Lib­er­tar­i­ans look to make his­tory with ticket

Hope John­son,Weld can make in­roads with ma­jor can­di­dates’ high un­fa­vor­a­bil­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The Lib­er­tar­ian Party put for­ward the strong­est pres­i­den­tial ticket in its his­tory, throw­ing down the gaunt­let in an elec­tion that has the two ma­jor par­ties poised to nom­i­nate di­vi­sive can­di­dates with soar­ing un­fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ings.

Del­e­gates to the Lib­er­tar­ian Na­tional Con­ven­tion chose in sep­a­rate votes a pair of for­mer Repub­li­can gov­er­nors — New Mex­ico’s Gary John­son and Mas­sachusetts’ Wil­liam Weld — de­spite ob­jec­tions from party loy­al­ists who booed them as “failed Repub­li­cans” and ques­tioned their com­mit­ment to party prin­ci­ples.

Mr. John­son won the party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion on the sec­ond bal­lot with 55.8 per­cent of the del­e­gate vote, giv­ing him a sec­ond shot at the pres­i­dency af­ter win­ning about 1.72 mil­lion votes as the party’s can­di­date in 2012.

While Mr. John­son’s nom­i­na­tion was all but as­sured, much less cer­tain was whether the del­e­ga­tion would warm up to Mr. Weld, who joined the party three weeks ago and had been de­nounced by crit­ics as “Lib­er­tar­ian lite.”

Af­ter squeak­ing onto the ticket with 50.8 per­cent on the sec­ond bal­lot, Mr. Weld as­sured the crowd that he would ad­here to Lib­er­tar­ian prin­ci­ples while run­ning a race that he said would ap­peal to both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic vot­ers un­happy with their par­ties’ nom­i­nees.

“This is a na­tional ticket,” Mr. Weld told the crowd at the Rosen Cen­tre Hotel in Or­lando, Florida.

“Gov. John­son and I are go­ing to do our level best to make sure that we rep­re­sent all of the very best ideas and ideals of the Lib­er­tar­ian Party of the United States,” Mr. Weld said. “I be­lieve that in do­ing that we can of­fer some­thing mean­ing­ful and re­al­is­tic to the coun­try, the en­tire coun­try, and that will be a third way.”

Mr. John­son had urged del­e­gates to sup­port the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gover­nor, say­ing that the ticket would have lit­tle chance of qual­i­fy­ing for the pres­i­den­tial de­bates or at­tract­ing cross­over vot­ers with­out a proven can­di­date like Mr. Weld.

“Bill Weld was my role model,” said Mr. John­son, adding that Mr. Weld was “pro-gay, pro-choice and pro-med­i­cal mar­i­juana at a time when no­body else was talk­ing about this.”

Even be­fore win­ning the nom­i­na­tion, Mr. John­son has shown un­prece­dented strength for a Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date, some­times polling at 10 per­cent in a hypothetical three-way pres­i­den­tial race. His 1.72 mil­lion votes in 2012 was just un­der 1 per­cent of the to­tal but still rep­re­sented a his­toric high for the party.

The ticket fea­tur­ing two estab­lished can­di­dates throws an­other wild card into the un­pre­dictable 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, of­fer­ing a choice for Repub­li­cans who refuse to sup­port pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump, as well as Democrats who have said they will not back likely nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Mr. John­son and Mr. Weld, both two-term gov­er­nors, ac­tu­ally have more gov­ern­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween them than ei­ther the likely GOP or Demo­cratic nom­i­nee. Mr. Trump had never sought pub­lic of­fice, while Mrs. Clin­ton served eight years as a se­na­tor from New York and four years as sec­re­tary of state.

Polls show both Mrs. Clin­ton and Mr. Trump suf­fer from his­toric un­fa­vor­able rat­ings, but so far Repub­li­can ef­forts to re­cruit a third-party can­di­date to ap­peal to #Nev­erTrump vot­ers have failed to yield fruit.

