Libertarian Party

Libertarian Party's Presidential Nominating Convention in Coronavirus Limbo

Austin, where America's third party is scheduled to have its national convention May 21-25, is in lockdown mode.


On Tuesday, the city of Austin, Texas, issued a coronavirus-avoidance stay-at-home order that permits residents to leave their homes only for "essential" work and activities, such as providing medical care or buying groceries. The order, which lasts preliminarily until April 13, could have at least an indirect impact on the 2020 presidential race.

That's because Austin is the site for what was scheduled to be the May 21-25 Libertarian National Convention, and because the convention—quite unlike its Democratic and Republican counterparts—is the sole venue and mechanism by which the party's presidential and vice presidential nominees are determined. Rather than arrive with delegate slates earned in binding state primaries and caucuses the months before, Libertarian candidates show up, vie for scarce space on the debate stage, then endure however many rounds of voting it takes (lowest candidate lopped off after each round) among the 1,000 or so delegates in attendance until someone wins 50.1 percent of the vote.

But then COVID-19 hit.

"We are evaluating all of our contingency plans," Libertarian National Chair Nicholas Sarwark told Reason Friday. "There's a range of options that range from, if we don't have a convention at all, then the national committee remains in place for another two-year term…and the vice presidential and presidential nominees would be chosen by the national committee…[to] the opposite end of the spectrum, [which] is somehow the curve gets flattened and bent and Texas becomes a safe haven for uninfected people or whatever, and we all just show up in Austin in a room with a thousand people packed closely together just like we were always planning."

"I think both of those extremes at the ends are not likely outcomes."

So what are the contingencies in between? The Libertarian National Committee (LNC) is scheduled to discuss precisely that a special meeting conducted via Zoom Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET. Sarwark reckons that some kind of remote meeting, or an Austin plus remote hybrid, might be set up with a pared-down agenda focusing mainly on candidate selections both for the presidential ticket and the LNC.

The convention website on March 19 informed delegates, "The Coronavirus crisis is of an incredibly fluid nature, and as of the writing of this 61 days before our event, it is still too early to make any 'permanent' plans…Expect more definitive guidance as to the plan for the event about one month before the delegates and attendees are scheduled to arrive for registration and credentialing. For now, we can expect release of more definitive guidance on 4/20."

Added Sarwark: "Basically the convention oversight committee meets weekly with updates and is in constant contact with the venue, and then they give me updates at a slightly lower periodicity. We're looking at probably somewhere around 30 days out, maybe three weeks out, to make a final decision."

There have been seven nonbinding Libertarian primaries and caucuses thus far, with longtime libertarian intellectual Jacob Hornberger getting the most votes among human contenders in five, and political satirist Vermin Supreme in the other two. (Because we're talking about Libertarians, "None of the Above" received the most votes in the North Carolina primary, and "no preference" won in Massachusetts, where there was also a 23 percent chunk of write-in candidates that have not to my knowledge been tabulated.)

In the overall popular vote thus far, according to this Wikipedia page, Hornberger leads Supreme 22 to 10 percent, with 1996 L.P. vice presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen just behind with 9 percent.

The rolling shutdowns across the country—postponing primaries and most large gatherings—alter the basic calculus for winning delegate votes, which is usually: Show up to state conventions, glad-hand, and perform in debates. "That's when I do most of my sales, if you will," Vermin Supreme told Reason Saturday. "And conversions, and convincing the skeptical, and the questioning, and the people who don't know me other than the meme, although you would think they would by now, but it seems that's often not the case. So that is certainly affecting the campaign strategy."

The L.P.'s presidential nominating process can be a lengthy event, filled with horse-trading and intrigue. Since the goal is to win a majority of delegates on-site, and since the L.P. is a threadbare operation based on much volunteer work and self-financing, candidates have in prior cycles invested much energy into making sure friendly state delegates show up. Canceling or significantly physically altering the Austin gathering will certainly upend business as usual for America's third party.

Still, Sarwark says, "We're trying to model [responsible] behavior in our party so that the American people can see that that is the sort of leadership we would bring to the White House should they choose to not select the Hobson's choice between a malignant liar and a familiar figurehead."

NEXT: Most Politicians Are Disingenuous Opportunists. The Coronavirus Outbreak Only Makes That More Obvious.

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  1. Conference call should do it.

    1. One glance at the production value of their media is enough to know the LP doesn’t do technology.

      Or marketing.

  2. If LP can’t figure out how to handle a convention and other biz online and transparently and with accountability, then they are irrelevant. The DeRp’s also can’t figure this stuff out re their own parties or the government itself.

    The party that figures this all out. Well the sky is the limit. Because that next generation of millennials and Z’s can almost certainly create an alternative – or maybe even two – where time is on their side and old broken ideology gets discarded on the ash heap.

  3. Meh… just go for it. Like that fat guy who stripped for us the last time. That shit was fun. Let it all hang out!

    1. It is funny that Lefties already know that Trump will be reelected.

      1. They’re bitter because they’re going to have to pull the trigger for Joe Biden and they know it.

        And they’ll do it too…because they’re stupid and they always do what they’re told when their political masters choose their candidates for them.

      2. There just aren’t enough half-educated bigots, superstitious slack-jaws, and disaffected clingers left in America to give Trump another chance at a three-cushion bank shot in the Electoral College.

        1. I didnt know you were going to vote for Trump.

  4. Who cares about the LP when the most libertarian president EVAH just got us the biggest bailout in history, baby! $2 trillion, motherfuckers! Can’t stop the MAGA train!

  5. I thought all the libertarians were just going to vote for Dear Leader. He’s like the most libertarian president ever after all. Shouldn’t we just cancel it?

