Election 2024 Trump

Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump speaks at the Libertarian National Convention at the Washington Hilton in Washington, Saturday. Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

 

Former President Donald Trump encountered an unusually tough crowd at the Libertarian National Convention on Saturday night as the audience loudly booed him and used noisemakers to drown out his speech.

The first current or former president to speak at the third party’s convention, Trump made several major promises to libertarians in the crowded, rowdy room, including assuring the audience that he would appoint a libertarian to his Cabinet if elected in November. But the presumptive Republican nominee also taunted the third party that has typically garnered around 1% to 3% of the vote in presidential races, saying they should nominate him if they want to win.

“Maybe you don’t want to win,” Trump said to a loud chorus of boos from the crowd. “Keep getting your 3% every four years.”

The raucous event for the former president marked a sharp departure from the typical celebratory atmosphere at Trump campaign gatherings, normally full of thousands of supporters who travel from other states to see the former president while laughing and clapping to their favorite, often biting punchlines. Trump is said to derive energy from these trademark rallies and reacts to any disruption by threatening to have that person or people removed.

He is unaccustomed to dealing with a divided audience, such as the one on Saturday night – some of which didn’t seem to want him there.

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“I don’t think it is a good idea for the party to invite candidates who can take our voters,” Illinois libertarian voter Gavin Hanson said. “I don’t think he got any voters from that.”

Nonetheless, Trump lobbied for an invitation to speak to the libertarians, aiming to appeal to their voters amid concerns from the two major parties that third-party candidates could attract voters who could swing a close presidential contest with President Biden.

Despite the hostile crowd, Trump received his warmest response when he said that, if reelected, he would pardon Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind the online drug market Silk Road, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2015. A Trump adviser was paid to seek clemency for Ulbricht in the final days of Trump’s administration, but no pardon was forthcoming.

Libertarians, who believe that drugs should not be criminalized, have vocally criticized Trump for not pardoning Ulbricht. Many attending Trump’s speech carried “Free Ross” signs.

Several Trump supporters in the room also said they supported pardoning Ulbricht because they said suppressing his online platform restricted free speech. But they stopped short of supporting decriminalizing the drug use that libertarians have long endorsed.

“I think there’s a lot of people that President Trump could have pardoned in his first term, and I’m hoping that when he gets back into office that he’s going to reconsider a lot of those people,” Mel Hawley, a pro-Trump podcaster, said ahead of his speech. “As far as legalizing drugs, I’ve gone back and forth on that, because I’ve seen what’s happening in places like Colorado and Oregon and those states backtracking on those decisions because of how out of control it has gotten.”

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Tensions were high in the room ahead of Trump’s speech as Libertarian Party delegates entered to discover that Trump supporters were already seated in the front rows where they had planned to sit. Organizers pleaded with Trump fans to move in order to allow delegates who paid to travel to their convention to sit. Most Trump supporters reluctantly gave up their seats.

Still, the two factions in the room at times battled by chanting – some with Trump T-shirts and red baseball caps chanted their candidate’s name, while libertarians chanted “Free Ross.”

In the midst of Trump’s address, a fistfight broke out between a Trump supporter and a libertarian activist; the libertarian was escorted out by security guards.

Libertarian Party Chair Angela McArdle previously told The Washington Post she decided to invite Trump to speak to her members. She did so along with Biden, independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other non-Libertarian candidates in what she described as an attempt to garner more national attention for the party.

Kennedy accepted, receiving a lukewarm response Friday as he appealed to libertarians’ shared concerns with coronavirus public health requirements. But many in the audience took issue with Kennedy’s interest in reforming government agencies rather than disbanding them altogether.

Before he spoke, McArdle requested the libertarian delegates “behave themselves” at the Trump event.

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“The party has been largely irrelevant for 50-plus years, and all of a sudden we have … a national media spotlight on us because of Trump,” she said.

McArdle, who is part of a right-wing faction of the party called the Mises Caucus, has faced criticism from left-leaning libertarians for inviting Trump and recently commenting that he is “better” than Biden. (McArdle was reelected as the party’s chair with 53% of the vote shortly before Trump’s speech.)

In the week after his invitation was announced, libertarians, including some within the party’s leadership, sought to disinvite Trump. McArdle refused.

The anti-Trump faction protested even before Saturday night. On Friday, former Connecticut Libertarian Party Chair Daniel Reale put forward a motion to give the time allotted to Trump back to libertarian candidates. Again, McArdle said the Trump speech would continue as planned, leading to an argument and physical confrontation.

“I appeal the ruling of this rogue Republican chair,” Reale said, threatening to join an ongoing lawsuit against the party filed by national committee member Beth Vest.

Many of the Libertarians berated Trump’s four years in the White House, shouting “hypocrite” and “no” at Trump’s suggestions he would reform the U.S. government.

“You had your shot,” Daniel McCarthy, a Texas delegate said. “It’s just more pandering, just like RFK pandered last night.”


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