In this episode, we sit down with the 2020 Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen to get her take on the election results and what she believes each party can learn from her platform.
Jorgensen received over 1.7 million votes or about 1.2% of the popular vote.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Jo Jorgenson, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Jo Jorgensen: So glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Jo, well, first of all, congratulations on what, I think it’s over 1.6 million people casting a ballot in your name.
Mrs. Jorgensen: That’s what I’ve heard, yep. I think we’ve beat out both Bob Barr and Gary Johnson’s first run so far, which is pretty good considering Bob Barr especially, a Republican with pretty widespread name recognition after the Clinton impeachment. And then Gary Johnson was a two term governor who was known for being very good economically. He had won some awards.
Mr. Jekielek: Right. Well, that’s very interesting. One thing I did notice is that I think you said that your campaign said that you got the second largest turnout in terms of percentage of any Libertarian run, but it’s actually quite a bit down from 2016. What do you make of that?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Well, a large part of that is that my name didn’t get out there. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but in order to get on the debate stage, you need to get to 15 percent in the polls. And so they included Gary’s name early and often in the polls.
And you might think, “Oh, well, big deal. That’s just for people being polled.” But no, what happens is when they report the polls on TV, the internet, radio, newspapers, they would say, “Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Gary Johnson.” And people would go, “Oh, there’s somebody else running? I have another choice?” And so then they would go check them out. And you could see that he would steadily go up as the polls went along.
Well, in order to get on the debate stage, as I said, you need 15 percent. He got as high as 13.6 percent. And I think the powers that be thought, “You know what, 13.6, that’s too dangerously close to 15 percent.” So then when I came along, they just didn’t include me in the polls. I think they only—I can look up the stats—but I think they only included me in one of the five polls before the first debate.
So without getting my name out there, I wasn’t getting the name recognition. In fact, we stopped to fuel the bus. I’m not sure if you heard or saw, but we had a bus tour with my face uncomfortably large on the side. We stopped at a fuel stop, and the guy noticed there, one of the guys there noticed that my face was very big on the bus.
He asked me what I was running for, and I said, “President.” And he said, “Oh, really? Where can I find you?” And I said, “Well, I’m on the ballot by Biden and Trump.” And he said, “Oh, so which one are you with? Are you with Biden? Are you with Trump?” And I said, “No! Neither one! I’m running on my own.” And he said, “Really? Come here, I got to get a picture of you and send it to my friends. I’m voting for you,” you know, because that’s a lot of their reaction.
And after the first debate, presidential debate, we had so many people going to our site that it slowed to a halt, with so many people going, “Oh my gosh, is there another alternative?” So imagine how different the results would be had my name gotten out in all the polls, and if I had been on that debate stage.
Mr. Jekielek: Many, many polls were predicting a kind of blue wave, landslide Biden type situation. That’s not what happened. What do you think was going on?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Yes, I still think there’s a lot of social bias going on that a lot of people are just afraid to say that they’re voting for Trump because they get ridiculed and just pummeled. I mean, it’s really sad how we’ve gotten to a place in our society.
I don’t know if you’ve seen some of these headlines, but for instance, in one class, a young grade school boy said that his hero was Donald Trump. They could pick any hero they wanted and explain why that person was his hero. And he said, “Well, Donald Trump’s my hero,” and the teacher just lashed out at him saying that he can’t be a hero because he’s a racist and he’s dividing the country. I thought, “How sad that we’ve gotten to a point in our country where you can’t say that the president is your hero.”
Mr. Jekielek: Where do you think the divisiveness in the country is coming from? Because there clearly is divisiveness. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
Mrs. Jorgensen: I think a lot of it is coming from the system that we have. We talk about Congress being corrupt, but Congress was very corrupt back in the 1930s and 1940s, but people didn’t care about it because we weren’t having every decision in our lives made through Washington.
And I think a good example is education. So if I want prayer in my school and my neighbor doesn’t, right now we have to battle it out. We each have to pick our own candidate, put out yard signs, donate money, get all our friends to vote. And then on Election Day, one of us is going to win and one of us is going to lose. It’s going to be one-size-fits-all. So of course, we’re going to battle it out.
Now, in a libertarian society, you would get to vote with your feet or vote with your dollars. So if you wanted to send your kid to a school with prayer, you can choose to do that with your dollars. Your neighbor can choose to send his kid to a school without prayer, and you can get along.
Right now, we are putting everything—health care, retirement, education, vaccinations, even whether or not we wear masks—it’s all up for a vote. It’s winner-take-all and half the people are going to be unhappy.
