As the five wide-screen TVs at the Gary Johnson Election Night party in Albuquerque began silently broadcasting the startling development that Donald freaking Trump might become the next president of the United States, the one person I wanted to talk to most of all was Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee, William Weld.
After all, Weld one week ago had infuriated Libertarians to the point that his own party's Rhode Island chapter canceled a campaign event with him over him saying "I'm here vouching for Mrs. Clinton" on The Rachel Maddow Show, which in turn came one week after he took the extraordinary step (for a third-party candidate) of encouraging Republicans to vote against the GOP nominee. The man was getting heckled at his own campaign stops, and called out by his own warm-up acts, because of his well-publicized anxiety over the prospects of America being run by an "unhinged" Donald Trump. So how must he feel on a night when the Libertarian ticket was beating the major-party spread in a series of key swing states, in an election that may very well go to the authoritarian populist?
Unfortunately, Weld was safely tucked inside the hotel's Mexican restaurant, hobnobbing with Gary Johnson and support staff in advance of their speeches in front of delirious campaign workers here. Eventually the avuncular Bostonian made his way on stage, and delivered a confident if somewhat slurry speech that betrayed zero sense of anxiety about the coming Trumpification of America. "I feel that my brain has been opened," Weld enthused about his experience with Libertarian politics. "I've had a breakout year!"
As he made his way off stage and through a gantlet of quirky supporters toward the hotel elevators, I finally caught up with Weld to gauge his reaction to tonight's events. In a perhaps-surprising turn, the man so distrusted by libertarian grassroots was as bullish as I have ever seen him be about the future of the Libertarian Party. The following is a mostly complete transcript of our brief conversation:
Q: Florida went to Trump; you guys exceeded the spread by a helluva lot down in Florida, a lot of people are already calling you "spoilers." Is this the nightmare scenario that you were worried about kind of coming true in that sense?
A: No, you know, I came to think that it's important enough for the country to have the Libertarians to have a third seat at the table in our ongoing national dialogue. So we didn't pull our punches at all, and people vote the way they do, you know. It's a big country, and I think that Gary has really exceeded what has been done before for the Libertarian Party, and I think in eight to twelve years the Libertarian Party could become the number-one party in the United States in terms of size—
A: —so we can come back and talk about it then.
We've got the centrist platform, we're socially inclusive, fiscally responsible. That's 60 percent of the people in the United States.
Q: We are in a coin-toss right now if we're going to wake up in a Clinton world or a Trump world, but the Trump world looks frankly a little bit more likely right now. Try to wrap your head around what that does for opportunities for the Libertarian Party, and even your own personal career, if tomorrow we're talking President-elect Trump.
A: Well (chuckles), I'm much more concerned about the Libertarian Party's opportunities than my personal future career. And I think the Libertarian Party would have a lot to say no matter which of Trump or Clinton is elected, because we have a lot not in common with both of the major parties. And it's very clear to me that Washington is sick and broken, and I think the country will agree to that when we continue to hammer the issue. As I intend to do.
Q: By "your career" I meant within the Libertarian Party. How do you foresee your role coming out of this tomorrow?
A: Well I think there's a lot that Libertarians have to talk about: term limits, balanced budget, you know, no more regime change and wars, smaller government. The other parties are not there, all they care about is getting re-elected; they're obsessed with re-election. That's no way to get to a good result. So, as I say, no matter who you wake up with as the administration tomorrow, the Libertarians have a very clear path in Washington, and I intend to participate in that.
Q: And just to be completely clear, no regrets about influencing swing states that went this close in this direction?
A: You know it's kind of conjectural; it's hard to say. You know, I always thought, and the polling recently bore that out, that we were taking more from Trump than from Clinton. So I wasn't worried about electing a Donald Trump. Gary was worried about electing Hillary Clinton! (laughs)
Q: You and the Libertarian Party base have had a contentious relationship after all this kind of stuff—
A: Well, they've been polite, I mean it was contentious back in the convention, and as I've said recently, if every time I have said something faintly civil about Mrs. Clinton it shows people just say "This is the end of the world," that's just a measure of how deep our politics have sunk in this election year. And I lay most of that at the door of Donald Trump.