Even before William Weld told Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC audience last night that “I’m here vouching for Mrs. Clinton,” Fox Business Network host and Reason contributor Kennedy, who had raised some eyebrows a month ago when she grilled Weld about his campaign behavior and motivations, gave Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson the what-for about his running mate:
— Josh Black (@joshuasblack) November 2, 2016
“Please keep Bill Weld away from the Libertarian Party,” she pleaded with an awkwardly silent Johnson at the end of the interview (which you can view in full at this link). Libertarians of both the capital-L and small-l variety have treated Weld with suspicion ever since (and in fact a decade before) he converted to the party’s cause two weeks before this May’s nominating convention, at which the former Massachusetts squeaked by in a second ballot by the narrowest of margins on the bitterly divided convention floor. Five months of is he/is he not supporting Hillary Clinton later, many of those ideologically disposed to root for the Libertarian ticket have clearly had enough. Though it’s obviously anecdotal, I have never seen libertarian Twitter so nearly unanimous on a close-to-home political issue.
— Jay Stephenson (@jaypsteve) November 2, 2016
Libertarian Party Chair Nicholas Sarwark, doubtless less than pleased that his VP candidate was giving MSNBC testimonials to the competition and criticizing his own campaign one week before Election Day, sent out this subtweet last night:
— Nicholas Sarwark (@nsarwark) November 2, 2016
Sarwark’s Twitter feed is filled with RTs of stuff like this:
— Marc Harrold (@MarcMHarrold) November 2, 2016
Meanwhile, L.P. presidential runner-up Austin Petersen, the party’s presumptive (if premature) 2020 front-runner, and the only top-four finisher to endorse the Johnson/Weld ticket, tweeted out that the campaign is “a complete trainwreck.”
Who cares if I couldn’t have won the general at this point? I still would have made you damn proud to be an American!
— Austin Petersen (@AP4LP) November 2, 2016
I said “nearly unanimous” above; there are some libertarians out there defending Weld today, including Josh Guckert at The Libertarian Republic and a handful of people on Twitter. And I would certainly add to the conversation the suggestion that a Weldless L.P. ticket may never have gotten anywhere near the amount of media interest and poll support without such an Acela corridor-approved wingman.
But I think this widespread in-house revulsion at Weld’s actions speaks to something positive, or at least flags an inflection point in Libertarian politics. Fact is, for at least four years now, the L.P. has been the third party in the United States. Even after his recent tumbling in the polls, Johnson is pulling more than double the support of the Green Party’s Jill Stein, just as he did in 2012. He is currently projected by FiveThirtyEight to receive 4.7 percent of the national vote, which would more than quadruple the L.P.’s previous record. And the party is beating the Greens like a gong on the state and local level.
Which is to say, there’s an argument to be made that Libertarian politics has grown much bigger than any fleeting cult of personality, a la Ross Perot and the Reform Party, and there’s a growing sentiment that maybe there’s enough homegrown talent, fully fluent in libertarianese, to preclude the need for credibility-grabs from the Basket of Normals. Eight years ago the L.P. was desperate enough for mainstream acceptance that it rode a former Republican congressman and the political-huckster author of such books as Millionaire Republican to a desultory fourth-place finish and 0.4 percent of the vote. Eight years later the party will get around 10 times that total, while rebelling against its own far more impressive veep nominee. It’s a mug’s game to predict the political future more than a few hours ahead these days, but I imagine that in 2020 the nominees for America’s leading third party will not need the word “former” to describe their politics.