To the uninitiated, which is to say, most everyone, the Libertarian Party has been a political nonentity. Sure, voters might know a few of the top-line principles—limited government, limited economic regulation, a lot of individual liberty—but chances are they have not given much thought to a party that has never put a candidate in Congress. Or nominated a presidential contender who is truly competitive nationally.
After a hostile primary season on the Democratic and Republican sides, though, Libertarians hope that might start to change. Especially the three candidates with the most viable chance for the nomination at the party’s convention later this month.
“It’s really a mixed bag,” said Gary Johnson, the former two-term New Mexico governor who was the party’s nominee last cycle, on his reaction to Donald Trump’s presumptive Republican nomination. “Sorry for America,” but it could give “the libertarian nominee a real shot.”
A third-party candidate winning a general election is pretty unlikely. But there are some small signs Americans have grown more interested in the Libertarian Party since Trump has caught fire. The conservative Breitbart News has noted “spasms” among libertarian-leaning Republicans since Trump won Indiana, and it encouraged “PANIC” over an uptick in Google searches for the party. The Washington Examiner reported on Wednesday that the Libertarian Party saw “a drastic increase in new donors as the primaries started and it became increasingly clear that Trump would be the nominee”; and online applications to the party jumped once Ted Cruz dropped out after the Indiana primary. Those figures are small—in the hundreds—but for a small party looking to make national change, they must be encouraging. And Libertarians got at least one high-profile nod last week: The Republican strategist Mary Matalin switched her party affiliation to Libertarian on Thursday, though she refused to acknowledge a connection between her move and Trump’s shoe-in nomination.