What to Watch at the Libertarian Convention

Libertarians are reaching out to voters disenchanted with Trump and Clinton.

May 27, 2016, 7:36 AM
PHOTO: Libertarian candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson speak with legislators at the Utah State Capitol, May 18, 2016, in Salt Lake City.
Libertarian candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson speak with legislators at the Utah State Capitol, May 18, 2016, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

— -- While Donald Trump indulges in fries and a big Mac to celebrate beating 16 Republican candidates and effectively winning his party’s nomination, another party is huddling to plan a new threat.

Over Memorial Day weekend, the Libertarian Party will be holding its convention in Orlando to put forth its presidential and vice presidential candidates. The party has largely been ignored in previous cycles, but party leaders are hoping that this year might be different.

Libertarians are trying to appeal to voters disenchanted with the prospect of a Trump or Hillary Clinton presidency. The party is banking on the fact that Trump and Clinton have the highest unfavorability ratings of any candidate -- on either side of the aisle -- in recent history.

“We are seeing record interest in the party,” the national Libertarian Party’s political director, Carla Howell, recently told Politico Magazine. “Membership has spiked; it has gone up about 30 percent in the last few months. We’re also seeing record media interest."

What is the Libertarian Party?

"Libertarian” is defined as “a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action," according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

The Libertarian Party tends to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal. It vehemently opposes any government intervention in citizens’ private and business decisions (the party’s current front-runner, for instance, supports abortion rights and legalizing drugs).

“Essentially, we believe all Americans should be free to live their lives and pursue their interests as they see fit as long as they do no harm to another. In a nutshell, we are advocates for a smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom,” the party says on its website.

The Orlando convention will be themed “Legalize Freedom.”

The party was first formed 45 years ago. Prominent Libertarians include Rand Paul and his father Ron Paul, who both ran as Republican presidential candidates, as well as David Koch, the billionaire political activist (Koch ran as Libertarian vice president in 1980).

How Have They Done In The Past?

In 2012, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson earned almost 1.3 million votes – the most votes a Libertarian nominee has ever garnered. Still, it only amounted for 0.99 percent of the total popular vote, and the party was far from winning any electoral votes.

The party reached more than 1 percent of the popular vote just once in its history when Ed Clark headlined the Libertarian ticket in 1980.

Alaska has been the best state for Libertarians in the past, according to an analysis from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. Libertarians also average over 1 percent of support in Montana, Arizona and Wyoming.

Could They Do Better This Year?

Some Libertarians hope that this could be a breakthrough year for the party, usually reduced to a footnote in the overarching narrative of the general election.

Libertarians want their eventual nominee to receive at least 15 percent support in national polls so that he or she can debate the presumptive GOP and Democratic nominees.

A Fox News poll in mid-May shows Johnson garnering 10 percent support in a race against Trump and Clinton. A Monmouth poll in March showed Johnson hitting 11 percent support.

That might be enough for the Libertarian Party to become a spoiler.

The party has also been working hard to ensure its candidate is listed on every state’s ballot — so far, the party has made it to 32 states and is confident it can reach its goal.

Who’s Running For Their Nomination?

There are a total of 15 candidates running to win the Libertarian Party’s nomination.

Former two-term New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is currently expected to clinch the nomination (Johnson was also the nominee in 2012).

Other viable candidates include millionaire software entrepreneur John McAfee, who fled Belize after he was cited as a “person of interest” in the murder of his neighbor, and Austin Peterson, former Fox Business producer and Libertarian activist.

Johnson recently announced he would want former Republican Massachusetts Gov. William Weld as his vice president. Weld might help make a Libertarian ticket more attractive to Democrats — in 1997, Bill Clinton nominated him as ambassador to Mexico (the nomination was eventually blocked). He also wound up supporting President Obama in 2008, though he has since said he regretted it.

Weld has been very outspoken in his criticism of Trump.

“I can hear the glass crunching on Kristallnacht in the ghettos of Warsaw and Vienna when I hear that, honest,” he told The New York Times, blasting Trump’s policy to round up and deport undocumented immigrants.

The party's convention will feature a vice presidential and presidential debate.

Party operatives have shot down speculation that a dark horse candidate like Mitt Romney might try to win the party’s nomination. It is possible, but highly unlikely, they’ve said.

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