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Showdown at the Libertarian Convention

Trump got a bigger crowd than RFK Jr., but the cheers he got may have been from the Young Republicans he brought with him.

Donald Trump Addresses Libertarian Party National Convention

The Libertarian Party does not run on flattery. The party’s remnant establishment gathered for its national convention at the Washington Hilton on Memorial Day weekend and introduced the mostly foreign-born hotel staff in the underground, sci-fi-themed banquet hall to their resigned sarcasm and attitude of indifference toward success as America’s largest gadfly political party.

According to both the hours of floor time spent contesting delegates whose credentials had been refused and my conversations with delegates, the party seems more interested in ironing out internal disputes than clarifying its external image and message. 


Reactions to the presence of President Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. among the delegates varied: Some were disappointed because of their respective campaigns’ ideological impurity; Amity Pickeral, a Virginia delegate who nominated Joshua Smith for the presidency, said repeatedly, of both big names, “He’s not a libertarian!” Others were frustrated because of a perception that the invitation to Trump sacrificed the party’s priorities on the altar of fundraising and media attention. Others had a free-speech maximalist detachment. 

Jacob Luria, who ran for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives as a Libertarian in 2022, said that he has considered voting for Kennedy but lamented the effect that Kennedy’s candidacy could have on the Libertarian Party’s voter turnout in November. “I didn’t hate the idea that at one point he was seeking our nomination … Part of that is because I imagine what the party would look like if we had Ross Perot run on our ticket [in 1992].” 

Instead the party ran Andre Marrou, an Alaskan, during that cycle. He picked up 0.28 percent of the national vote while Perot earned almost 19 percent. Perot saw his best performance in Marrou’s home state, where Perot almost overcame Bill Clinton with 28 percent of voters in the Last Frontier. 

Though there is room for speculation about missed opportunities for the 1992 LP, it remains true that the party’s presidential nominee has performed better in every cycle since then. Through the decades, the LP has enjoyed marginal growth, even with Perot’s second go in 1996, Ralph Nader’s Green run the same year, Pat Buchanan’s Reform candidacy and Nader’s heftier returns in 2000, and Nader’s proof of persistence in 2004 and 2008. 

Between 1984 and 2012, the results for the LP cemented its reputation as a less-than-one-percent contingent of the national bloc. The average percentage of Americans who voted for the Libertarian presidential candidate in the 11 races between the party’s founding and 2012 is 0.44 percent. 


When the 2016 and 2020 races are included, the average jumps to 0.72 percent of the national electorate. In 2016, two former governors, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, brought home over three percent of the vote, an anomaly from the party’s typical performance, with Alaska, Oklahoma, and Johnson’s home state of New Mexico getting out the highest vote for the Libertarians. 

After that surprise performance, the Trump campaign did not set out to gather the strayed sheep back to the herd at the party’s 2020 convention. But, back then, Kennedy’s candidacy was not a factor. It’s unlikely that Trump would have appeared to speak to the Libertarian delegates if Kennedy were not in the race. 

Party delegates hadn’t gotten to naming their party’s candidate by the time Trump arrived on Saturday night. In the end, after seven rounds of voting, by a simple majority vote, they selected Chase Oliver, whose purported homosexuality, desire for an “Ellis Island style of processing immigrants,” and call for an end to federal mandatory minimum sentencing places him firmly in the party’s left wing. 

Trump’s performance was not for the sake of striking a contrast between himself and the eventual party nominee, but rather between himself and Kennedy. It worked. The crowd size during Trump’s speech at the convention was approximately double that of Kennedy’s. The spirited air in the room came not only from party delegates but also from energized D.C. Young Republicans who arrived to drown out the boos of the party’s less inhibited members, who were served drinks before Trump’s speech and only after Kennedy’s. 

In his more analytical fashion, Kennedy opened his speech with a claim that Libertarian voters should “elect leaders who are inspired by [the Constitution] and who will wield it to inspire others” and that “neither President Trump nor President Biden pass this critical examination.” Kennedy transitioned from his broadside against both major party candidates with more sustained attacks against Trump, mentioning the frontrunner’s name 12 times throughout his speech versus five references to Biden. 

Trump, for his part, did not mention Kennedy but continued to wage an offensive against President Biden along with occasional gibes at the LP’s poor performance: Libertarians could win with him or could “keep getting your three percent every four years.” The latter option of gathering three percent of the nation’s vote, as the party’s historical results prove, is more an indication of Trump’s generosity than anything for which the party could reasonably hope in the upcoming election. 

But politeness seems to be foreign currency for a party whose delegates boo the frontrunner’s call for support after he pledged to put a libertarian in his cabinet and to commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht to time served on the first day of his administration. 

Trump’s pledge to free the tech wiz with a cult following is no ancillary concern for the party’s delegates. The LP’s communications director confirmed to TAC that “Free Ross Ulbricht” was the policy action that received the highest number of votes from party members for Trump to address, over “Free Julian Assange” and “Defend the Second Amendment.” Far and away the most popular sign in the convention hall during Trump’s address was one that read, “Free Ross.”

Voters who align with the party’s principled disdain for political prosecutions will be tested on Election Day when the object of the current regime’s most flagrant political conviction stands to return as head of state.