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Trump’s Libertarian Convention Speech a ‘Head-Scratcher’—for the Libertarians

Despite the party’s recent relative success, Trump can make a play to peel off its old Buchananite faction.


Weeks before the former President Donald Trump is scheduled to accept the Republican presidential nomination for the third time, he will speak to the Libertarian National Convention, a move that has been described as a “bit of a head-scratcher.”

Naturally, many Libertarians are not happy about it. Some party members are allergic to anything that might increase their relevance or even the general knowledge that Libertarians exist. But it is also fair to say that Trump has moved his own party in a marginally less small-l libertarian direction, and his election in 2016 elevated conservative thinkers who would like to move it in a radically less libertarian direction. 


Libertarians with and without capitalization are correct to question how much their preferred moniker applies to a GOP that mostly continues to lavish funds on the welfare-warfare state despite $1 trillion deficits.

All that throat-clearing out of the way, it is really not much of a head-scratcher as to why Trump would want to address the Libertarians. Third parties and independent candidacies are going to matter more this year than four years ago. Trump would like to ensure that this fact benefits him at least as much as it did in 2016.

Despite their best efforts at self-sabotage, the Libertarian Party is markedly better than other third parties at getting on state ballots. It has also done a better job at getting votes these past few election cycles.The LP presidential ticket received 1,247,923 votes in 2012, 4,489,233 of them in 2016, and 1,865,535 in 2020.

Keep an eye on that last number. Gary Johnson was the presidential nominee in the first two elections. The former Republican governor of New Mexico was the most senior elected official and arguably the biggest name to ever top the Libertarian ticket. While that honor is somewhat like being the tallest building in Topeka (or Santa Fe), it might explain why the party was able to break its raw vote record twice and achieve its highest percentage of the popular vote ever in 2016.

But even with the relatively obscure Jo Jorgensen as the 2020 nominee, Libertarians were once again able easily to exceed the million-vote threshold, get its second-highest number of raw votes ever, and finish third nationally. (My most viral post on X was about Jorgensen getting bitten by a bat, back in its pre-Musk iteration as Twitter.) That suggests the LP’s post-Johnson breakthrough might have some staying power.


Johnson didn’t get as much blame for Trump’s election as the Green Party’s Jill Stein, though he did receive some. But not only did he win more votes overall; he probably took more from Republicans, leaving his impact more ambiguous than Stein’s. (I voted for Johnson that year too, abortion misgivings aside, though I probably wouldn’t have if I had known Trump had apologized to Pat Buchanan for things said during their short-lived fight for the 2000 Reform Party nomination.)

Which brings us to another reason Trump is wise to speak to the Libertarians: the rise of the Mises Caucus, which includes the sort of paleolibertarians who supported Buchanan’s presidential bids, especially in the 1992 and 1996 Republican primaries. Some of their votes are potentially gettable for Trump. And is Trump really less libertarian and more of a statist than Mike Gravel?

If your politics can be advanced through a major party like the GOP, they probably should be. Ron Paul accomplished more through his two Republican presidential campaigns, during which he did not get particularly close to the nomination, than he did winning the Libertarian Party nod in 1988. 

Pat Robertson’s 1988 GOP campaign, for which some Ron Paul 2008 and 2012 lieutenants worked, similarly boosted the organized Christian Right without the 700 Club host having much of a shot past the Iowa caucuses. 

With Robert F. Kennedy Jr. making his own overtures to the Libertarian Party, Trump should want to compete for anti-establishment and right-libertarian votes. This is an election that could be decided by tens of thousands of votes in six or seven states. It was not long ago that the Libertarian Party was blamed for Republicans losing some close Senate races.

The only “head-scratcher” is why the Libertarian Party would want Trump to dominate the headlines coming out of their convention, during which they will presumably nominate their own presidential candidate. Some past Republican presidential candidates could probably tell the LP aspirants about Trump’s ability to suck up all the oxygen in a room.