So now we’re in a situation where we’ve got to battle it out. And what’s really a shame is that it would be so much more peaceful if we didn’t battle it out in the ballot box and instead battled it out in the free market.
So like with face masks, if you want to vote that day to wear a face mask, you can go to Walmart or one of the many other stores that require a face mask. And if you don’t want to wear a face mask, then you should be able to vote with your feet and go to a different store that doesn’t require masks.
But now, again, we see clips of people, literally, getting into fistfights and ramming each other with shopping carts because somebody is wearing or not wearing a mask. Wouldn’t it be much better if we could each make our own decision? And then, if there’s somebody who doesn’t want to wear a mask, let them shop in a completely different store to where you don’t feel that you have to punch them in the face or run them over with your shopping cart.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, so you mentioned some significant portion of society in these scenarios that you’re describing as kind of left unhappy. We’re kind of in a situation like that, I think, with respect to the actual election right now. And I’m wondering, first of all, if you agree—and I think you probably do; I saw you nodding. But what do you make of this whole situation?
Mrs. Jorgensen: When I ran for office, I was trying to present a world in which the federal government was so small that it didn’t matter if, let’s say you forgot to vote for president that day. It wouldn’t matter because it wouldn’t have such an effect on your life.
But right now, we’ve got people who are, again, we’ve got Joe Biden saying that perhaps we could be wearing masks for three months even outside, and other people are saying, “I’m sick of wearing masks. I don’t want to wear a mask.” And so they want Trump to win. And then we’ve got health care and all these other things.
And so people see this as partly their livelihood, partly how are they going to get insurance? How are they going to be able to retire? So this is all wrapped up into the federal government and it shouldn’t be.
That doesn’t even make sense that we’ve got a one size fits all retirement system in our country in which we all contribute the same amount and then we get back whatever. But we’ve got different needs, different income levels, different ages at which we retire. It’s just ludicrous to think that we should all fit under one system.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, so let’s go down to the state level here. In a few states, in one instance, at least, there’s concerns that some voting software didn’t work properly, and people are calling for some kind of an audit. And in another state, there’s credible allegations that observers, for example, were prevented from watching ballots being counted, in some cases on both sides. What should be done in these kinds of scenarios when these kinds of allegations are being made, in your view?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Well, if they are credible, then absolutely, I think they should be looked into. And I think that we’ve got a court system for a reason. We’ve got many problems with our country; we’ve got many unfairnesses. However, we’ve got a much better court system than in most parts of the world. And so I think most courts, most judges try to be fair.
Yes, we can complain, and again, I’ve been saying we need to get rid of qualified immunity. We need to get rid of the no-knock policy. We’ve got a lot of problems in our judicial court, police system, the whole conglomerate. But we can present evidence. We are innocent until proven guilty.
Our trials aren’t as speedy as they should be. But they’re speedier and a heck of a lot more fair than in many other parts of the world. So I see nothing wrong with people who have a legitimate complaint taken to a court. And we’ll just see what the court does.
Now my concern is that, of course, what if it turns out that there were irregularities? What if Trump really is the president after the media have told everybody that Biden appears to be the winner? Now there’s going to really be a lot of unhappy people because after being told one thing and then have it yanked out from under you, I mean, that’s not a good situation.
Just look at any kid who’s had a Christmas present taken away or something. Once you have an expectation level—and I can tell you, as somebody who studies psychology, that expectations are very important.
You can have two different people where you’ve got one person making a heck of a lot more money than the other person. But if they’ve got different expectations, it’s possible that you could be making not much money at all and be much happier than somebody who’s making a lot more money because of the expectation level.
And the media might be setting unrealistic expectation levels. But I don’t know. It’s looking like Biden is going to be the winner. But I absolutely—if I were Trump, and I thought there were irregularities, I would certainly go to court to present my case. That’s what the American way is all about.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s interesting. So one argument is that this conditioning, psychological conditioning that you’re describing, one argument is that it’s actually very deliberate at this point on the side of the media.
Mrs. Jorgensen: I don’t know if it is or not. I’m not sure. First of all, I try not to [claim] dishonesty when it could be incompetence. I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt and just chalk it up to dishonesty instead—or, rather incompetence, I’m sorry—instead of some conspiracy theory.
But there’s something to be said for getting the news out. In fact, I’m sure you know about the cases, Dewey Beats Truman, and Truman’s holding up the newspaper because back in those days, they had to do polling so that they could print the newspaper in time to get it out to the readers. So there’s something to be said for getting the news out there first.