Un­like other third par­ties such as the Greens, the Lib­er­tar­ian Party is ex­pected to have a line on pres­i­den­tial bal­lots in all 50 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia. Party mem­ber­ship and fundrais­ing have also surged since Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas dropped out of the GOP con­test, con­ced­ing the nom­i­na­tion to Mr. Trump.

Party chair Ni­cholas Sar­wark made it clear that the Lib­er­tar­i­ans plan to com­pete fi­nan­cially by ag­gres­sively pur­su­ing Repub­li­can donors such as Charles and David Koch as well as pro-lib­erty su­per PACs.

“There’s back chan­nel com­mu­ni­ca­tion to sug­gest to the Koch broth­ers that the re­turn on their po­lit­i­cal in­vest­ment would be a lot higher in the Lib­er­tar­ian Party, and we align bet­ter [with] their val­ues than the Repub­li­can Party, where donors col­lec­tively threw $166 mil­lion into a hole and lit it on fire to try and nom­i­nate Jeb Bush,” Mr. Sar­wark told re­porters.

He char­ac­ter­ized Mr. John­son’s nom­i­na­tion as a game changer for fun­ders look­ing for a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date to sup­port, adding that he had met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from three su­per PACs dur­ing the con­ven­tion that are “lack­ing a can­di­date to sup­port.”

“I am aware that the Koch broth­ers through a spokesper­son is­sued a de­nial that they had been in talks about fund­ing Gov. John­son’s run, but that was a pre-nom­i­na­tion de­nial and un­re­lated to whether or not the par­ties reached out to them,” Mr. Sar­wark said.

Ef­forts to “fix” the Repub­li­can Party are doomed to fail, he said, be­cause the party “is not fix­able.”

The Koch broth­ers, who have spent un­told mil­lions sup­port­ing Repub­li­can can­di­dates, “have not got­ten what they wanted out of it, and hon­estly any party that can en­com­pass Don­ald Trump and Rand Paul stands for noth­ing,” said Mr. Sar­wark.

Known for their pro-lib­erty, small-gov­ern­ment stance, the Lib­er­tar­ian ticket is poised to pick up vot­ers who are eco­nom­i­cally con­ser­va­tive but so­cially lib­eral.

“At the end of the day, re­ally, we poll from both sides,” said Mr. John­son. “Look, this is an­other voice at the ta­ble. It’s ar­guably com­bin­ing the best of what it is to be a Demo­crat and the best of what it is to be a Repub­li­can, nei­ther of which ac­tu­ally do very well at what they’re sup­posed to be good at.”

He ac­knowl­edged that the party needs to over­come a num­ber of set­backs, start­ing with me­dia recog­ni­tion. In or­der to qual­ify for na­tional pres­i­den­tial de­bates, the party must re­ceive 15 per­cent sup­port in five sur­veys or more, but Mr. John­son said the Lib­er­tar­i­ans are of­ten left off the polls.

The party also has a prob­lem with be­ing taken se­ri­ously. At their pres­i­den­tial de­bate, for ex­am­ple, sev­eral can­di­dates came out in fa­vor of stances such as end­ing driver’s li­censes, le­gal­iz­ing all recre­ational drugs with­out im­pos­ing age re­stric­tions and elim­i­nat­ing all Cabi­net depart­ments.

It didn’t help that at one point, a can­di­date for party chair­man per­formed a strip­tease on stage, re­mov­ing ev­ery­thing ex­cept his thong and dark socks be­fore telling the crowd, “I’m sorry, that was a dare.”

At the same time, such mo­ments are re­flec­tive of a party that has noth­ing if not a sense of hu­mor. For ex­am­ple, del­e­gates voted to give its Lib­erty Out­reach Award to Mrs. Clin­ton and Mr. Trump for help­ing spur in­ter­est in the Lib­er­tar­ian Party.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRPAHS

Gary John­son speaks del­e­gates at the Na­tional Lib­er­tar­ian Party Con­ven­tion, in Or­lando, Florida.

Lib­er­tar­ian vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Wil­liam Weld (right) speaks with Joe Hunter, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the Gary John­son cam­paign, in Or­lando, Florida.

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