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POLITICS

In 2020, Libertarian candidates are grassroots activists, not former governors

VP candidate Cohen says that’s why Lincoln Chafee’s candidacy was short-lived

Jeremy "Spike" Cohen, the Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate.
Jeremy "Spike" Cohen, the Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate.Courtesy of Libertarian Party

PROVIDENCE — Jeremy “Spike” Cohen, the Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate, is no Lincoln Chafee.

And he is not another William Weld or Gary Johnson.

In other words, he is not another of the former Republican or Democratic governors who have run – or in Chafee’s case, tried to run – on the national Libertarian ticket in recent election cycles.

Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, and Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts, headed the Libertarian ticket in 2016, and they received nearly 4.5 million votes, marking the Libertarians' most successful presidential run to date.

But this year, Cohen – a 38-year-old Libertarian activist, entrepreneur, and podcaster from South Carolina – is running on the Libertarian ticket headed by Jo Jorgensen, a Libertarian activist and Clemson University psychology lecturer.

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“The Libertarian Party decided we wanted to go back to those who have worked within the party,” Cohen told the Globe while in Rhode Island last week. “It’s a return to the idea of growing the party within the grassroots, as opposed to trying to seek ‘legitimacy’ from former Republicans and Democrats.”

Cohen said he is glad that Chafee, a former Rhode Island governor and US senator, has joined the Libertarian Party after serving as a Republican, independent, and a Democrat. But he indicated that Chafee, who has moved to Wyoming, picked the wrong time to launch a short-lived run at the Libertarian nomination for president.

Cohen said that Weld held “non-Libertarian positions and made promises to the party and walked away from the party,” thereby “souring the well for anyone else wanting to run under similar circumstances.” In 2019, Weld switched back to the Republican Party and challenged President Donald Trump in GOP primaries before dropping out in March 2020.

Chafee held positions on issues such as gun control and drug laws that were less Libertarian than many activists wanted to see at the top of the ticket, Cohen said.

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But he noted that Chafee opposed the war in Iraq while in Congress, and he said, “I think he is a nice man. I look forward to working with him in the future.”

Cohen made clear that the Libertarian Party offers a distinct alternative to candidates for both of the major parties, who he branded as “Republicrats.”

“Things are only going to get worse if we keep voting for the so-called lesser evils,” he said of the Republican and Democratic candidates. “Every election cycle we are given increasingly terrible candidates. The two sides work together to pass laws to make our lives more difficult and expensive and hand trillions in bailouts to billionaire cronies.”

If he had been given the chance to participate in last week’s vice presidential debate, Cohen said he would have answered the questions with policy proposals rather than “engaging in the Republicrat rope-a-dope where they both spend time insulting each other.”

When asked if Libertarians take votes away mostly from Republicans or Democrats, Cohen said, “We draw mostly from people who wouldn’t vote otherwise.”

Cohen initially ran as the proposed running mate of Vermin Supreme, a performance artist known for wearing a boot as a hat and carrying a large toothbrush. But Jorgensen won the nomination.

On his website, Cohen had vowed to build on Supreme’s platform, which included free ponies and mandatory tooth brushing, saying, “I pledge that all of these things will happen in the first 100 days of our administration, or else I will resign and be replaced with Baby Yoda.”

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Cohen said that kind of satire provides a way to stand out from the pack and to reach people who are disenchanted with the system and don’t want to hear from any politicians. He said he and Jorgensen are trying to reach “people who feel they are the punchline to a joke.”


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.