America got the contested convention it desired this weekend … from the Libertarians, anyway. Gary Johnson and William Weld managed to eke out majorities of delegates this weekend to become the only national party ticket with two former two-term governors on it, and both of them Republicans for that matter. Now that the circus has packed up, though, can the Libertarians compete for the first time, with both of the major parties nominating candidates with record unpopularity with voters?
Politico reports that they will at least compete on funding, if nothing else. One big boost will come from the super-PAC that formed to help Rand Paul compete for the GOP nomination:
Ed Crane, the co-founder and former president of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute who ran a seven-figure super PAC for Rand Paul, told POLITICO he planned to revive his Purple PAC group on behalf of Johnson, now that he’s officially the Libertarian nominee.
“We could raise millions and I think it’s a very unique opportunity that you have have two major party candidates who are incredibly unpopular within their own parties,” Crane said. “It won’t take me long because I’ve got the numbers of all the major hitters on the libertarian side.”
Shane Goldmacher also points out that Weld has plenty of experience in fundraising — including as a key supporter of Mitt Romney. Johnson himself expresses his appreciation for the assist in that area:
With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton registering as two of the least liked and most mistrusted politicians in the country, many Libertarians see an opening — and a desire — for an alternative. And Johnson is the only other candidate likely to appear on the ballot in every state.
Raising more money is supposed to be the big advantage of selecting Weld, who served as a fundraiser for Mitt Romney. “He really likes fundraising and he’s connected,” Johnson said. “And I really hate fundraising and I’m not connected.”
What would the Libertarians consider success? They managed to win 1.2 million votes in 2012 with Gary Johnson as the nominee (James Gray was his running mate), for 0.99% of the vote and third place, ahead of the Green Party. That was more than double the Bob Barr/Wayne Allen Root ticket’s vote total from 2008, when they finished behind the Ralph Nader-led Greens for fourth place and 0.4% of the vote. They would still have to almost quintuple their vote total to match the performance of John Anderson in 1980, who finished with 5.7 million votes, 6.6% of the popular vote, and … never came close to competing for a single Electoral College vote. Neither did H. Ross Perot in either 1992 or 1996, despite winning almost 20 million votes in his first attempt.
All of those elections had one thing in common, however: at least one major-party candidate viewed positively, at least in personal terms, by a majority of the electorate. At this stage, anyway, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face steep favorability deficits with general-election voters, and both are so well known that it’s not likely to improve much — especially with the expected nasty campaign ahead. If it gets ugly, theoretically more voters might look for a way to check out of the two-party conundrum. Theoretically.
The fundraising done by Libertarians will almost certainly fund an advertising campaign highlighting this opportunity. They’ll want to draw from both parties, so they can’t overplay the connections and history that Johnson and Weld have with the GOP; they had to downplay that at the Libertarian convention, too. Still, one might think that conservatives who want an alternative to Donald Trump might latch onto the Johnson/Weld ticket, especially since it already has the ballot access in all 50 states that an independent bid would already be too late to accomplish.
The main problems with that dynamic is that it’s the interventionist and social-conservative wings of the conservative movement that oppose the Trump nomination most, and those are the two wings that will find themselves least comfortable with the Libertarian Party. And for that matter, the progressive soak-the-rich, federalize-everything Sanders supporters won’t fit in very well with the Libertarians either. This year might be the one cycle in which the Libertarian ticket may well be too mainstream to have an impact.
Not everyone in the convention decided to be conventional, though. Leave it to the Libertarians to put the party into the Libertarian Party. At least this candidate didn’t actually win his race for chairman. Please observe the not safe for work (NSFW) warning, and possibly the not safe for digestion warning as well: