Four candidates for the Libertarian Party's vice presidential nomination debated in front of hundreds of delegates last night at the Party's National Convention in Orlando. The four selected needed at least 49 delegates to cast a token ballot choosing them to appear in the debate, which ended up excluding antivirus magnate John McAfee's chosen running mate, Judd Weiss. Weiss tells me it was a momentary failure to whip his supporters into actually casting the token ballot, and still feels good about his chances.
Following are profiles based on phone interviews with three of the four on stage last night, plus Weiss. William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts who is Gary Johnson's pick for vice president, was not made available for an interview with me by press time.
The debate highlighted the difference between the three who are deeply enmeshed in the Party and the libertarian movement and its customary style, thinking, and lingo, willing to talk about eliminating all taxation, getting out of NATO and UN instantly, and the vital importance of the non-aggression principle. Weld was out of his depth in those terms; though the other candidate are equally out of their depth in terms of Weld's actual governing experience and grounding his statements in this year's political issues and realities.
From the sounds of the crowd, plenty of delegates are far happier about a candidate who speaks their concerns and hearts with passion and a customarily Libertarian Party style than they are concerned with serious political experience. Weld's inability to be a full-throated defender of gun rights (on CNN last week he made a distinction gun rights people don't like between weapons legitimate for hunting and other weapons that are not) is just one of his problems with many Party faithful seeking a "real Libertarian."
Weld sounded the most engaged in the actual campaign ahead of them, frequently mentioning or alluding to specific Trump policies he wants to run against. He offered a "10-20 percent reduction" in government spending, small beer in Libertarian terms, but proudly referred to how many government workers he got rid of in Massachusetts in the '90s when he was governor.
Perhaps in reaction to how often his opponent Will Coley (running mate to New Hampshire anarchist Darryl Perry) ended in shouts, Weld tried that out once, to somewhat flat effect, on the line "the revolution this year is the Libertarian Party!"
Later Weld offered that perhaps it isn't so important for the Party to hype that word, "libertarian," and should instead focus on how they differ from the Republicans and Democrats in ways he thinks a possible majority of other voters will agree with. He ended his closing remarks with references to adding to the "enjoyable tumultuous conclusion" to the election and fighting the "doldrums and miasma that grip the ruling parties."
Weld's competitors, who didn't know they'd be running against a former governor until a week or so ago, include:
• Larry Sharpe Larry Sharpe runs a company called "Neo-Sage" which, according to its web site, "provides executive coaching, management consulting and training for professionals in many industries." He spoke at last night's debate of how if Libertarians show voters their heart and soul, the voters will love them. He spoke of government as not a mother or father to Americans, but a caring brother.
"Now is the biggest opportunity for the L.P. to get its message heard, this year is our shot," Sharpe said in a phone interview, "and I want to make sure we don't reinforce the old stereotypes, that we're all white men over 60. I am neither of those things and I'll make sure people understand that."
Sharpe is black and a veteran and he thinks "that doesn't necessarily mean people will vote for me but they will hear me better." This would be the wrong year to, as he puts it, sell out to "some other Party trying to fix their Trump problem by using us, then discarding us. I don't want temporary Libertarians, though I want them to come over, I really do. But to come over for the right reasons, to see this as a Party that actually does what it says. Our north star is the non-aggression principle: we don't want to force anyone to do anything, and that makes us special. No victim, no punishment."
He describes himself as a "zealous convert" to the Party though he was unconsciously libertarian since he was six years old. "I'm from poor neighborhoods and I saw black markets work, lots of people I knew were working in black markets, but I didn't see them as criminals."
Gary Johnson hooked him into the Party during his 2012 campaign, and he became an active member of the New York Libertarian Party. He's been working the phones and Facebook to contact dozens of delegates and feels good about his chances; he seemed to get a very positive reaction from the crowd at last night's debate. He slammed Weld when he said that "one Republican governor is enough." He wants to ensure, he told me, that "we don't have a non-Libertarian" on the ticket. It rubs him the wrong way that Weld has talked about the possibility of hitting up big money Republican friends but doesn't want to do so until Johnson/Weld seem to be taking off. "It's like he's indirectly saying, 'I've got some money here—do you want it?' It means there are strings attached."
