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Should Libertarians Make a Deal With Trump?

After their most high-profile national convention ever, maybe it’s time for them to ask what the purpose of their party really is.

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Credit: NBC

“The fact is we should not be fighting each other,” Donald Trump told a Libertarian Party convention audience last week as it was booing him out of the building.

“If Joe Biden gets back in, there will be no more liberty for anyone in our country,” he added. “Combine with us in a partnership, we’re asking that of the libertarians. We must work together.”


Trump said he wanted to “extend a hand of friendship” to the gathered libertarians, saying that together they could “make a big difference.”

The boos grew louder.

“Maybe you don’t want to win,” Trump said. “Keep getting your 3 percent every four years.”

Some libertarians took that as an insult. But he had a point.

When, during his speech, Trump promised to commute the Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht’s federal sentence to time served, he was cheered, as attendees held up their “Free Ross!” signs. Later on, Trump said he would consider dropping the charges against journalist Julian Assange, which libertarians also praised.


Along with clemency for whistleblower Edward Snowden, these are longstanding wishlist items for libertarians broadly, also endorsed by libertarian-leaning Republicans like Senator Rand Paul and Congressman Thomas Massie.

I have never voted for Donald Trump. I voted for the libertarian candidate in the last three presidential elections. When Trump pondered pardoning Snowden before the 2020 election, I said that if he did he would have my vote.

He didn’t and I didn’t vote for him. I voted for Jo Jorgensen instead. I don’t regret that vote or my others for this third party—they were votes of conscience.

Still, what is the point of the Libertarian Party? Is it to get about 3 percent of the national vote in presidential elections? Trump cited that number for Gary Johnson in 2016, but that was actually a record for the party. Jorgensen got only 1.2 percent in 2020.

Tucker Carlson recently asked the comedian and Libertarian Party activist Dave Smith what the purpose of his party was. “We’re not going to win the White House or even any senate seats or anything like that, but I do think the Libertarian Party could effectively be used to put pressure, particularly on the Republicans to be better and to not run, like, awful neocons, and run better candidates,” Smith said.

A regular on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Smith is arguably the most high-profile libertarian spokesman without the last name Paul right now. But he’s not alone in thinking the Libertarian Party could be used to affect the larger parties and Republicans specifically.

Speaking before Trump, antiwar personality Scott Horton said in his convention address, “Now regarding Donald Trump’s appearance here later today. At first I thought it was a bad idea to invite Trump to the convention for many of the same reasons I’ve heard from people here.”

“But I changed my mind,” Horton continued. “He really may be re-elected and be the president again for another four years. So instead of simply protesting we should do everything we can to take this opportunity to try to influence the man’s thinking.”

Good idea.

Horton added, “Now, of course we can’t win Trump’s loyalty, but we can reinforce ideas that are obviously already in his head such as, one, he needs the Liberty Movement and, two, we are not with him if the movement supports the LP instead of the GOP in November.”

“That could be Trump’s margin of defeat and he knows it,” he said. “After all, he came to us. I wonder if we party members all really understand the leverage that we already have.”

I wonder too. Recently re-elected Libertarian Chairwoman Angela McArdle reportedly worked to get not only Trump to speak at the convention, but also the independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, giving the event more attention than it has ever received.

More importantly, it has been claimed that McArdle personally worked with Trump’s team to free Ulbricht and place libertarians within his cabinet, should he win a second term.

Criminal justice reform is a major libertarian concern, and Trump signed the biggest reform of that type to date in history in 2018 with the First Step Act.

Is a Second Step Act in the future? A libertarian in a Trump cabinet might help with that effort. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a libertarian Republican and Trump supporter, certainly did.

The current libertarian presidential nominee, Chase Oliver, opposed Trump even being at the convention. Many libertarians did.

There was a time I would have agreed with this stance. Not now. It is clear which path has the best shot of actually bearing libertarian fruit.

Just ask Martha Bueno, who did Hispanic Outreach for Jo Jorgensen’s Libertarian presidential campaign in 2020. “I worked really hard for the Jo/Spike campaign [i.e. Jorgensen and her running mate, Spike Cohen] in 2020. We got 3 percent of the vote. If I do this again, I’m willing to bet we’d get less than 3 percent of the vote.”

“On the other hand, I can work to get Trump elected and Ross pardoned,” she wrote on X. “My options are: a lot of work and nothing to show for it, OR a lot of work and possibly a free man.”

So, is the point of the Libertarian Party to use what leverage it might have to accomplish libertarian goals? Or to just get a few percentage points in the presidential election every four years? It’s an honest and practical question.

Donald Trump is no libertarian. If he stops making these sorts of libertarian-friendly overtures or goes in the other direction between now and November, I’ll be voting third party again.

But Trump is also, for better or worse, a transactional personality. You give him something he wants, and he could do the same in return. That’s basically what he said at the Libertarian convention. High-profile libertarian Republicans are in his corner and ear already. Do you give him your vote and get a free Ross Ulbricht or Julian Assange? A pardoned Edward Snowden? More criminal justice reform? Less war?

Maybe he doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain as politicians are wont to do. But even then, what have you really lost? Or do Libertarians not try to do any of these things and settle for three percent of the national vote at best?

Putting it this way isn’t an insult. It’s clarity.