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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Libertarians skip over Trump and RFK Jr. for Chase Oliver

By Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Michael Gold

The Libertarian Party chose one of its own as its presidential nominee Sunday night, capping a grueling day of elimination voting and a boisterous four-day event, where Donald 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 Kennedy.

Kennedy, who was a late addition to the official list of potential nominees Sunday morning, was eliminated in the first round of voting Sunday afternoon, with 19 votes — just 2% of the total. 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 FBI — 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 one-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, 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,” 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 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 Joe Biden, 81, and Trump, 77, 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 Kennedy and Trump with deep skepticism and said that their presence at the convention was an unwelcome distraction.

Kennedy’s candidacy, and the general disaffection shown in national polls for both Trump and 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.

The sixth round of votes was expected to be the last: 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 right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to be a guest speaker in his class and had sued colleagues and the university for defamation. Rectenwald is a member of the party’s radical Mises Caucus.

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

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

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Viola Gray
May 28

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