And in fact, a lot of media outlets, that’s what they brag about. They say, “We are better at our jobs, and we get the news out there first.” So there’s something to be said for that as well. So you’ve just got all these competing systems. You’ve got the media.
And then also, people don’t—and I’m sounding more like a psychologist here than a politician, I realize—but people don’t like uncertainty. And people, many people would rather have bad news than to be left waiting and wondering.
And you see this on crime shows where if somebody’s loved one has gone missing for 10, 20 years, and people will say, “I’m so glad they finally found the body.” Of course, it’s bad news that the person is dead, but, that our sister, mother, whoever is dead, but it’s better to know that and to not be wondering and waiting day after day,” so there is something to be said for certainty. So if the media can give some kind of certainty to people, that makes them feel better.
Mr. Jekielek: So okay, let’s move on to big tech a little bit then. I’m kind of curious what you think about this. There’s been, I think it’s fair to call it, extensive censorship of some of the posts, the Twitter posts, for example, that the president has done. I remember just kind of seeing a kind of a sequence of these multiple tweets being—I think you can still view them, but it takes a few extra steps to actually look at them and so forth. And this is, of course, for one candidate alone, it would seem. What are your thoughts?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Well, my thoughts are that the tech companies are being stupid, that they present themselves as, “We’re the town square. We’re here where we share ideas. Come and you can send messages back and forth and see what’s going on.” And then on the other hand, they censor it.
But it’s a private company. We’ve got free speech. They have the right to censor it, just like any restaurant or any movie theater or any play, anybody has the right to censor whatever it is they’re showing. Basically, they’re being stupid, but I don’t think there should be a law against being stupid.
And I think they’re going to pay for it. In the long run, I think people are getting tired of it, and through competition, we will have other outlets. A lot of people say, “Well, that just can’t [happen],” especially younger people. They look at Facebook, and it’s like, “But Facebook is so big, it could never be brought down.”
But they’re not as old as I am, and they don’t remember when IBM was so big that people were saying, “No way could IBM be brought down by the free market. The only way to do it is through government.”
The Justice Department had a 13-year lawsuit where they went after IBM, the entire decade of the ’70s. And finally—and by the way, they said that they generated enough paperwork, it could go to the moon and back or something like that. And yet the Justice Department finally gave up, dismissed the case.
It was actually two guys out of their garage who started Apple who brought down IBM. So now that Apple is big, now we have to wait and see who the next people are to bring them down, who are the next people to bring down Google and Facebook. And sure, the free market isn’t as fast as we might like it to be. But it’s a heck of a lot faster than the government considering the government never could bring down IBM, that it was a free market that did that.
Mr. Jekielek: Oh, but an alternate case would be, for example, Standard Oil or something in this vein or Microsoft. So in this vein, what are your thoughts about the antitrust suit the Department of Justice has launched against Google?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Well, again, unless the government is giving them special privileges, I don’t think the government should go after them. I’d like to see the free market go after them. But I would suggest that what we have is Congress people who are giving favors to big corporations or they’re giving favors to people, and that’s how corporations get that big.
And a lot of people don’t realize that there are corporations actually writing the bills. They will actually write a bill, give it to a congressperson, and then the congressperson will introduce that as a bill to be passed possibly into law, and that there had been many laws that have been passed that only apply to one single company because that one company basically was able to bribe a congressperson or we call it a campaign contribution.
But the point is, I want to see companies become big by pleasing us, by giving the consumer the best quality and the best price, not by pleasing the congresspeople. Now, I haven’t looked into it enough to know how [these specific companies grew]. Are they partially big because they got favors from the congresspeople or not? But if you look at a lot of these [you will see government involvement].
Well, look at Amazon, how the different localities are giving them: “Sure, you can come build here, and you don’t have to pay any state taxes,” right, or “You don’t have to pay any local taxes,” or “We’re going to give you whatever, building property taxes, we’re going to forgive those.”
Well, so now we’ve got a big company being given favors to compete even better against small mom and pop stores. But it’s not because they’re big and trying to please the consumer. It’s because they’re big, and they’ve got the congressional people in their back pockets.
Mr. Jekielek: This is actually an interesting discussion. I think we could do a whole episode about this. The question here basically is, if you look at the tech giants, they play a role in society that’s arguably—and there’s a strong argument—that this is an unprecedented role in society because they literally control conversation to some extent if they want to, and they can do it very subtly, sometimes without even people noticing, right.
