Trump, RFK Jr. face hostile reception at Libertarian convention amid efforts to sway voters

Washington — Former President Donald Trump and independent presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr.’s attempts to appeal to the Libertarian Party fell on deaf ears this weekend, with the third-party crowd interrupting and mocking both at the party’s convention in Washington, D.C.

A chaotic scene unfolded as Trump took the stage Saturday, as Libertarians clashed with pro-Trump attendees throughout his speech, resulting in multiple people being removed from the room and the crowd split between jeers, boos and chants directed at Trump.

“You can either nominate us and give us the position, or give us your votes,” Trump said to boos as he departed the stage. 

Trump repeatedly snapped back at the crowd and their hostility, telling them at one point to “keep getting your 3% [of the national vote] every four years,” adding “maybe you don’t want to win.” 

People hold up signs reading “Free Ross” as former President Donald Trump arrives to address the Libertarian National Convention in Washington, D.C, on May 25, 2024. 

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Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian Party’s nominee in 2020, got 1.85 million votes, under 1.2% of the popular vote. And in 2016, Gary Johnson, the party’s nominee that cycle, received 4.48 million votes, about 3.3% of the popular vote.

In his pitch to Libertarian voters, Trump called for the commutation of Ross Ulbricht‘s life sentence. Ulbricht, the founder of the Silk Road website, was found guilty of multiple felonies tied to  the black market site. Silk Road allowed users to buy and sell products anonymously, including drugs and fake government documents. The Libertarian Party has made freeing Ulbricht a part of its platform.

Security personnel grab a Libertarian party member shouting protests as former  President Donald Trump addresses the Libertarian National Convention in Washington, D.C., on May 25, 2024.

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However, during his 2024 reelection campaign announcement two years ago, Trump called on Congress to pass a law mandating the death penalty for drug dealers.

On Friday, Kennedy — who faced a warmer reception than Trump — tried to win Libertarians over to his camp by promising to pardon government whistleblower Edward Snowden, currently exiled in Russia, and to drop espionage charges against Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder battling U.S. attempts to extradite him from Britain — two figures revered by Libertarians. He also criticized Trump several times for his handling of the pandemic, claiming that Trump violated the Constitution by allowing lockdowns and travel restrictions. 

Kennedy’s remarks on Snowden and Assange drew cheers. While his audience was comprised of many former Democrats and Republicans, some Libertarians felt he wasn’t a true candidate for their party.  

The decision by Libertarian Party leadership to host Trump and Kennedy divided the party and prompted aggressive reactions from some delegates who sought to exclude both candidates from the event. 

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at the Libertarian National Convention on May 24, 2024, in Washington, D.C. 

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While neither candidate is vying for the Libertarian nomination, both were hoping to win over some uncommitted Libertarian voters.

Convention organizers also invited President Biden, but he declined to deliver remarks.

Libertarian Party leaders said they chose to invite the candidates as a way for members to speak directly to those who might win the White House in November.

“We are denied a place on the debate stage, so we decided to make our own stage the focal point of the world’s eyes,” said Brian McWilliams, Libertarian National Party communications director. 

During a business session Friday, several delegates were heard yelling profanities at the Libertarian Party chair, Angela McArdle, in objection to Trump and Kennedy taking the stage at the convention.

Several booed and yelled obscenities at McArdle as she attempted to calm the crowd. Security later escorted one man out of the session. 

Arielle Shack, a Libertarian voter at the convention Friday, told CBS News she was attending Kennedy’s speech in protest, which took place at the same time as the rowdy business session.

Shack said she traveled to the convention from New Jersey to represent other New Jersey Libertarian voters who felt Kennedy and Trump should not have been invited because they were not true Libertarians.

“We don’t want people that are not Libertarians here. If they don’t have our principles, we’re not going to vote for them,” Shack said. “You’re not gonna see Libertarians coming in, voting for a Kennedy, a Kennedy Democrat. He didn’t get the Democratic [candidacy], so now he wants to be independent. But I think we can see right through that.”

Another Libertarian voter, Richard Edgar from New Jersey, said he felt the invitation of both Trump and Kennedy was a “slap in the face” to Libertarian voters, who were expecting to hear Libertarian candidates make their case.

Michael Reeves — a Libertarian delegate from Daphne, Alabama who said he had been a member of the party for about 25 years — said that Trump and Kennedy’s attendance at the convention “speaks well for the influence that we could exert on an election at this point, that they feel like they need to cater to us in any way.”

Reeves said he would likely vote for the Libertarian nominee after sitting out in 2020. Reeves said that Kennedy’s speech was “not bold enough,” and he was “disappointed” by Trump’s first term in the White House.

“I thought he had an opportunity to really make some changes in D.C., and he didn’t,” Reeves said about Trump. “The best we can say is that he didn’t start any new wars, and that’s a pretty low bar.” 

He added that both Democrats and Republicans are moving the country towards a “more collectivist and authoritarian state.”

“To me, they represent essentially the same thing, the things that they disagree about are kind of minor compared to the things that they do agree about,” Reeves said. “And they make all the wrong calls on the things that they do agree about.”

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