But that’s only because the real Austin Petersen, that members of the Libertarian Party have seen in action these past months, could never be aired on television. Not even on Fox.

Nominating this petulant man-child would be an utter disaster, but even promoting him as a serious contender for the party’s presidential nomination is doing the L.P. no favors. The sooner Austin ends this charade and goes home, the less damage he will have done to the party in a year when we have a historic opportunity to make an impact. If he genuinely cares about the future of the Libertarian Party, like he claims, he should end his campaign immediately, and start promoting our general election campaign that is already polling in double-digits against Trump and Clinton.

Update 1 Austin Petersen’s campaign manger responds:

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Update 2 Andy, Joe, Jeff, and Jeffrey discuss this article on the latest ODLRN podcast:

 

Gary Johnson at double-digit support in first poll vs. Trump and Clinton

See the detailed results of the Monmouth University poll here (pdf).

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Notably, Johnson polled 11% in spite of name recognition of just 25%, meaning that among voters who know who he is, Johnson polled 44%. This means it is very likely that his poll numbers will increase as media coverage of the campaign begins to snowball and he is included in additional polls.

Also noteworthy, is that Johnson’s inclusion hurts Hillary Clinton (-6 points) slightly more than Donald Trump (-4 points), despite Johnson performing better in states won by Romney in 2012 (15%) than states won by Obama (10%), and in spite of the fact that Johnson was polling at 16% among independents, 13% among Republicans, but just 4% of Democrats.

This strongly suggests that Johnson’s strongest base of support so far, outside of independents and Libertarians, is among the sizable number of Republicans who would otherwise vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

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Gary Johnson: Fox Business should include more candidates in L.P. debate


Asked about the upcoming Libertarian presidential forum on Stossel by Breitbart’s Tom Ciccotta (8:15 in the video above), Gary Johnson agrees with those saying four or five candidates should have been included, instead of just three. Based on a dubious LP.org online poll (no measures were taken to prevent repeat or automated voting), Stossel has chosen to include the likely nominee Johnson, eccentric newcomer to the party John McAfee, and semi-professional Internet troll Austin Petersen. Among the candidates excluded are Darryl Perry and Dr. Marc Allan Feldman.

ODLRN: Why We’re Endorsing Gary Johnson

Libertarian Presidential Candidate, Gary Johnson

2016 is shaping up to be a potential breakthrough year for the Libertarian Party, and there’s only one candidate who has the seriousness, credibility, and principles to lead the Libertarian ticket: the former Governor of New Mexico, and the most successful Libertarian presidential candidate in over thirty years: Gary Johnson.

As Johnson is the first to acknowledge, the Libertarian nomination process is open, competitive, and ongoing. So far we’ve had Steve Kerbel and Marc Allan Feldman on the show, and have found them both perfectly agreeable gentlemen. We’ve seen Austin Petersen and John McAfee bring a dash of controversy to the race.

None of them have given any indication that they could be, or are serious about trying to become, the next President of the United States. None of them have given any indication they could earn serious media coverage or vote totals for the Libertarian Party in 2016. Some of them say they intend to focus on building the party instead of doing those things. The more likely result, is that a campaign ostensibly focused on party-building instead of earning votes, will not do a very good job of either.  

We have also seen efforts from some quarters, to promote their preferred alternatives for the nomination, with grossly negative attacks and malicious smears and whisper campaigns. These attempts have been unpersuasive, and we don’t expect them to become any more persuasive with repetition.

When the delegates to the Libertarian National Convention gather in Orlando at the end of May, we will be presenting to the nation our choice for President of the United States. As a successful two-term Governor and entrepreneur, Johnson is not only qualified to be President, he’s better-qualified than what we usually get for the office. A self-made millionaire, experimental aircraft pilot, and world-class mountain climber and triathlete, he has a personal story to match his credentials.

On the issues and message, instead of preaching to the choir with obscure insider jargon, Johnson offers an outward-focused campaign that can sell libertarianism to the broad classically-liberal center of American politics. The vast unrepresented majority of fiscally conservative and socially liberal voters who have been disenfranchised by the two-party-only-system and are ripe to fuel the rise of a third major party.

Gary Johnson is the only candidate for 2016 who has demonstrated he can substantially improve our party’s vote totals, winning more votes than all other alternative candidates combined in 2012, and was the first nominee ever to win over a million votes. For the 2016 presidential nomination of America’s third-largest political party, there’s hardly a choice at all.

That’s why we here at the Old Dominion Libertarian Radio Network- Joe Enroughty, Jeff Kleb, Alex Butler, Jeffry Sanford, and Andy Craig- are unanimously endorsing Gov. Gary Johnson to be the 2016 Libertarian nominee for President of the United States.

How the Constitution could let the House stop both Clinton and Trump: 12th Amendment 2016?


The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. – U.S. Constitution, Amendment XII

 

There has been an increasing amount of discussion about a possible strong third-party or independent showing in 2016, whether from an independent Republican ticket put up in opposition to Trump, or from a Libertarian or independent campaign capitalizing on popular disgust with the frontrunners for the major-party nominations: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both of whom are unlikely to muster approval ratings higher than the low-mid 40s. 

This seems like a good opportunity to review one of the lesser-known provisions of that already too-obscure institution: the Electoral College. Under the 12th Amendment, in order to be elected President a candidate must secure an absolute majority (currently 270 votes) in the Electoral College. Thanks to a strange technicality in the way the amendment is written, as little as one Electoral Vote cast for a third-party candidate, could legally result in the House of Representatives electing that candidate President of the United States.