So the counter argument to saying, “Well, of course, the market will figure all this out,” is that they do have this unprecedented control over, frankly, a large swath of society, right?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Well, I would suggest it’s not unprecedented. I would suggest that that’s the same thing that the major news outlets have. ABC, NBC, CBS, look at their—now, when I would go around the country, and be in little, small towns, the local affiliates would come out to see me. Sometimes I would have one, sometimes I might have three or four.
But the major news media never covered me. Not one single time. And neither did CNN. Fox News didn’t have me on until what, two weeks before the election, maybe? So I would say that’s unprecedented. We used to have Walter Cronkite, , [corrects pronunciation] Cronkite, Cronkite, it’s been a long campaign trail.
People would look up to the newscasters of the ’60s who were considered to be trusted, right. And there were all sorts of, basically every channel in the 1960s, as they would sit there with their cigarettes, smoking their cigarettes, and people would trust them.
And by the way, you kind of knew who they voted for, but it wasn’t as blatant as it is now, when, just look at—I really hate to side with Trump, I really do—but I have seen Trump say something, and then I see the national news media just twist it around. And having been there, I’m somewhat sympathetic.
And they really do a good job of twisting things around. At least with Trump, though, they would merely twist his words around. They wouldn’t even spread our words. And again, I would suggest that somebody being on the ballot in all 50 states is newsworthy.
Being a Libertarian, I don’t think that I am entitled to news media coverage. But I would suggest that the fact that every American has a chance to vote for me is newsworthy and should have been covered.
Mr. Jekielek: So let’s jump back to the election. What do you think the impact of your run is?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Well, we’ll see. There’s been some talk that perhaps I had a role in Pennsylvania and Georgia. So we’ll see. They’re still really tallying up the numbers.
Mr. Jekielek: Is it Republicans or Democrats that are predominantly going Libertarian, or is it Libertarians mainly?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Well, in the past, I can tell you that we draw equally from both sides, Democrats and Republicans, but most of the people who joined the party and vote for us are either Independent or never voted at all.
Now, on this election, I couldn’t really say if more came from the right or left because I had people saying, “I voted for Trump in 2016 because I wanted an outsider. I wanted somebody who was going to cut government. And he gave us a bigger deficit than Obama. I can’t vote for him. So I’m voting Libertarian.”
And then I had many other people, especially in California say, “Well, I’m a recovering Democrat. And this is ridiculous that we’ve got a war hawk up there. We’ve got somebody who is the forefront of the crime bill, and they’re putting him out there as president. I can’t vote for him.” So I’ve heard it from both sides.
Mr. Jekielek: Very interesting. And so what are your expectations for basically the resolution of this election?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Well, like I said, without any lawsuits, it looks like it is going to go to Biden. And it’s a lot harder, just in general, to take a case and overturn it than it is if it hasn’t been decided yet. So I would say it’s looking pretty definite like it’s Biden.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to ask you a little bit about the other parties. I hope you don’t mind. So one of the things that has come out, and actually a number of people that have on this show have mentioned it, is that the Republican party in a sense has been remade into more of a working class, multiracial party.
And so one of the pieces of evidence for this, and it’s quite strong, actually, is that basically all minorities, as far as I can tell, voted in greater number for Trump, in this case, it’s not necessarily Trump as a persona, but maybe for his policies, that part is unclear, and actually less whites did. That’s based on exit polling data.
That’s one example. And then you have, basically, rural America and the Rust Belt, also voting predominantly Republican. So this is a significant change. And especially as someone who’s a Libertarian, I’m sure that you’re aware of this, this kind of a reality. What are your thoughts?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Well, I’m not sure if it’s a change. Perhaps it’s just a blip because if you look at Donald Trump’s message, it is very populist. And so it might be just a matter of Trump being different, as opposed to the Republican Party actually moving into a different direction.
But I would like to add that when I first joined the movement 40 years ago, I used to go around, for 10 or 15 years, and people had never heard of Libertarians. I would explain it to them as, “We take the best from the right, the economic freedoms, the fact that you can own a gun, and then we take the best from the left, that we’re anti war, we’re for individuals, we think that gays should have the right to be married, and we take the best of both sides.”
Now, you can’t even say that anymore because neither of them stand for anything. We’ve got Trump saying, “Hey, I’m going to start pulling the troops out of Iraq,” and who are the biggest people to protest? It’s the Democrats, the supposed anti-war people. “Oh, no, no, we need to leave them in there.” So, it really is like the red team and the blue team.
