Hoping For A Breakthrough, Libertarians Meet In Orlando To Pick A Nominee

With Republicans in Trump-induced disarray, Libertarians are meeting to pick their nominee and the hope that 2016 could be the year their party finally gets the attention it has craved for four decades.

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While Republicans reluctantly rally around a blowhard demagogue real estate developer as their Presidential candidate and Democrats push Hillary Clinton over the finish line some time in the next two weeks, the Libertarian Party meets this weekend in Orlando to pick a Presidential candidate amid hopes that this could be the year the forty-four year old party finally make a breakthrough:

They get the bronze medal every four years in what is really a two-person race.

That’s what it must feel like to be a third-party candidate in a two-party country.

But between Donald Trump’s abrupt takeover of the GOP and Bernie Sanders’ climb from long-shot Democratic candidacy to head of a national progressive movement, 2016 has been a year for party outsiders. And Libertarians hope that could give them an opening.

What gives them hope?

The likely Democratic and Republican nominees each have historically high unfavorable numbers.

So it is with an air of opportunity to break out of obscurity that Libertarians, the country’s most prominent third party, head to their national Many expect former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential nominee in 2012, to leave Orlando Sunday evening once again his party’s standard-bearer.

Since last week, Johnson has made the rounds touting his newly-minted alliance with former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is seeking the party’s vice presidential nomination. The two former governors, who both also happen to be ex-Republicans, are fielding a ticket of sorts, although the

Libertarians elect their nominees separately and no formal ticket will exist at the convention until the party selects its presidential and vice presidential nominees.

Johnson and Weld each face significant opposition within their party, however, and their success is not an outright guarantee.

Weld will have to overcome meaningful differences between his demonstrated policy preferences, particularly past support for gun control measures, and his willingness to support Republican politicians. Just this year, the colorful former governor endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president — a significant transgression in a party that espouses liberal social positions and conservative economic ones.

Weld has made headlines since his entry into the race for comparing Trump’s proposal to deport all undocumented immigrants to Kristallnacht, a 1938 pogrom remembered to this day for brutality against the Jewish people in the lead up to WWII. For his part, Johnson has said he “absolutely” stands by the bold comparison.

Johnson, meanwhile, has several serious challengers gunning for the top spot on the third-party ticket.

Among them is Austin Petersen, a young, hardcore party advocate with strong backing in Libertarian Internet circles. He recently announced the endorsement of Mary Matalin, a prominent former Republican who joined the Libertarian Party after Trump’s ascension in the GOP, and received the endorsement of Erick Erickson, among the most vocal anti-Trump conservatives, on Wednesday morning.

However, in a party that generally swings liberal on social issues, Petersen is unabashedly anti-abortion. He is also 35 years old.

Also expected to post significant support is notorious entrepreneur John McAfee, a man who has forged an international identity after becoming a pioneer in the field of cybersecurity. Last fall, McAfee launched a presidential bid under the banner of his newly formed political organization, the Cyber Party. As the fall continued, McAfee declared his intention to seek the nomination of the Libertarian Party.

Johnson, meanwhile, has several serious challengers gunning for the top spot on the third-party ticket.

Among them is Austin Petersen, a young, hardcore party advocate with strong backing in Libertarian Internet circles. He recently announced the endorsement of Mary Matalin, a prominent former Republican who joined the Libertarian Party after Trump’s ascension in the GOP, and received the endorsement of Erick Erickson, among the most vocal anti-Trump conservatives, on Wednesday morning.

However, in a party that generally swings liberal on social issues, Petersen is unabashedly anti-abortion. He is also 35 years old.

Also expected to post significant support is notorious entrepreneur John McAfee, a man who has forged an international identity after becoming a pioneer in the field of cybersecurity. Last fall, McAfee launched a presidential bid under the banner of his newly formed political organization, the Cyber Party. As the fall continued, McAfee declared his intention to seek the nomination of the Libertarian Party.

I’m not directly involved with the Libertarian Party, nor will I be in Orlando for the convention this weekend, so most of the information I’ve gotten about the race for the nomination has come second hand, or is based on the results of state party conventions around the country that were charged with selecting the delegates that will be voting on Sunday for the party’s Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees. With those caveats in mind, the consensus I have gathered seems to agree that Gary Johnson will win the LP nomination again rather easily. While there has apparently been some resentment among LP purists over the past four years about the manner in which Johnson was able to leave the Republican race in late 2011 and easily win the Libertarian nomination, the truth of the matter is that the party has not had a more well-positioned potential nominee in its history. Johnson, of course, served as the Governor of New Mexico for two terms before briefly running for the Republican Presidential nominee in the 2012 and as such is probably the best qualified candidate, most credible candidate that the party has ever put forward. This seems to be especially true this year given the fact that the party could obviously benefit from disaffected Republicans looking for someway to express their disdain for the direction that Donald Trump is pulling the GOP but don’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton. Additionally, the fact that Johnson has already been the nominee once seems to be benefiting him given the fact that, four years ago, he garnered more votes than any Libertarian nominee had ever received in a General Election, although he did get a slightly smaller percentage over the overall vote than Ed Clark did in the 1980 election. Combine that with the fact that the media is already familiar with Johnson, and has had him on the air several times over the past month even though he isn’t officially the nominee, and the advantages of picking Johnson again are so obvious that I’ll be genuinely surprised if either Austin Peterson, or the gadfly-esque John McAfee somehow end up winning the nomination.

