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A funny thing happened when Donald Trump won the Indiana Republican primary on May 3, thus knocking Ted Cruz out of the race and removing the last obstacle on his improbable glide path to the GOP presidential nomination: Google searches on "Libertarian Party" and "Gary Johnson" skyrocketed. The same libertarian political-watchers who'd been wandering around mumbling to themselves ever since Rand Paul dropped out of the race three months earlier suddenly snapped back to life, and became excited about third-party politics to an unprecedented degree. "Basically for the last three weeks I haven't been off the phone," Libertarian National Chair Nicholas Sarwark told me three weeks after the primary. "Membership is up about 12 percent just since the Cruz dropout. Daily memberships have doubled or tripled, and revenue we've quadrupled what we normally bring in in a month."
One of the benefits to having an active comments section, and maintaining multiple other channels through which our customers can communicate with us, is that we can tell pretty much straight away when a WHOLE BUNCH OF PEOPLE want us to start covering X topic a lot more. "X" this year, in a way that hasn't been true since at least before I was a teenager, was the Libertarian Party moment. It was the electric cattle prod that got me out of the editor's chair and back into reporting.
We were already all over L.P. politics before the Indiana primary, especially historian-of-the-libertarian-movement Brian Doherty, who covered the characters, debates, and surprisingly nasty controversies of the primary campaign, handicapping the race in a great magazine feature. I (along with our good friend Kennedy) provided color commentary to the two-part L.P. debate broadcast on Fox Business Network's Stossel, and wrote a widely reprinted column in the L.A. Times titled "Meet the Libertarians." On the eve of the party convention in Orlando at the end of May, Jesse Walker wrote some cautionary expectations about how the L.P. might fare in an extraordinary political year.
At the Libertarian Nation Convention, amid the man-boobs strippers and MegaCon trolls, we conducted Reason TV interviews with candidates Gary Johnson, William Weld, Austin Petersen, John McAfee. I gave six reasons why Libertarians were skeptical of Weld, Brian Doherty gazed into McAfee's dark afternoon of the soul, Nick Gillespie and I reported from the convention floor for CNN and MSNBC, and on the way to the inevitable, Doherty wrote the definitive accounts of the politicking behind presidential and vice presidential picks. Zach Weissmueller and Joshua Swain captured the action quite well:
In the ensuing campaign, through the double-digit polling highs to the self-inflicted Aleppo lows, we were right there, as often as not in the same room as the Libertarian candidate. I was in a hotel room with Johnson just prior to his crucial CNN townhall appearance with Weld, gave on-air reaction just after to CNN International, wrote up a critical take here on the ticket's kid-gloves treatment of Hillary Clinton (which we would go on to grill them about in a half-dozen subsequent interviews), and offered a longer view for CNN.com. Remember when Johnson lost his iPhone and freaked out on Facebook Live in front of a near-mob in Cleveland just outside the Republican National Convention? That was during our interview. Or when he flipped out on a Bloomberg reporter the night of the first presidential debate? That was my shaky camphone footage (150,000 views on YouTube and nearly 2 million partial views on Facebook).
We conducted Facebook Live interviews with Johnson and Weld at the Democratic National Convention, with both just before the first presidential debate, with Johnson the morning after, Johnson again the morning of Election Day, and Nicholas Sarwark that night (my morning-after session with Sarwark for Reason TV is best watched with a blindfold, given the hangovers involved). Reason TV was at the Johnson party on Election Night, and filed this report:
Bill Weld, of course, had been a controversial pick since even before the Libertarian Convention (see Jesse Walker's May 19 post titled "William Weld Isn't a Softcore Libertarian—He Just Isn't a Libertarian At All"), and we followed his idiosyncratic twists and turns throughout the campaign—his odd comments (including to Nick Gillespie) about Supreme Court picks, non-libertarian views on guns, the recurrent speculation that he might drop out to support Hillary Clinton, his urging of Republicans to vote against Trump, and finally his "vouching" for Clinton on The Rachel Maddow Show one week before the election, which was the final straw for many. Yet we also reported on how many of even Weld's critics give him props for exposing the party to new voters, funders, and especially media attention. And who has two thumbs and was the first journalist to interview Weld on Election Night after it became clear that his nightmare scenario of Donald Trump winning was taking place? This guy! ("I think in eight to twelve years the Libertarian Party could become the number-one party in the United States in terms of size," he told me, strangely buoyant).
The next issue of the print magazine features more reporting and analysis from Brian Doherty and myself as to what this whole year meant—best year in history? Most disappointing? All of the above? Regardless of our (tentative) conclusions, we gave you more than enough raw reporting material to come up with your own. This is what happens when enough of you ask us to cover something. Tell me in the comments, oh dear readers, what you want me and us to cover in the political arena during the next 12 months.