We’ve got Trump who increased the deficit faster than Obama. And we’ve got the biggest debt ever—and by the way, that was before the pandemic. And then we’ve got Joe Biden, who grudgingly said, “Okay, maybe we can legalize marijuana,” but he was a major instigator in the Iraqi war. He was at the forefront of the crime bill.
And also only because he keeps, he’s kind of riding on Obama’s coattails, a lot of people don’t realize that as recently as 2012, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton thought that gay marriage should be illegal. And yet the Libertarian Party has been saying since 1971 that everybody should have the same rights.
So again, I just don’t see that, if you’re asking about the Republicans changing, I don’t know that it’s changing more towards minorities. I think that it might be Trump and the populist message, but the Republicans are definitely changing from the economic freedoms.
And you look back at the 1990s, with Newt Gingrich, at least they paid lip service to, “We want to cut the size of government.” Notice, in the third debate, they didn’t even bring up the deficit or the debt. And I realize that that’s somewhat up to the moderator to bring up the topics. But back in the ’90s, if the moderator didn’t bring up cutting the size of the debt and the deficit, he had to know the Republican would have.
And then, again, on the left, they’re no longer the anti-war, pro-free speech. In fact, they muzzled Tulsi Gabbard, the only anti-war voice there was, and so it’s like they’ve lost their core. It’s just the red team and the blue team. And it’s whatever he doesn’t want. If he does it, we don’t want it.
Mrs. Jorgensen: I had somebody call in, when I was putting forth my argument on a talk radio show, [I said] “Hey, if you’re in a blue state, Joe Biden’s going to get your votes. Vote for me. Vote, send a message to the Democratic Party machine, ‘Hey, we don’t like you shoving your candidate down our throat. Let us pick our own candidate.’ And if you’re on the right, Donald Trump’s going to get your votes. At least send Donald Trump a message, ‘Hey, we put you in office because we wanted you to be an outsider and you’re not acting like an outsider. So we’re going to vote for the real outsider.'”
Well, somebody who called in and said, “Well, I did that, and I voted for Ross Perot, and look, it gave us Bill Clinton.” And my response was, “I thought Bill Clinton was great because there was a Republican Congress. We had gridlock and nothing got passed.”
That’s the kind of government I want in Washington when they’re not spending money and not passing bills. So if we’ve got a Democrat as a president, then the Republican congresspeople will probably start acting like Republicans again because they’ll want to go against him. And so that means that they’re probably going to want to cut the deficit and the debt.
But with Trump, with a Republican president, then it’s, “Oh, whatever spending you want. That’s fine.” In fact, if you could indulge me one more little story here. I had a conversation with Ron Paul, this was like two decades ago. And he said that he was on a committee, and they were talking about whether or not to raise taxes or spending. They were talking about a specific bill, and they were going to basically increase the size of government.
And the other Republicans on the committee said, “Oh, but we have to increase government. We’ve got to increase spending because if we don’t, then we’re not going to be reelected. And then what good will we be?” He was like, “Well, what good are we now if we’re just doing what the Democrats would have done?” So somehow the money isn’t as green when the Republicans spend it as when the Democrats do.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts, Jo, before we finish up?
Mrs. Jorgensen: Well, I’m still very proud of the fact that 75% of our volunteers were from outside the party. So we did get our message out. A lot of people agreed with us that the old system isn’t working. My website is still jo20.com, I’m not going anywhere for a while.
I have no idea if I’m going to run again, but I want to at least keep the momentum going and keep the message out there for whoever does run in 2024. Because the Libertarian candidate will be the only candidate telling people that they can spend their money better than Washington. It’s not going to be the Democrats and Republicans saying that.
Mr. Jekielek: One final question, Jo. There’s a lot of concern that whatever happens in the outcome of this election, it’s going to leave a profoundly divided country. Your advice or your thoughts?
Mrs. Jorgensen: I think the country is going to be divided as long as we run everything through Washington, when we put up whether or not we get vaccinated, whether or not we wear a mask, what our retirement looks like, what our health care looks like [for vote], we’re going to be divided because we’re going to all be at odds.
Again, what if we put it up for a vote: Are we all going to be vegetarian or are we all going to eat steak? I mean, yeah, we’re going to be at odds. So as soon as we can return the decision-making power and money-decision back to the people, we’re just going to have this divide because it’s a winner take all and half the people are going to unfortunately live under a system they don’t want. Whereas in the libertarian system, people could vote with their feet, vote with their dollars on a daily basis.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Jo Jorgensen, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mrs. Jorgensen: Thanks. That was a lot of fun. Good questions.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.