If there’s a fight about the ticket at the convention this weekend, it’s likely to be over the Vice-Presidential spot. Johnson’s decision to hand pick former Massachusetts Governor William Weld as his running mate was an unusual move for a Libertarian Party candidate since it’s typically been the case that this decision has been left to the delegates, In many ways, though, picking Weld was a smart move on Johnson’s part because Weld is one Republican that many Libertarians had once courted as a potential Presidential candidates over the years. Each time, Weld demurred on the idea of running and, after seemingly retiring from politics, the talk of Weld as an Libertarian nominee pretty much died down over the past several cycles. Convincing him to agree to run was something of a coup for Johnson that was seemingly aimed at appealing to long-time party members who remember those ‘Draft Weld’ efforts and present them with an opportunity to nominate a ticket that arguably has more electoral experience than the presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees combined. At the same time, there are several elements to Weld’s record, including his support for a law banning so-called “Assault Weapons” while he was Massachusetts Governor, that delegates to a Libertarian would obviously have problems with. Weld has already addressed this issue, but it remains to be seen how it will go over with party members.

The real question of course is whether all of this, combined with the reality of two incredibly disliked candidates at the top of the ticket for the major parties, means that the Libertarian Party could actually make something of a breakthrough this year. If history is any guide, the answer is probably not. The Libertarian Party has been fielding Presidential candidates since 1972 when Philosophy professor, and noted libertarian intellectual, John Hospers served as the LP nominee and actually got a single electoral vote thanks to a “faithless elector” who switched from the GOP to support him. Beyond that, the best that the party has done is the slightly better than one percent of the vote that Ed Clark received in 1980 and the 1.27 million votes that Johnson received four years ago. Beyond that, the party succeeded in electing a handful of members to the Alaska legislature in the 1980s and 1990s. Additionally, Libertarian candidates have played a spoiler’s role in a handful of Senate and Gubernatorial races over the years, including in Virginia in 2013, but actual victories have proved quite elusive. Not unfairly, Johnson has blamed the party’s poor performance in the past on the fact that its candidates are rarely if ever included in polls and almost never invited to candidate debates during the General Election. Were this the case, he contends, the party would arguably doing better than it has done historically. This criticism is probably correct, and the fact that the General Election Presidential debates are so tightly controlled by the major parties is problematic to say the least, but at the same time it is always up to candidates and their supporters to earn the media attention they crave, and until four years ago, that hasn’t been the case for Libertarians generally. Now, with Republicans in a post-Trump chaos that has many long time members vowing not to support the nominee, the hope seems to be that reminding them that there is an alternative party for those who believe in limited government and individual liberty will lead to a breakthrough year.

For his part, Johnson has spent a considerable amount of time addressing not only Libertarians who will be at the convention this weekend, but also those disaffected Republicans:

Asked about specific strategies to attract Republicans this cycle, Johnson said defiantly: “If you believe we should deport 11 million illegal immigrants and build a fence across the border and believe we should kill the families of Muslim terrorists and bring back waterboarding or worse, if you believe free trade is about applying tariffs to incoming goods and services—then I’m not your guy.”

(…)

Ultimately the question of whether Johnson can swing it will be how many Paul Josts are out there. Jost was a campaign chairman for George W. Bush in his congressional district in 2000. He gave money to Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in their Senate races. He figures he’s donated over half a million to Republican candidates and causes, and he’s never even thought about a third party before. Nor would he be on this trip to Orlando, he says, if “the Republican Party had a normal, stable guy. Even some guys I didn’t like, who I was unhappy with, I would have supported them.”

But Trump is too much. For the first time, Jost says, he needs to find a candidate outside his beloved GOP.

In the end, of course, the odds remain against the Libertarian Party having the kind of nationwide impact that party officials are dreaming of this weekend. For better or worse, polling is showing that most Republicans are lining up behind Donald Trump now that he’s the presumptive nomine, and the same thing will happen in the Democratic Party once the battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is over. At the same time, though, this has been the year of the unexpected in American politics in both political parties so the possibility of a Libertarian at least being listened to on the national level shouldn’t be discounted. This will be especially true if early polling shows the party’s ticket receiving a higher level of support than normal, in which case the media is likely to pay attention and give the nominee the air time that previous Libertarian nominees have been largely denied. Whether that will be enough to propel Johnson and Weld, or whomever emerges from the voting on Sunday, onto the national debate stage remains to be seen, but if it happens it could have an interesting impact in several states and, in turn, on the race as a whole.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    An article by Scott Lehigh in the Boston Globe this morning posited that the real intent behind a Johnson-Weld ticket is to throw the election into the House of Representatives. But I can’t see them garnering a sufficient number of votes.