Sharpe says he'd be proud to serve any of the likely winners, which he stretches to include radical anarchist Darryl Perry. (I've had a few people tell me Perry will get at least their first ballot vote, though they expect him to get knocked out quickly.) He hopes an actual state victory can be in play, and will "pack up and more to Vermont, Alaska, Nevada, Colorado, whatever" state he thinks the L.P. might win.
"I don't want to endorse outcomes, I want to encourage opportunity," Sharpe says, and regrets the punitive drug war system that harms so many young minorities. "America used to be the land of second chances, and we are losing that."
• Alicia Dearn Dearn is a lawyer who represents small businesses in St. Louis. She provided legal services regarding ballot access suits to the Gary Johnson campaign, which ended up being pro bono when she decided to let go of the debt from that in-the-hole 2012 campaign. She told a heart-wrenching tale of her own personal hardships and struggles, including problems with dilapidated housing and health problems that cost her her fertility, at the debate that seemed to entrance many in the crowd. The stories involved self-reliance and the government as hindrance, not help. She knows her libertarian tendencies were inside her early, she said in an interview, by how much she admired the freewheeling, self-owning character of the Tramp in Disney's Lady and the Tramp.
She says women in the L.P. "recruited me to run to give voice to us" though she doesn't see herself as standing for traditionally "women's" issues. American woman voters are tired, she says, of being patronized with the assumption that those issues are all that matter to them. "I think this election is driven by economic issues, the reason so many people are flocking to candidates like Bernie and Trump is that they are in economic pain. I think the Libertarian answer [to economic growth] is the right answer."
Dearn grants women tend to have a distinct method of communication that's more "community oriented, compassion oriented, and the L.P. sometimes fails to present libertarianism to women in the way they are comfortable with, how they tend to communicate." She told an engaging anecdote both in her interview with me and at the debate about explaining libertarian positions to a hairdresser by making her think of the injustice of licensing requirements that cost her money and time before she could ply her trade.
In her communication with delegates, she says the quality they want most from their candidates is the ability to "articulate libertarianism, I heard that quite a bit. We have the opportunity to get more eyeballs on us as a Party because of the nominees of the Democrats and Republicans." She says she would intend, if selected, to "provide as much support as possible to local candidates."
"I'm proud of the L.P.," she says, and "one reason is our slate of potential vice presidents is extremely diverse, representative, different frames of reference but we've all been very cordial to each other, collegial. Though there is some disruption now with Weld in the race. But I hope we can keep things calm and focus on issues so when the rest of the country is looking at us they think, 'these people seem nice. We can work with them.'"
• Will Coley Coley is a Muslim convert who runs a group called Muslims for Liberty, which works at "advocating the libertarian message from an Islamic perspective; historical Islamic legal traditions advocate a libertarian message," Coley says. (Gary Johnson, according to a Council on American-Islamic Relations poll, drew about twice as much of the American Muslim vote in 2012 as of the overall vote, 2.2 percent.) He's the announced running mate for presidential candidate Darryl Perry of New Hampshire, the hardcore anarchist of the crowd who will almost certainly come in the top four on Sunday's election.
Coley's proud of the connections he's made with libertarian activists in Pakistan and Bangladesh, among other countries. "I've worked as a catalyst to create libertarian communities around the world," he says. Both in our interview and at last night's debate he stressed his experience with being on the wrong end of government in his efforts to get his foreign-born wife and mother of his children legal in the U.S. He had the greatest tendency to get shouty and emotional during the debate, referring to his willingness to die for his ideas, and that it's "hard not to think about arms against the government."
"I wanted to bring a human voice to the conversation, someone who can stand and say 'I know your way doesn't work and is wrong.' I've lived through the negative consequences of the current system."
He also has passion driven by "working with people [in the Muslim world overseas] willing to risk their life to spread the ideas of liberty….Dropping Hellfire missiles on people's children and razing villages does nothing but work as recruitment for [terrorist organizations]."
