Why the Favored Libertarian Ticket Could Be in Jeopardy

Some say the two former GOP governors don't represent Libertarian values.

ByABC News
May 28, 2016, 12:45 PM
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson speaks to supporters and delegates at the National Libertarian Party Convention, May 27, 2016, in Orlando, Fla.
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson speaks to supporters and delegates at the National Libertarian Party Convention, May 27, 2016, in Orlando, Fla.
John Raoux/AP Photo

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Two former Republican governors favored to win their bids for the Libertarian Party's presidential ticket at their party's national convention this weekend in Orlando may be in trouble.

Top Libertarian officials huddling here are starkly divided between those focused on putting up a viable general election ticket like former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson versus those focused on maintaining ideological purity.

This split -- highlighted by widespread hesitancy from purists around Johnson's running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld -- is threatening to doom this ticket entirely.

All of the national delegates here are free to vote for whichever candidate they want at this weekend's meetings, unlike the two major parties, which bind most delegates according to a primary or caucus process.

Many establishment Libertarians in Florida support a Johnson-Weld ticket because it would give credibility to the party and Weld presents strong fundraising potential, but more radical Libertarians say Weld is just "Republican-lite" and does not align with the core values of the party.

They argue that Libertarians won't win this cycle anyway, but that this time they have a chance to be heard, and that they should therefore nominate a purist who will do the best job of getting their core message across.

The Libertarian ticket, no matter who it is, will face a steep climb in November, as the party got only 1 percent of the vote in 2012. But party leaders cite the unpopularity of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and polls that show Americans more open to a third party than ever before.

Weld debated three other vice presidential hopefuls on Friday night, earning polite applause from the audience but failing to hit Libertarian talking points.

His most colorful line: Weld said that if Donald Trump is elected, the United States "will be the North Korea of the next eight years."

Johnson said he was pleased with the debate.

"I hope Bill Weld is the nominee," he said afterwards. "I think if Bill Weld is the nominee, I think we actually have a chance of winning the presidency."

But one of the other candidates, Larry Sharpe, took a dig at Johnson-Weld in his closing statement, saying that one Republican governor on the ticket was enough "and something else could help."

"If that's his pitch to everyone, that's his pitch," Johnson responded after the debate, calling his ticket "arguably the two most Libertarian governors that have ever served."

But in a signal of his campaign's concern for getting a majority of delegates to fall in line behind Weld, Johnson made the unusual move of introducing Weld at a party for supporters Friday night -- not visa versa -- and vouching for his libertarian credentials.

Former two-term New Mexico governor Gary Johnson is primarily rivaled by young, up-and-coming Austin Petersen, a former TV producer and Libertarian activist.

Two other noteworthy candidates include John McAfee, the millionaire software entrepreneur who fled Belize after he was listed as a "person of interest" in the murder of his neighbor, and Darryl Perry, who believes "the United States government, as it exists today, should be abolished," according to his website.

McAfee and Perry are more radical candidates expected to garner enough support to keep them in through a potential second ballot if Johnson doesn’t win outright.

But presidential hopefuls weren’t the only ones gathered here in Orlando. California-based Libertarian "Star Child" only wore a Speedo and a see-through raincoat to "demand transparency." One Texas delegate wore bunny ears all day "for his own entertainment." Even New Hampshire's Vermin Supreme stopped by Friday night.

It just so happens that a Comic Con is also being held at the Rosen Center this weekend: people dressed as Harry Potter, the Hulk and "Star Wars" characters have had to walk by the Libertarian booths to make it to their own convention.

Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" movies, was scheduled to make an appearance at the Comic Con and stopped by to meet Johnson and Weld.

The presidential candidates will face off at 8 p.m. tonight. Delegates are slated to vote on nominees on Sunday morning.