Somewhere between a discussion about whether or not blind people should be allowed to drive cars and a striptease by a hefty bearded man hoping to be elected party chairman, the Libertarian Party selected its presidential and vice presidential candidates for the 2016 election cycle. And, strange as it may seem, it could have a real impact on the results of the general election in November.
Meeting in Orlando, Florida, the Libertarians selected former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts governor William Weld as their presidential and vice presidential nominees, respectively. While neither is what you would call a political firebrand, both have served as the chief executive of a state, and that makes the Libertarian ticket a far more credible alternative to voters disillusioned with the two-party system than it has ever been in the past.
This is not to say that a Johnson-Weld ticket has any chance at all of winning the White House. At the moment, among the combined members of the House and Senate, state governors and members of state senates and the lower houses of state legislatures, the number of Libertarians currently holding elected office is: 1. That’s .0001 percent of available elected positions in the country.
However, in the 2012 election, when Johnson topped the ticket with former Orange County, California, Superior Court Judge Jim Gray, the Libertarians took one percent of the national presidential vote.
While that sounds trivial, in an election year when the Republican Party faces huge demographic obstacles, a full percentage point is a giant worry. And in a year when the party’s nominee is all but certain to be Donald Trump, a marginally credible Libertarian ticket is an absolute nightmare.
The area of overlap between the GOP and Libertarians is, generally, the leave-us-alone constituency, which prefers the least intrusive version of the federal government possible. Trump -- with promises of a federal deportation force, maintenance and even expansion of the social safety net, and religious tests for immigration -- is anathema to many in that group.
For months, Republicans personally opposed to Trump have been actively, and sometimes very publicly, seeking a plausible alternative to the New York billionaire. So far, no plausible third-party candidate has emerged, and that’s great news for Johnson and Weld, who could well emerge as a safe harbor for small-government conservatives who can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump.
That’s not to say the conversion will be easy. The Libertarian convention had plenty of the moments of absurdity that, over the years, have relegated the party to the fringe in the past. Johnson, at one point, was booed for suggesting that the government has an interest in licensing people to drive motor vehicles. At one point, there was actually a discussion of whether or not blind people ought to be barred from driving. Late on Sunday, a candidate for party chairman demonstrated his commitment to transparency by performing a strip-tease on stage.
In the end, though, the party nominated what is probably its most qualified ticket ever, at least in terms of real experience in government. And for the #NeverTrump element of the Republican Party, that might be just enough to justify voting for them.
And for Trump, whose path to the White House, while real, is very narrow, that’s bad news.