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  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    No offense intended, but the Libertarian Party couldn’t effectively organize a two car funeral.




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  3. DrDaveT says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    No offense intended, but the Libertarian Party couldn’t effectively organize a two car funeral.

    Yeah, it’s kind of like trying to elect a President of the Solipsist Society…




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  4. grumpy realist says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Libertarianism is one of those philosophies that sound great when you’re a tech dweeb in your cubicle in your 20s; it’s only when you actually start dealing with the real world that you realize how much of is is based on philosophizing of the “assume a spherical cow” variety.




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  5. I think that, ironically, the record high unfavorability of the two major party candidates is going to result in fewer votes for the libertarian candidate.

    Most people are risk adverse, so bad candidates is going to increase the number of people who think “I’d like to vote third party, but Trump/Clinton is just so bad that I just have to vote Clinton/Trump to make sure they don’t win.”




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  6. CSK says:

    I think it’s going to be a very low turn-out year.




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  7. barbintheboonies says:

    This will probably help Hillary, maybe the real Republicans are too afraid of having Trump for POTUS




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  8. Andre Kenji says:

    Gary Johnson is too conventional to be a Third Party Candidate. The LP can´t be taken seriously if they are the B-League of the GOP. And they had run atrocious candidates in the last elections cycles, like Wayne Root and Bob Barr.




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  9. Kylopod says:

    Not unfairly, Johnson has blamed the party’s poor performance in the past on the fact that its candidates are rarely if ever included in polls and almost never invited to candidate debates during the General Election.

    Most Libertarians are convinced that the only reason their ideas don’t get more traction is that the public hasn’t had the opportunity to hear them. In fact, the single largest obstacle is that the Libertarian platform is simply unpopular. You can’t win elections promising to privatize Social Security and abolish the minimum wage. Their views on social issues are popular, but no more so than the Democratic Party, and the fact they’ve been willing to nominate social conservatives such as Ron Paul and Bob Barr shows these issues aren’t exactly paramount to the party. (Imagine them nominating a candidate who favors universal health care.) And their positions on civil liberties, while mostly morally correct in my view, aren’t very popular either.

    Perhaps the LP this year can draw in some anti-Trump Republicans, or even maybe a few anti-Hillary Dems, but if it does and manages to get more support than usual, that won’t be proof that the public is suddenly warming to the LP’s agenda–though I’m sure the LP members would interpret it that way.




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  10. wr says:

    @Kylopod: The great problem with so many Libertarians is that because they are convinced their ideas are right and good, they just know that if they can simply explain them to you, you will inevitably switch parties. They seem to be incapable of understanding that there are those who find their philosophy repulsive, juvenile and loathesome – and so keep explaining and explaining…




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  11. SKI says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    No offense intended, but the Libertarian Party couldn’t effectively organize a two car funeral.

    I prefer, “they couldn’t lead a pack of starving vampires to a blood bank.”




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  12. Mister Bluster says:

    Libertarians can’t find their ass with both hands…




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  13. DrDaveT says:

    @wr:

    because they are convinced their ideas are right and good, they just know that if they can simply explain them to you, you will inevitably switch parties

    I usually counter by asking whether they believe water treatment should be an unregulated for-profit monopoly, or a competitive market…




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  14. Todd says:

    I’ve seen a few of my friends on FB who I know voted for Romney last time making posts with Austin Petersen hashtags. I think if he got the Libertarian nod, Trump could lose some votes he might otherwise get if Johnson/Weld is the only other choice for disaffected conservatives.




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  15. Ben Wolf says:

    More likely to draw votes from Clinton than Trump.




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  16. stonetools says:

    The Libertarian Party will usual, fight it out with the Green Party for third place. I think he will draw in more disaffected Republicans, but who knows, really? I agree with Kylopod-once, voters take a look at the Libertarian platform, most of them will drift right back to the two parties.




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  17. Barry says:

    “Additionally, the fact that Johnson has already been the nominee once seems to be benefiting him given the fact that, four years ago, he garnered more votes than any Libertarian nominee had ever received in a General Election, although he did get a slightly smaller percentage over the overall vote than Ed Clark did in the 1980 election. ”

    Where ‘more votes than….’ means ‘still a loooooooooooooooooooong way from even having a chance at changing the outcome in any one state’.




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  18. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    the B-League of the GOP

    Good description! I like that; can I use it?




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  19. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Barry: According to the party’s website, his largest largest vote ever represented 0.99% of the electorate.

    “Cue the smoke and mirrors…”




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  20. An Interested Party says:

    More likely to draw votes from Clinton than Trump.

    How?




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  21. Andre Kenji says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Sure. Why not? .) They are working hard on being the B-League of the GOP.




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  22. Franklin says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Libertarianism is one of those philosophies that sound great when you’re a tech dweeb in your cubicle in your 20s

    You just described my former self exactly.




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  23. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Todd:

    Johnson appears to be their nominee.




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