Trump tried to woo Libertarian voters and got booed. Here’s what happened.

Donald Trump was loudly heckled at the Libertarian Party’s national convention in Washington, D.C., on Saturday night — just one day after Robert F. Kennedy Jr., now in consideration to be the party’s presidential candidate, attacked the former president for mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The scene at the Washington Hilton, where the convention took place, brought together Trump supporters and Libertarians alike. But not everyone was happy to see the former president. His efforts to convince third-party voters to vote Republican in November’s general election didn’t sit well for some attendees, who reportedly responded with boos and chants like “lock him up!” while his supporters were seen wearing “Make America Great” hats and chanting, “USA! USA!”

Here’s what you need to know about Trump’s contentious appearance.

Trump announced on May 1 that he’d be speaking at the convention. The appearance was an attempt to “woo voters” and avoid losing Republican support to independent candidate RFK Jr. in November’s 2024 presidential election, explained the Associated Press.

“If Libertarians join me and the Republican Party, where we have many Libertarian views, the election won’t even be close,” Trump said in a statement at the time.

The 34-minute speech Trump delivered on Saturday was one of his shortest campaign speeches to date. It also marked the first time a current or former president has spoken at the third-party convention, according to the Washington Post.

During his speech, Trump called Joe Biden “the worst president in the history of the United States” before asking the crowd for their vote.

“I’m asking for the Libertarian Party’s endorsement or at least lots of your votes,” Trump said, inciting boos.

“If you want to lose, do that. Keep getting your 3% every four years,” he told the crowd, noting that Libertarians earned 3.3% of the national vote during the 2016 election, according to The Hill.

Trump, who suggested he may be a “Libertarian without even trying to be one,” added, “If we unite, we will be unstoppable.” He also promised to put Libertarians in “senior posts” in his administration, if elected, but that didn’t seem to win over the crowd.

“If I wasn’t a Libertarian before, I sure as hell am a Libertarian now,” he said. “I want your support. We want Libertarian votes because you stand for what we stand for — and don’t waste the vote.”

While Trump received a single nomination to be a Libertarian presidential candidate on the convention floor, he didn’t submit the required paperwork beforehand, making him unqualified, according to CNN.

Trump sought to appeal to the Libertarian crowd, who largely support the decriminalization of drugs, by pledging during his speech to commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind Silk Road, an online bazaar selling drugs and other illegal goods, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2015.

Many in the crowd held signs that read: “Free Ross.”

Trump also promised to pardon the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — roughly 1,200 of whom have been arrested as of December 2023, according to the New York Times.

“It will be my great honor to pardon the peaceful January 6th protesters, or as I often call them, ‘the hostages,’” he said. “There has never been a group of people treated so harshly or unfairly in our country’s history.”

Supporters and critics of Trump cheer and jeer as he addresses the Libertarian national convention in Washington, D.C., on May 25.Supporters and critics of Trump cheer and jeer as he addresses the Libertarian national convention in Washington, D.C., on May 25.

Supporters and critics of Trump cheer and jeer as he addresses the Libertarian national convention in Washington, D.C., on May 25. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Trump’s invitation left the party divided. While some appreciated his highlighting of Libertarian issues, others thought it was disingenuous and a mere attempt to grab more votes.

“It was a lot of politicking,” Glen Lewis, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Mississippi, told the Guardian. “He came here to tell us to pull our people’s votes towards him using the fear of Joe Biden’s presidency. But real men and women vote on integrity.”

Michael Rectenwald, another Libertarian presidential candidate, praised Trump’s commitment to commute Ulbricht’s sentence — but said it’s not enough to get his vote.

“There are no people in this room in the Libertarian Party at risk for falling for Trump’s bullsh*t,” he said at a news conference, according to CNN.

Katherine Yeniscavich, a national Libertarian party committee member, has a different viewpoint: “It’s one of the things we wanted from his first term,” she told Politico. “[Trump] wants Libertarian voters, and if he agreed to free Ross, he would get a lot of votes.”

Chase Oliver, who’s also in the running to be a Libertarian presidential candidate, told Politico of Trump, “If he thinks he is going to win our nomination, he’s more delusional than I thought.”

In Kennedy’s own 45-minute speech on Friday, he accused Trump of closing over 3 million businesses with government lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“He was initially very reluctant to impose lockdowns, but then he got rolled by his bureaucrats. He caved in, and many of our most fundamental rights disappeared practically overnight,” Kennedy said. “He did not stand up for the Constitution when it really mattered.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at the Libertarian National Convention on May 24.Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at the Libertarian National Convention on May 24.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at the Libertarian National Convention on May 24. (Bastien Inzaurralde/AFP via Getty Images)

Referencing his claim that, in 2010, a parasitic worm ate a portion of his brain, Kennedy added, “Maybe a brain worm ate that part of my memory, but I don’t recall any part of the United States Constitution that creates an exemption for pandemics.”

A known vaccine skeptic, Kennedy waded into conspiracy territory, accusing Biden of colluding with the FBI to display “medical misinformation” on social media about the origins of the coronavirus. He also promised, if elected, to drop espionage charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and pardon government whistleblower Edward Snowden, who’s in exile in Russia.

The Libertarian Party, which prioritizes small government and individual freedoms, was founded in 1971 and calls itself “the party of principle” on its official website. The party’s uniting belief is to “strongly oppose any government interference into their personal, family, and business decisions.”

According to CBS News, the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Gary Johnson, received 4.48 million votes and earned 3.3% of the popular vote in that election.

Though unlikely, Kennedy could theoretically earn enough Electoral College votes needed to be president should he become a third-party nominee. As noted by the New York Times, research suggests that Kennedy — who’s polling stronger than any third-party candidate has in decades — could take votes away from Trump and Biden in a general election, which makes Trump’s pitch for the Libertarian vote all the more strategic.

According to ABC News, the Libertarian Party has 2024 election ballot access in at least 37 states, including battlegrounds like Arizona and Pennsylvania. A win for Kennedy in all those states could take him over the finish line.

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