Live Free or Die

In my first post last week, I described the most recent schism to rock the Libertarian Party- a party never known for its ideological consistency. I next reported on a conversation I had with a party leader about the Mises caucus’ hostile takeover.

Ground zero for the Mises Caucus revolution is probably in New Hampshire, home to the Free State Project.  The Free State Project was the brainchild of Jason Sorens, a libertarian public intellectual and researcher.  Since there isn’t a majority of libertarians in the US, Sorens and others believed that the best way to create a sort of safe haven and example of libertarian policies would be to infuse a state with freedom loving individuals to push it towards “don’t tread on me” living.  Over the past twenty years more than 6,000 people have moved to New Hampshire as part of the project.

And that migration of free state participants has made the New Hampshire Libertarian Party one of the staunchest supporters of the Mises Caucus.  Its social media accounts and ideological persuasion are firmly in the “don’t tread on me” camp and frequently touch on very unconventional topics such as empowering private companies to raise their own militaries and attacking Martin Luther King as a socialist on MLK day.

One very prominent libertarian living in the state is not a fan of the group – Nick Sarwark, the former national chair of the Libertarian Party who was ousted by the Mises Caucus in 2022.  Sarwark is a party lifer.

His dad took him to party meetings in Arizona when he was young and he never stopped attending.  He’s lived through the ups and downs of belonging to the LP and seeing the internal strife.  His goal has been to make the party more relevant.

Like the Crane/Koch led LP of the early 1980’s, Sarwark and his supporters oversaw the most successful national campaign in the history of the LP when the party nominated Gary Johnson and Bill Weld as their ticket in 2016.  Notwithstanding Johnson’s infamous Aleppo moment and Weld’s indiscretions at the end of the race, they managed to win more than 3% of the national vote – the most for an American third party candidate since Ross Perot and scorn from those on the left who “blamed” the LP for Trump’s victory.

And yet, in spite of the success, or perhaps because of it, the historical tensions that have rocked the LP re-emerged, and the Mises Caucus removed him in 2022.  I spoke to Sarwark to get his perspective on the schism and the path forward for the party.  The sting of losing to the upstart group still obviously lingers, but he understands the history of division within the party.  He reminds me of the split in the 80’s, resulting in the formation of the Mises Institute and the exile of Murray Rothbard.  But he attributes this current split to what he describes as “conservative” voices wanting more of a say in the LP.  In fact he goes further arguing that “the party is not at war with itself, this is false framing.”  He claims the “paleo right” manipulated the Mises Caucus and others to push the LP away from gaining relevance because it served as a threat to Trump.

For Sarwark this dispute has its origins in the Trump administration that empowered the Mises Caucus to pursue a more socially conservative agenda.  He points to the events in Charlottesville in 2017 along with the rise of the MAGA approach to governing that he argues are closer to the Paul/Rothbard approach on topics like immigration and crime.  Making matters worse, Sarwark publicly criticized that wing of the party, and Paul specifically, which made the fight personal.

But Sarwark believes that Trump operatives such as Steve Bannon made the rise of the Mises Caucus possible after the election in 2020.  He sees strategic value for Trump in moving the LP further right, thus eliminating a legitimate third party alternative that differed substantially from the Republicans.  Sarwark admitted that he doesn’t have concrete evidence to support this, but believes the money and resources that allowed the Mises Caucus to mobilize didn’t come from party regulars.

And he points to many examples in which the LP itself has suffered as a result.  Membership, he claims, is “cratering.”  He believes that the New Hampshire LP is a way to “wind up college kids” with short term energy, but without a long term plan to “succeed”.  But obviously success for the two groups varies – tremendously.  The Mises Caucus values prominence on social media and ideological consistency.  The Old Guard sees success in vote totals and office holding, but that normally involves compromise.

Sarwark also points to the growing division among the state parties and begins listing states that fall on one side of the conflict or another.  Several states are suing the national party to cut off access to their fundraising and avoid being aligned with the Mises Caucus.  Other pro-Mises state parties appear to be working with the GOP in places like Colorado as another sign that the Mises Caucus doesn’t have the best interests of the LP at heart.

