Donald Trump asks Libertarians for support, gets booed at convention


WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump spent his weekend proposing “a partnership” with the Libertarian Party, but early indications suggest it won’t be a close friendship.

Libertarians attending their convention in Washington booed and hooted at Trump, even as he pledged to pursue policies limiting the federal government and argued that supporting third parties could undermine common efforts to unseat President Joe Biden.

“Combine with us – you have to combine with us,” Trump said at one point, drawing objections from many of the 1,500 Libertarians gathered in a hotel ballroom in the nation’s capital.

‘Maybe you don’t want to win’

As friction built, Trump during his speech taunted the party about its low totals and said they only way they can accomplish anything is by supporting him.

“Only if you want to win,” Trump said at one point, as large segments of the crowd booed. “Maybe you don’t want to win.”

Four years ago, Libertarian presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen took only 1.2% of the vote against Trump and Biden. But even that small a percentage could make the difference in closely contested battleground states that are likely to determine the outcome of the 2024 race for the White House. That’s why Trump is seeking support from the party as the campaign heats up.

But the former president, who sometimes speaks more than 90 minutes at his political rallies, wrapped up his remarks before the Libertarian conference in 35 minutes as he received criticism from the crowd.

Some speakers at the Libertarian convention urged delegates to be respectful of Trump, although most took shots at the former president.

“We have a lot to teach Donald Trump,” Michael Rectenwald, who is seeking the Libertarian Party presidential nomination. “We don’t know if he has any capacity to learn.”

Donald Trump promises pardons

But how did Trump try to court these third-party voters? In seeking support, Trump pledged to appoint a Libertarian Party member to his next Cabinet, and name other Libertarians to high government posts.

He also promised to commute the lifetime prison sentence of entrepreneur Ross Ulbricht. He created the website Silk Road, which facilitated sales of narcotics and other substances that Libertarians believe shouldn’t be illegal in the first place.

Trump also played to the crowd by again pledging to pardon defendants involved in the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.

However, delegates at the convention, many of whom waved blue signs saying “Free Ross,” noted that Trump said nothing about pardons for two others: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and classified information leaker Edward Snowden.

Not committed enough?

Trump’s raucous speech capped a noisy weekend in which Libertarian Party conventioneers repeatedly expressed disdain for the ex-president.

Still, the presumptive nominee asked the Libertarians for their endorsement, a “partnership,” or at least “a lot of your votes.”

Libertarian Party members later indicated that they will stick with their own nominee, who is scheduled to be selected on Sunday.

Many voters at the convention told USA TODAY Trump’s promises simply didn’t win them over. Some pointed out that while Trump pledged to restrict government, he did not respond to long-time Libertarian calls for outright elimination of the Federal Reserve, foreign aid and the income tax.

“He has some libertarian leanings,” said Charlie Larkin, 48, a self-employed worker from Aphol, Massachusetts. “But I don’t feel he’s committed enough to the ideals of liberty.”

Before and after his speech, libertarians also criticized Trump on issues ranging from tariffs to his indictments in four major criminal cases.

Some delegates said they were offended when Trump – who claimed without evidence that prosecutors are politically motivated – said he should be something of an honorary Libertarian because of his indictments.

The former president spoke ahead of a week that may see the end of his hush money trial in New York City. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to make final arguments on Tuesday, and the jury could decide the case later in the week.

But Trump’s effort to tie his criminal charges to Libertarians’ treatment of the federal government didn’t necessarily curry favor with convention attendees over the weekend.

Tension in the hall

The tensions surrounding Trump’s speech were even apparent beforehand.

On Friday night, a Libertarian delegate made a formal motion insulting the former president. Members of the crowd cheered, though the resolution wasn’t allowed.

Delegates also booed businessman Vivek Ramaswamy as he tried to defend Trump. But the strife didn’t end there.

Hours before Trump’s speech, groups of his Republican supporters from the Washington area showed up and took some of close-in seats that had been reserved for libertarian delegates,

Angela McArdle, the newly reelected chair of the Libertarian Party, asked the Trump supporters to move farther back and give the delegates their chairs; she also urged the factions to exhibit “camaraderie,” and said “we should focus on our areas of agreement.”

But at times, the Trump people and the libertarians engaged in dueling chants.

Libertarians and Trump

The party’s website says that “libertarians strongly oppose any government interference into their personal, family, and business decisions. 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.”

Outside the convention ballroom, vendors hawked posters, books and knick-knacks extolling various libertarian causes, from attacks on COVID vaccines to free trade to eliminating the Federal Reserve. Libertarian voters also told USA TODAY they oppose many of Trump’s policies, including tariffs on foreign imports, increased spending and his previous comments about to using power to investigate opponents.

In his speech, Trump said their common desire to defeat Biden should outweigh their differences. “The fact is we should not be fighting each other,” Trump said.

Amanda Gibbs, 40, a Libertarian Party member from the Houston area, said she is a former Republican who could not abide his “government overreach” and “how he treated women,” among other issues.

“He is what drove me out of the GOP,” she said. “That’s how I found the Libertarian Party.”

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