Washington Wednesday: Courting Libertarians

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MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 29th of May, 2024.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Up first: Washington Wednesday.

Republicans and Democrats have a couple months to go before their National Conventions, but a third party has gone ahead and assembled its ticket.

Over the weekend, the Libertarian Party met in Washington. Roughly 900 delegates heard speeches, they cast votes, and they argued a lot.

REICHARD: Washington Bureau reporter Carolina Lumetta has the story.

CAROLINA LUMETTA: The Libertarian Party has a cardinal tenet: all people have the right to decide how to live their own lives. At the bi-annual national convention, this philosophy clashed with political maneuvering in Washington. On Saturday evening, the headline speaker encountered a raucous audience.

AUDIO: [Crowd chanting, cheering, and booing]

Form.er President Trump adapted his typical stump speech, insisting that Republicans and Libertarians can unite.

His entrance provoked boos from many Libertarians, masking the cheers from the Trump supporters in the back of the room who came specifically for the speech. The former president lost patience after several minutes of heckling.

TRUMP: Now I think you should nominate me or at least vote for me, and we should win together. Or you can keep going the way you have for the last long decades and get your three percent and meet again, get another three percent…

In the 2016 general election, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson won just over three percent of the vote. In 2020, Jo Jorgenson received only one percent. At the last convention in 2022, a more conservative wing of the party, called the Mises Caucus, took over party leadership positions. This faction invited Trump to speak, arguing his policies are similar to the party’s platform. Libertarian chairwoman Angela McArdle gave Trump a list of concerns that he addressed. Trump promised Saturday night to appoint a Libertarian to his Cabinet in 2025. But his appeal fell on deaf ears.

TRUMP: I’m asking for the Libertarian Party’s endorsement, or at least lots of your votes, lots and lots and– [interrupted by booing]

In a race where every vote counts, Trump hoped to capitalize on Libertarian frustrations with the Biden administration. His campaign spun the Saturday speech as proof that the former president is reaching out beyond his base.

Gerred Bell is the Libertarian Party chairman for Georgia. While he leans more conservative, he told me such an endorsement is out of the question.

BELL: They all come here to try and sway us. But we know what we believe we know where we’re at already. We don’t need you to try and convince us that you’re a libertarian. We know you’re not.

The national party platform prizes economic and personal liberty in all areas. It opposes nearly every government bureaucratic agency. Most Libertarians also support open borders. Delegates told me they fiercely defend the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but they’re opposed to funding wars because they believe violence is only justified in self defense.

That conviction also meant many Libertarians opposed another White House hopeful speaking at the convention: Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

KENNEDY: Can you hear me?

Kennedy fared only slightly better than Trump. He gave an overview of American history and argued that pandemic lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates violated the Bill of Rights.

KENNEDY: And all of you who come here for the Libertarian Party, you all disagree about many things, many of you don’t disagree with don’t agree with me on a lot of stuff. But we all agree on one thing, which is without the Bill of Rights, we have nothing in this country. [applause] And we all need to be united because there are a lot of people out there who don’t understand what America is supposed to look like, and the people in this convocation do.

As an independent candidate, RFK must gain petition signatures in every state to secure a spot on their ballots. If the Libertarian Party chose him as a nominee, he would automatically appear on ballots across the country. But the party could have risked running afoul of the Federal Election Commission for nominating a non-party member.

The crowd didn’t go along. Most delegates told me they agreed with Kennedy’s anti-vaccine points and small government push, but they couldn’t get past his support for Israel in its war against the Hamas terrorist group. Here’s how South Carolina delegate Josh Parks described it:

PARKS: If you are for foreign wars in any way, you’re probably going to have a hard time being in the Libertarian Party. Unless a country has aggressed us like unless they’re, they are actively trying to make war with the United States. we shouldn’t be involved. And so us getting involved in Ukraine, us being involved in it, even in Israel, and Gaza, like those are, those are big no’s for the party.

On Sunday, Trump and RFK failed to advance past the first nomination ballot. Instead, delegates nominated Libertarian candidate Chase Oliver, a former U.S. Senate candidate from Georgia. In 2022, he won a little more than 2 percent of the votes in the state’s general election, forcing the race into a runoff between the major party candidates. Here’s what he told WORLD:

OLIVER: And we want to build up and organize so we can have a real alternative to both Republicans and Democrats, which so many voters say is vital. Over almost two thirds of voters say they’re willing to look at someone who’s not Trump and Biden, if there’s someone to vote for. And I think if we put a positive libertarian message out there, we can grow ourselves in the years to come for the next generation.

If Oliver can beat Gary Johnson’s 2016 record, that could prevent Trump and Biden from clinching 270 Electoral College votes. This would force the House of Representatives—even more tightly divided—to settle the election.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Carolina Lumetta in Washington.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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