For Sarwark the LP can be one of two things.  First it can be an avatar for your views or an organization that tries to expand its tent.  In his widely viewed debate with prominent Mises Caucus supporter Dave Smith, Sarwark defended the Johnson/Weld ticket by arguing such a pairing was the most effective way to introduce the ideas of liberty to the public at large and expand the base.  He compared the ticket and introducing basic libertarianism to a wider audience to eating an elephant.  His position is to eat the beast piece by piece, while he claims the Mises Caucus wants to force feed the public with the whole thing.

I asked him about Weld, who was probably the kindling that set off the blaze of the Mises Caucus, and he admits that while he still speaks to the Governor, they still don’t agree about how the campaign was run and what to take away from it.  Still Sarwark is long term very sanguine about the LP’s prospects, if his side can retake control.  He notes that the radicalism has cost the Mises Caucus resources.  Money is drying up for the LP nationally (and there is some evidence to support this) along with the loss of “professionals” who have helped the party maintain ballot access in all 50 states.  He also believes that “MAGA Money” won’t be coming to the party during this cycle because Trump is likely the GOP nominee.  This will put more pressure on the Mises Caucus.

What is the path forward for the LP, if there is one, from its current conflict?  I’ll ponder that, along with other currents in American society and politics in the final installment.



Mar 19 2024 at 2:32pm

Shouldn’t libertarians be willing to compromise? How many times have i heard that imperfect markets are better than no markets? I think we have this extreme tribalism now where if you only get 80%-90% of what you want that is a failure, so you must not compromise. In my pseudo-lobbying days I was asked to be part of a  4 person group to meet with the leader of our state senate to talk about marijuana laws. At one point it devolved into him complaining about how it was impossible to pass legislation due to his Tea Party members (he was Republican). They wouldn’t support a bill unless they got 100% of what they wanted. I think this has spread everywhere now.


Mar 19 2024 at 3:33pm

I think a platform should be absolutes, then when you govern, you can accept compromises that move you toward that goal, even if only a little ways.

Example:  Drug legalization should be the LP plank, but marijuana legalization is a reasonable compromise moving toward that goal.




Mar 19 2024 at 3:36pm

Of all the LP people I have had any interaction with (Ive met very few in person), Nick Sarwark is probably my least favorite.

And on a probably unrelated note, I still can’t understand the FSP choosing NH over WY.



john hare
Mar 19 2024 at 7:36pm

I’ve met a few Libertarians and attended a few meetings. At one the speaker was running for governor of Florida.  Definite NO on my part after hearing him.

Mar 19 2024 at 10:12pm

Radicalism is subjective. The Mises people probably view the so-called Old Guard as left-aligned radicals that are on with trendy woke agenda like same-sex marriage, transgenderism etc etc.

Henri Hein
Mar 20 2024 at 12:04pm

frequently touch on very unconventional topics such as empowering private companies to raise their own militaries and attacking Martin Luther King as a socialist on MLK day

I don’t know much about the LP or the internal conflicts, but I find this to be a significant clue. I’m suspicious of anyone engaging in character assassination against Martin Luther King.

June Genis
Mar 20 2024 at 2:41pm

There is a difference between advocatng things in conflict with libertarian philosophy and simply not pushing for the whole thing at once. As a member of the so-called old guard I don’t have a problem with not pushing the most radical agenda. Even though I consider myself to be a philosophical anarchist I know the world is not ready to even understand it yet, let alone support the idea.


Unfortunately since the Mises crowd took over I see people running for office under the Libertarian banner that I think are supporting distinctly unlibertarian positions. As for Bill Weld, remember that he had to fight hard to get the VP nomination and really only got it because Johnson said he was who he wanted and intimated that without him he might not accept the Presidential nomination.  I think most of the delegates at that convention did not trust Weld’s commitment to libertarianism.

[The LP does not allow the Presidential candiates to chose their own running mates. The VP candidate is chosen by vote of the dlegates just like the President.]

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In my first post last week, I described the most recent schism to rock the Libertarian Party- a party never known for its ideological consistency. I next reported on a conversation I had with a party leader about the Mises caucus' hostile takeover. Ground zero for the Mises Caucus revolution is probably in New Hamps...

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