The way it works, is if no candidate receives a 270 vote majority. Then, the newly elected House will have to choose a President, in the brief window in January between when they take office (Jan 3) and Inauguration Day (Jan 20). In this election, they are limited to choosing from among the top three candidates in the Electoral College. Adding an additional wrinkle to the process: each state gets one vote, the only time the House of Representatives votes that way. The delegations from the 43 states having more than one Representative, must vote among themselves, to decide how to cast each state’s one vote. This effectively guarantees that the Republicans would control the outcome of any election thrown to the House, even if they are no longer the majority, because of their dominance in more, smaller states. 

The Vice President is elected separately by the Senate (voting as usual), however they are limited to the top two, not three, candidates in the Electoral College.

 

So, with that basic scheme in mind (see here for CGP Grey’s excellent video explanation): consider the following scenario plays out on Election Night 2016:


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The Democratic nominee is Hillary Clinton. The Republican nominee is Donald Trump. The third candidate can be any number of possibilities: Jim Webb, Mike Bloomberg, Mark Cuban, Angus King, or an independent Republican ticket put up in opposition to Trump, such as Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. However, since it’s my personal preference, in this scenario we’ll posit that it is Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico, as the Libertarian nominee. The same basic premise can be played out with any of them.

Clinton has 43% of the popular vote. Trump has 39% of the popular vote. Johnson, after being included in the debates on the calculation from both major-party candidates that he would hurt the other more, gets 16% of the popular vote. The remaining 2% scatters to other minor party candidates. (This is roughly similar to the popular vote breakdown from Clinton vs. Bush vs. Perot in 1992.)

However, the Electoral College tells a different story than 1992. Unlike Ross Perot, Johnson has won a narrow first-place plurality with approx. 34% in three smaller states: New Hampshire, Nevada, and New Mexico, totaling 15 Electoral Votes. The remaining states are near evenly divided: the Democrat ticket has 260 Electoral Votes and, despite being four points behind in the popular vote, the Republican ticket has 263 Electoral Votes.

Instantly, all eyes turn to the House of Representatives, and in particular its Republican members.

The House Republicans are now in a real dilemma. Most have refused to support or endorse Donald Trump’s disastrous campaign, which has continued in much the same manner as his primary campaign, and a small number had even openly endorsed Johnson in the final weeks.  Most of those who nominally endorsed Trump, only did so halfheartedly and insincerely. 

The Clinton campaign demands that the House confirm her, not along party lines, but because she received, by far, the most popular votes. The same percentage, they note, as Bill Clinton had received to be elected in 1992, though still well short of 50%.

The Trump campaign counters that the voters had returned a GOP-majority House (at least by state), and so the specified process in the Constitution implies that the Republican members of the House should elect their own party’s nominee. Additionally, they count that Trump was the first-place candidate in the Electoral College. 

House Republicans are in a catch-22. The vast majority consider Trump ideologically and more importantly, temperamentally, unfit to be President. Many of them have said so publicly. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of voters rejected him, and he lost the popular vote by a wide margin. The idea of a Trump presidency, particularly under these circumstances, with every Republican in Congress to blame, is seen as a nightmare scenario among GOP establishment circles.

On the other hand, few Republican Congressmen can go home to their districts and face a primary, having voted to install Hillary Clinton as President. The massacre in the 2018 mid-term primary elections would be historic, and they know it. They are caught between losing their seats in primaries, or losing their majority in the general election, to voter backlash in favor of the spurned Democrats. 

In this scenario, Johnson presents a strongly appealing and compelling dark-horse option. A former Republican Governor with experience in office, and a smaller-government free-market platform, he is much more acceptable to many in Washington than dangerous lunatic Donald Trump. But he also has an appeal and acceptability to the left and center that Trump utterly lacks. The same is likely true of Jim Webb, and possibly Michael Bloomberg. 

Facing deadlock and no good options in picking either Clinton or Trump,  the House Republicans make an offer: the House will elect the third-party candidate President, and the Senate (still in GOP hands), will elect the Republican nominee for Vice-President. (This is made easier, since the third-place candidate for Vice President is not eligible to be elected by the Senate).  This could be Ted Cruz, for example, or another relatively acceptable GOP Governor or Senator placed on the ticket in a failed bid to keep the GOP unified behind Trump. (Alternately, if the Democrats have retaken the Senate, they could independently elect their party’s nominee for Vice President.)

So on December 30, 2016, a press conference is called in the Capitol Rotunda. Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announce that both of their incoming caucuses had just voted in a special closed-door session, to elect a Libertarian President and a Republican Vice-President. A unity ticket among candidates who, between them, received a majority of both the popular vote and the electoral college. After being sworn in on January 3, the new Congress does exactly that. 

And that’s how, if the stars align just right, this obscure provision of the Constitution could allow members of Congress to, in effect, veto both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and elevate a third-place runner-up to the Oval Office instead. 

Far fetched? Absolutely. Impossible? I don’t think so. Unprecedented? Not quite. In 1824, a very similar scenario played out among John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Henry Clay. Jackson, seen as unfit despite being the clear popular vote winner, was passed over in favor of popular runner-up Adams, thanks in part to a deal with 4th place candidate and Speaker of the House Henry Clay to appoint him as Secretary of State. 

This is not an entirely new idea, either. Throwing an election to the House has long been the goal of third-party Presidential campaigns, most famously those in 1948 and 1968 that swept the Deep South. It is a consideration that should figure heavily into any campaign strategy for a strong third-party presidential campaign.