His feeling for libertarianism, he says, is "not philosophical, dry, rhetorical, I know what government does is bad, I've suffered from it, and I want to bring that human voice. Elections are not won by facts and logic; you have to find a way to reach the American people in the heart, and our ticket has always lacked someone who can stir the hearts of Americans, make crowds cry. That's what I want to bring."
Despite his very loud assaults on all taxation as theft and something to be halted immediately at last night's debate, he told me in our phone interview that he's a "rational radical voluntarist" who understands "you can't pull the plugs [on the state] tomorrow, other things have to be in place to work American people off of the federal money. You can't go repeal the Department of Education tomorrow. You've got to allow the states to keep the money they are now sending to the Feds slowly over four or five years."
He thinks the American people have been "waiting, asking to hear a specific Muslim voice that comes out as a principled advocate of freedom and can explain why I find these ideas grounded in my faith. Americans have been begging for it. I think it would be awesome if the Party that ran the first woman to get an Electoral College vote, the first Jew [Tonie Nathan], ran a gay candidate the first time around [John Hospers], it's only fitting that Party introduces the American public to that Muslim voice." (Coley was raised "a hybrid of Pentecostal and Southern Baptist" and as a "theology nerd" found his own way to Islam. When he was given a Ron Paul book by a friend "I happened to be studying Islamic economic theory and I noticed correlations, so it drew me from Islam into libertarianism.")
He's not thrilled with Weld's entry into the race; "it's a Bob Barr situation all over again, the desire to raise money and some magical validity; to still seek [Republicans'] validation seems to overpower our desire to be devoted to our principles."
• Judd Weiss Weiss made his bones and an early fortune in commercial real estate in his 20s; he was a huge admirer of Nathaniel Branden (the Ayn Rand-influenced popular libertarian psychology writer who emphasized self-esteem), and became a surrogate son of sorts to him in Branden's last years. He's lately made it his avocation to glamorize the libertarian movement through arty photography of many movement conferences and events.
While a firm supporter of Gary Johnson in 2012, and with "total respect for him taking on a political suicide issue like legalizing marijuana" over a decade ago as governor of New Mexico, Weiss found Johnson's performance as L.P. candidate in 2012 ultimately disappointing and boring. He was excited to see "a total badass like John McAfee" enter the race.
After agreeing to host a fundraiser for McAfee in his Bel Air home (something he'd done twice for Johnson in 2012), Weiss was approached by McAfee's then-campaign manager Christopher Thrasher to consider bringing his movement knowledge and connections into McAfee's outsider campaign. Weiss agreed. He found they vibed well together. "We're both business entrepreneurs, both bold, it's almost as if, if McAfee is known as a maniac, if I work hard someday I can be half the maniac he is."
What's flowed from there has been organic, Weiss says; he didn't realize he'd spend most of his time making a series of videos trying to reimagine an artier and less "intellectual" means of, as Weiss says, allowing a viewer to feel something about freedom. Despite his photography experience, he'd never made a video before in his life. Weiss says he's been touched by McAfee's willingness to let him spread his wings in messaging for the ticket, and he does not think he could see fit to be a vice president for any other nominee.
He's also touched that McAfee, who himself has accusations of being complicit in the 2012 murder of a neighbor in Belize hanging over his head, trusted him even though Weiss also has what he insists is an example of justice perverted in his past: an arrest, trial (with hung jury) and eventual pleading out to lesser, non-sex-crime, charges on a rape accusation in 2012. As an L.A. Weekly story explained, Weiss "agreed to the [plea] deal [on charges of false imprisonment] only because the felony false imprisonment charge would ultimately go away, and because the sex crime charges would vanish. And, he said, he had exhausted his resources paying attorneys' fees."
"John has been very supportive," Weiss says, even though to many "being falsely accused of a crime like rape is a scarlet letter. I now know from the inside out how dysfunctional and corrupt and broken our justice system is."
And if their ticket does win, he promises they will "go bolder" in messaging in non-traditional ways. "I do agree with the so-called moderates that we need to focus on being effective," Weiss says. "But making what we have bland, not giving America an option to be excited about, is a terrible sales tactic. Liberty is: don't hurt people, enjoy your life. It's very simple. I can't be myself when I'm restricted. None of us can. We need to remove our chains as a society to thrive and move forward and do amazing things."