Staff Columnist

'Republicans who smoke pot' ... and want to abolish ICE

Notes from moderating a Libertarian Party presidential forum in Iowa - on drugs, guns, abortion, immigration and prosecuting President Donald Trump.

Presidential candidates' nameplates are displayed at the Libertarian Party of Iowa state convention in Des Moines on Sat
Presidential candidates’ nameplates are displayed at the Libertarian Party of Iowa state convention in Des Moines on Saturday, Feb. 29 2020. Eight candidates spoke at a forum moderated by Gazette columnist Adam Sullivan (Contributed photo/Bryan Jack Holder)

It’s not exactly fresh political commentary, so you’ve probably heard this one before: Libertarians are just Republicans who smoke pot.

I’m a lifelong Iowa Republican, but also an observer and sympathizer of the Libertarian Party. With a view of both sides, I have to say I see vanishingly little overlap in their policy positions.

A week ago, I moderated a presidential candidates forum hosted by the Libertarian Party of Iowa. Eight candidates competing for the 2020 Libertarian nomination came to Des Moines to answer questions. At no point during the 90-minute event did the discussion even slightly resemble the countless GOP functions I’ve attended in my life as a journalist and political activist.

For Iowa’s 100,000 third-party voters, 2020 field is wide open

On every issue I asked about, Libertarian presidential candidates took positions not reflected by either of the two major political parties.

It’s true, as that Republicans-who-smoke-pot line suggests, Libertarians think cannabis should be legal. Moreover, most of the candidates appearing in Des Moines said they favor legalizing all drugs. You never hear a Republican candidate for high office support such a position (although “legalize all drugs” was a short-lived plank in the 2016 Iowa Democratic Party platform).

On abortion, one of the most divisive issues between Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians land closer to the Democrats as a matter of public policy. Only one candidate at the Iowa forum favored a federal ban on abortion, while others said they oppose government restrictions on abortion.

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Even the candidates who said they personally oppose abortion gave compelling explanations for why government intervention makes us worse off.

“If we make abortion illegal in the United States, rich women will go to other countries, poor women die of infection, young women and doctors will go to prison and we will make nothing better. Prohibition doesn’t work,” said candidate Ken Armstrong, a former U.S. military and NATO commander.

On gun rights, Libertarians go far beyond the mainstream Republican view, calling to repeal decades of gun control laws passed by both Republicans and Democrats.

“After 40 years in the movement, I am just tired of being told I’m in a party of angry white men who like to smoke pot and don’t like to pay their taxes."

- Jo Jorgensen

Libertarian Party 2020 presidential candidate and 1996 nominee for vice president

“All gun laws are infringements and all will stop being enforced on day one if I’m elected,” activist and Iraq War veteran Adam Kokesh said.

While Republican politicians practically worship their dear leader Donald Trump, most Libertarian presidential candidates told me they are at least open to the possibility of criminally prosecuting Trump and his allies. A couple were adamant about it.

“They’re human-trafficking people at the border into private prisons. You belong in a cage when you do that,” said candidate Mark Whitney, an entrepreneur and felon.

And one candidate even said he would go after previous Republican administrations.

“I’d go after Bush and Cheney and that crowd,” said Lincoln Chafee, a former governor and U.S. senator and a recent Libertarian convert who briefly ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. In 2002, Chafee was the only Republican senator to vote against authorizing George W. Bush’s Iraq War.

Lincoln Chafee is coming back to Iowa, with yet another party affiliation

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On immigration, the defining issue of Trump’s Republican Party, Libertarians are decidedly anti-Trump. The party’s official platform position is that all peaceful people are welcome in the United States.

At a recent forum hosted by the California Libertarian Party, presidential candidates made a resounding case for open borders, as reported by debate moderator Matt Welch of Reason magazine. Their administrations would end immigration enforcement, or “Abolish ICE,” to borrow a leftist protest chant.

“It’s a police state, and there’s only one solution to it: Dismantle it all. People have a fundamental, God-given right to cross borders like human beings and not die of thirst and dehydration in the desert and on the back of eighteen-wheelers,” candidate Jacob Hornberger said.

Libertarianism is its own thing, occasionally overlapping with conservatism and progressivism, but ultimately distinct. They are more pro-immigrant and anti-war than the Democrats, but also more pro-gun and anti-regulation than the Republicans.

“After 40 years in the movement, I am just tired of being told I’m in a party of angry white men who like to smoke pot and don’t like to pay their taxes,” said candidate Jo Jorgensen, the 1996 Libertarian vice presidential candidate.

I don’t know if these candidates smoke pot, but it’s clear to see they are not Republicans.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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