Op-Ed: Meet the libertarians — the #NeverTrump movement’s last hope

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson waits to speak with legislators at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on May 18.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson waits to speak with legislators at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on May 18.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press )

Get over it, #NeverTrumpers. No amount of praying for a political unicorn to inhabit Bill Kristol’s can overcome the cruel logic of the electoral calendar, with its expired filing deadlines and hopelessly uphill signature-gathering requirements. There’s only one non-Republican or Democratic entity likely to be on the ballot in all 50 states come November, and that’s the Libertarian Party, which selects its presidential nominee in Orlando next weekend.

Politico reported Wednesday that an unnamed anti-Trump schemer (I’m guessing rhymes with “Shill Pistol”) said there was “a 50-50 chance” that one of either Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Wyoming), or Mitt Romney would agree on an independent run by maybe some time next week. When that Hail Mary inevitably fails, the Libertarian Party will have already popped the first corks on what promises to be its most intensely scrutinized convention in the party’s 45-year history.

Those who dig Sanders’ opposition to drug prohibition and military interventionism can rest assured the Libertarian Party embraced these positions decades ago.


For the majority of non-Beltway Americans who prudently maintain unfavorable opinions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Libertarian candidate is certain to advocate several welcome policies that neither major-party nominee will touch with a 10-foot pole. In a political year that has broken one precedent after another, the Libertarian Party may well shatter its previous record of 1.1% of the vote.

Fiscal conservatives anxious about the country’s $19-trillion debt will be happy to hear that all three leading Libertarian contenders — former New Mexico Republican Gov. Gary Johnson (who was the party’s 2012 nominee, pulling 1.0%), antivirus software designer John McAfee and 35-year-old libertarian media entrepreneur Austin Petersen — want to eliminate large swaths of the federal government. Those alarmed by Trump’s cavalier approach to the Constitution will notice Petersen waving around a pocket-sized copy while Johnson talks up repeal of the 17th Amendment.

Progressives who dig Sen. Bernie Sanders’ opposition to drug prohibition and military interventionism — issues on which Clinton has been awful for decades — can rest assured that the Libertarian Party embraced these positions decades ago. Johnson as governor in 1999 became the first major American politician to come out for ending the drug war; McAfee’s core message is that “our bodies and minds belong to ourselves,” and Petersen dreams of a world in which “gay married couples can defend their marijuana fields with fully automatic machine guns.”

As that last quote attests, the Libertarian message can sound jarring to those accustomed to the political status quo, not least because of the, shall we say, colorful track record of the messengers. McAfee, who seems to have taken Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign as a personal dare, is an international fugitive wanted for questioning in Belize in connection with the alleged murder of his neighbor, is married to a former sex slave that he rescued (according to his account, anyway; he delights in pulling reporters’ chains), and is frequently accused in the tech press of making extravagant — some might say fraudulent — claims to publicize his companies.

Petersen comes off like an eager libertarian dudebro on the make, an impression furthered by his extensive and occasionally ribald footprint on social media. Even the comparatively staid Johnson has gotten weirder with age, launching a pot business between presidential runs and rhapsodizing recently to the Wall Street Journal about driving while stoned back in the day.


Major-party veterans, even ones currently proclaiming disgust with the 2016 nominees, are likely to cite such Libertarian Party eccentricities as deal breakers. This justification should not be afforded undue respect. In a race between a joyless machine politician under FBI investigation for misconduct in office and a one-man branding scheme who brags of never losing his fan base even if he commits murder in broad daylight, Republican and Democratic grotesqueries make the Libertarian Party excess look like child’s play. Unless McAfee (who is undeniably charismatic) ends up winning the nomination.

With nearly six more months of Trump vs. Hillary in front of us, many Americans will be grasping for anything that looks and talks different. And rightly so. There are more ideological flavors in the United States than nannying, big-government liberalism vs. bullying, big-government conservatism. There has never been a stable major-party home for that vast expanse of America that describes itself as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” and probably won’t be until we start voting for people and parties who better represent our values.

So hello, Orlando. If not Belize.

Matt Welch is editor in chief of Reason and a contributing writer to Opinion.


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