Libertarians or not? Trump serves up a conundrum for third-party voters

Trump will be the first former president, either Republican or Democrat, to speak at the Libertarian National Convention

John Bowden
Washington DC
Saturday 25 May 2024 23:46 BST
Joe Biden announces that he will debate Donald Trump twice

On Saturday, the Libertarian Party’s convention in Washington will welcome a decidedly non-Libertarian speaker: Donald Trump, presumed Republican nominee for president.

His speech to the right-leaning third party will be a historic one, as no current or former president has ever been granted a speaking slot at the party’s convention, nor has Donald Trump seemingly attended a Libertarian event or convention. Yet here we are.

The odd relationship being forged between Mr Trump’s campaign and the Libertarians presents several opportunities for both the GOP politician and the “ungovernable” Libertarians — as well as potential pitfalls for the two groups.

Let’s start with the obvious. The 2024 election, according to all available polling, is set to be close. Both candidates are making clear efforts to stem the losses they could suffer from disgruntled voters on the political margins. Joe Biden and the Democrats are working to ice out Robert F Kennedy Jr — who spoke at the convention on Friday — as well as convince younger Democrats furious with the slaughter in Gaza from staying home or giving away their votes to the Green Party. Mr Trump is doing the same tonight with the Libertarians and Mr Kennedy in one fell swoop.

Donald Trump arrives at his rally in the south Bronx
Donald Trump arrives at his rally in the south Bronx

Then there’s the value tonight presents for the Libertarians. Long suffering from a reputation of unseriousness, tonight is the party’s chance to reshape that image while carving a new one: an audience to whom conservative candidates can (or should) be making overtures.

But the potential for problems is real for both involved as well. Mr Trump runs the risk of walking into an outright hostile audience. Several attendees who spoke to The Independent on Friday remarked that the former president may well face a silent audience or even boos during his remarks or face outbursts of protest, such as the “Free Palestine” demonstrators who interrupted Mr Kennedy’s speech.

“It’s going to be very interesting if he comes here,” one convention-goer, Jan, said on Friday. “I’m anticipating maybe complete silence.”

Buttons and stickers with federal-skeptic slogans are handed out at the 2024 Libertarian Party convention in Washington DC
Buttons and stickers with federal-skeptic slogans are handed out at the 2024 Libertarian Party convention in Washington DC (John Bowden)

The Kennedy campaign is certainly encouraging such interruptions for Trump’s speech. Staffers with the independent candidate handed out rubber chicken noisemakers to anyone who would take them on Friday. And on the convention’s main floor a day before the president spoke, some of the party’s true believers slammed the decision by party leaders to invite the former president.

”We are a libertarian convention,” one man angrily said into the mic at the event’s open forum. “We do not need to give our time to non-libertarians!”

Any of those interruptions would be a black eye for the Libertarians as well. The party runs the risk of doing more harm to its image than good if any of the shenanigans political reporters have come to expect from the party’s delegates come to pass. The attendance of the man spotted a day earlier in a pantsless, Tarzan-esque getup with what appeared to be a bra hanging out of the seat, for example, could further the development of that image. Or the man who walked through the press area and a gathered crowd of supporters before the speech and began handing out “Free Ross” signs calling for the release of the founder of the Silk Road, which facilitated a large market for illegal drugs and other unlawful goods on the dark web.

This guy was spotted at the Libertarian convention on Friday; on Saturday, it was more of a suit-and-tie vibe
This guy was spotted at the Libertarian convention on Friday; on Saturday, it was more of a suit-and-tie vibe (John Bowden)

Those signs turned into a roomwide chant before Mr Trump took the stage.

But there were reasons to believe, at least heading into the main event Saturday evening, that both parties may come away happy. For starters, the crowd was noticeably Trumpier on Saturday; tri-corner hats had been swapped out for red Maga hats. And the same attendee who remarked that the former president could face a silent welcome noted that the number of press in attendance had already clearly outpaced previous years.

There were also clear signs of unrest. As Michael Rectenwald, a Libertarian Party candidate, took the stage before the former president his speech was interrupted by dueling boos and cheers as he called out the Trump administration’s management of the Covid crisis, development of the vaccine, and derided him repeatedly.

“We believe in free speech and you listen to them,” said Frank Atwood, another attendee who ran a booth at the convention in support of implementing “approval voting” systems around the US.

“I don’t feel that they have a Libertarian message,” he said of both Mr Trump and Mr Kennedy. “But I do feel that if if they’re willing to come to us it’ll also be an opportunity for us to respond to them. And, and whether or not the audience is completely silent, shuffling feet, turning their backs on him … there is at least communication happening between Libertarians and other candidates.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in