Libertarians Skip Over Trump and R.F.K. Jr. for Chase Oliver


The Libertarian Party chose one of its own as its presidential nominee on Sunday night, capping a grueling day of elimination voting and a boisterous four-day event, where both Donald J. Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. unsuccessfully sought to court the group’s backing.

The nominee, Chase Oliver — an openly gay former Democrat who in 2022 forced a runoff in a race for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia — beat out nine other candidates at the party’s national convention in Washington, including Mr. Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy, who was a late addition to the official list of potential nominees on Sunday morning, was eliminated in the first round of voting Sunday afternoon, with 19 votes — just 2 percent of the total. Mr. Trump, who was not an official candidate, received six write-in votes in the first round.

The Libertarian Party is among the better-established minor parties, with name recognition and placement on the majority of state ballots in November. The Libertarian nominee is guaranteed to be on the November ballot in at least 37 states, a number that party leaders say they expect to grow in the coming months.

With its emphasis on unfettered individual liberties and limited government, the party draws supporters from across the political spectrum. Libertarian Party faithful call for the dismantling of the regulatory state — including, for some, the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service and the F.B.I. — as well as the legalization of drugs and sex work. Broadly, the party has embraced cryptocurrency, opposed tariffs and foreign military spending, and called for the release of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who is being held in the U.K. and faces espionage charges in the U.S.

A theme of the party’s convention, displayed proudly on badges and signs at the convention, was: “Become Ungovernable.”

On Sunday, it almost was. The party took more than seven hours, and seven rounds of elimination voting, to get a presidential nominee — and even then the party nearly ended up without any candidate at all, as more than a third of the final voters cast ballots for “none of the above.”

Had the party failed to nominate a candidate, it would have likely lost ballot access in many states.

“I assume that everybody understands what it means if you literally don’t have a candidate,” the party chair, Angela McArdle, told the delegates after the second-to-last round of votes failed to produce an outright majority winner.

In his acceptance speech late Sunday night, Mr. Oliver, 38 — who has described himself as “armed and gay” — pledged to unify the party along its common principles and to expand its reach around the U.S. “We can set the world free in our lifetimes,” he said, adding that he would help bring to an end the “genocide in Gaza,” would get rid of the Federal Reserve and would “stop the thieving” of taxation.

“Here’s the elevator pitch, you guys,” Mr. Oliver said, adding, “If you are living your life in peace,” then your life “is your life, your body is your body, your business is your business.”

He also took a shot at Mr. Kennedy, saying, “Rule No. 1: If you want to elect a real political outsider, don’t elect somebody with the last name Kennedy.” And alluding to President Biden, 81, and Mr. Trump, 77, Mr. Oliver made an explicit pitch for younger voters who “don’t want octogenarians running their lives.”

The ultimate selection of an actual member of the Libertarian Party came as no surprise to other actual members of the Libertarian Party. Many of them had greeted Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Trump with deep skepticism and said that their presence at the convention was an unwelcome distraction.

Mr. Kennedy’s candidacy, and the general disaffection shown in national polls for both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, has meant more attention on third parties this year. The Libertarian Party convention over the weekend, held in the Washington Hilton hotel, was a reminder of the internecine squabbles and organizational frustrations often inherent in minor parties — particularly one that prides itself on freedom of expression.

Sunday’s proceedings were carried live on C-SPAN, whose viewers were treated to regular unbleeped profanity, a marriage proposal, a man wearing something like a loincloth onesie, and heated debate about rules of parliamentary debate and voting procedures.

Mr. Kennedy, who left the Democratic Party last year to pursue an independent run for president, had been in conversations with Libertarian leadership over the past year about pursuing their nomination.

In recent weeks, however, he had said he would not do so. During the convention, several party delegates noted that while there were pockets of support for Mr. Kennedy, he held many stances that were fundamentally at odds with the party, particularly his calls for increased environmental regulation.

When Mr. Kennedy addressed the group on Friday afternoon, he spoke to a generally supportive audience about shared points of agreement, including the desire to sharply curtail foreign military entanglements and the support for gun ownership. He did not explicitly ask for the nomination.

On Sunday morning, though, delegates put him forward as a potential nominee, and he accepted in a video played on the convention floor.

After he was eliminated, Mr. Kennedy wrote on X: “What an unexpected honor to wake up this morning to a groundswell in the Libertarian Party seeking to nominate me. I would have accepted the nomination if offered because independents and third parties need to unite right now to reclaim our country from the corrupt two-party system.”

Mr. Trump received a far less enthusiastic welcome when he spoke at the event on Saturday night, before a crowd that was already jeering him before he took the stage. He told the party delegates that they should nominate him, or to at least consider voting for him in the fall, and was repeatedly booed.

His speech was remarkable not only for the hostility with which he was greeted, but because of the specter of the presumptive nominee of a major political party giving a prime-time address at another party’s convention.

Mr. Trump, in a social media post on Sunday afternoon, said he did not file for the nomination because he was already the presumptive Republican nominee — even though he had asked Libertarians to nominate him in his speech the night before. He criticized Mr. Kennedy as “not a Libertarian” and repeated his past efforts to paint Mr. Kennedy, whose political views are ideologically disparate, as a “Radical Left Democrat.”

Mr. Trump also insisted that he “would have absolutely gotten” the Libertarian nomination “if I wanted it (as everyone could tell by the enthusiasm of the Crowd last night!),” a statement inconsistent with the frequent heckling he experienced throughout his speech.

Mr. Trump was among a motley collection of write-in candidates in the first round of votes on Sunday. Others included Afroman (a recording artist who is best known for his 2000 hit “Because I Got High” and who met with Mr. Trump backstage on Saturday), Sean Ono Lennon and the adult film star Stormy Daniels, who is at the center of Mr. Trump’s criminal trial for hush-money payments made to her. They each received one vote.

The sixth round of votes was expected to be the last: Mr. Oliver faced off against Michael Rectenwald, a former professor at New York University who left the school in 2019 on the heels of several controversies. He had invited the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to be a guest speaker in his class and had sued colleagues and the university for defamation. Mr. Rectenwald is a member of the party’s radical Mises Caucus.

But neither Mr. Oliver nor Mr. Rectenwald reached a majority in that vote: Mr. Oliver got 49.53 percent of the vote, and Mr. Rectenwald, who had led every previous vote, got 44.73 percent. Just over 5 percent voted “None of The Above.” (The former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino got one write-in vote, as did the singer Courtney Love.)

Mr. Rectenwald, as the lowest performing official candidate, was dropped from the ballot, and the party faced the prospect of having to back either Mr. Oliver or nobody at all. Just after 10 p.m., the final votes came in.

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