    1. Sorry your communist candidate lost badly because he couldn’t keep his idiot mouth shut, and that now you have to vote for Creepy Joe.

      Enjoy your 2020 drubbing…it’s what you deserve.

      1. +1000

    2. There is libertarian remnant who could never stomach supporting King Dotard or an illiberal Democrat.

      1. Trump is Libertarian-ish, so why not support him.

        Or don’t. I get that.

        GayJay had some real questionable Libertarian positions, like bake the cake bitch. Weld was/is not a Libertarian.

        So you have Trump, Hillary, or Bill Weld. I voted for GayJay because I knew Georgia would carry Trump.

        1. Unless a voter lives in a swing district within a swing state, I don’t see a valid strategic reason for a conscientious libertarian to hold their nose and vote major party. That said, third-party alternatives, even downballot LP candidates, are only occasionally worth the effort.

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  7. If LINOs and Libertarians challenging Democrats for national political power is not essential then I don’t know what is.

  8. Let each state party decide whom to put on their ballot. Having five or ten candidates across the nation shouldn’t matter (in fact, may lead to more press coverage and candidate availability) because most who pull the Libertarian lever are signalling distaste for the GOP and Dem candidate and not for any particular LP candidate.

    1. Yeah last election I had to hold my nose when I voted for Gay J anyway.

  9. A true Libertarian party would ignore unconstitutional orders and have the damn convention.
    Masks and gloves will be available by then.

    1. The orders aren’t unconstitutional (as they originate from the state government). They’re definitely a breach of our freedom of association, though, and I’d be pretty damned happy to see them meet up anyways. Having our presidential nominee’s first act be resisting an unreasonable arrest, along with a whole hall full of delegates, would be a coverage bonanza we couldn’t couldn’t possibly afford to buy.

  10. how does an entire party of individualists gel anyway? and Austin is a cesspool don’t go there on purpose.

    1. It doesn’t, which is one reason the party is so cringefully amateur and ineffective. The LNC is tasked with herding paranoid, ideological cats.

      1. I love that particular aspect of the LP, though I certainly concede it makes it harder to be a party. But if we changed enough to compete in similar terms to the major parties, we wouldn’t be libertarians anymore. I’m hoping we’ll keep trying to chart our own path, and find something workable that’s uniquely ours along the way (though I’m not terribly optimistic about achieving freedom through electoral politics).

        1. “But if we changed enough to compete in similar terms to the major parties, we wouldn’t be libertarians anymore.”

          This mentality is precisely what’s wrong with the LP. An allergic reaction to political competence. The conviction that electability is fundamentally unlibertarian. An inability to distinguish political style from substance. Additionally, there plenty of self-indulgent Ls who enjoy the marginalized, “alternative” character of the party and aren’t interested in broadening appeal.

          So the LP never has any mainstream success, and every convention looks like a gay pride parade crashing an SGA meeting.

    2. I used to go to Austin to take their money and fuck their crazy women.

      1. i *do* love crazy women…

        1. Stick your dick in crazy and then run.

          It’s my take on the proverb: Don’t put your dick in crazy.

  11. True Libertarians are loath to seek power. This is why none of the people seeking the LP nomination are actually libertarians.

    The party should take my advice and use a reverse lottery on their membership. The loser is obligated to run for president on the LP ticket.

    1. This is true.

      Actual Libertarians just need to accept that serving a term or two is a necessary evil like tiny and limited government.

      If Libertarians won’t do it, some corrupt asshole will. Look where we are with all the damage corrupt assholes have done. Trump is bailing out the boat and barely making a dent.

    2. Libertarians challenging non-libertarians for control of political institutions is a good thing. Unfortunately, many LP candidates are delusional enough to believe they have a shot in statewide or even federal elections with no strategy, no name recognition, no experience, no funding, no friends, and no charisma on a platform of “government is evil and, um, stupid.”

  12. I have represented Libertarian Party candidates and observed that the party and its candidates are ineffective to the point of counterproductivity in the best of times.

    Libertarian Party “operations” during a pandemic should resemble a Three Stooges, Keystone Kops, or Dumb and Dumber skit.

  13. Fortunately, none of this will have any impact of the chances of a Libertarian Party presidential candidate being elected or having any impact on the election.

  14. Hire a ship and hold the convention in international water.

  15. And civilization as we know it ends, the planet shatters, and the universe enters its heat death. Oh, wait….

  16. Snake Plisskin for President. He got out of New York didn’t he?

  17. Fixing the LP Convention Coronavirus Dilemma

    Considering the arguments for an attenuated convention with various functions omitted and a quasi-virtual convention, I think the best option is to postpone the 2020 convention until after the election and until it can function per rules and Bylaws.
    The CDC wants to ban all meeting of more than ten people. To comply with this official edict, the LNC should go all state election officials and to the Congress and ask for the suspension of all ballot access laws in this national emergency to allow voters maximum freedom of choice among candidates at the polls in November.
    What about the Presidential ticket? The state party organizations can submit slates of Electors who are uncommitted to any Libertarian candidates and, if elected in November, those Electors would meet at the State Capitol and cast their votes for ANY candidates they independently choose.
    Until the Electors vote in December everyone campaigns for maximum effect for all office, local, state, Federal and Presidential.
    It may be the 2020 Libertarian Convention can be held between the November election and when the Electors vote in December and that convention can vote to advise the Presidential Electors of all parties which of the candidates should be elected.
    Any state which refuses to suspend ballot access censorship laws until 2021 should be sued for election tampering and violations of the Constitution.
    A short hand way of looking at my proposal is that it essentially restores how elections were conducted before 1888 when the duopoly seized their monopoly over the ballot.
    Thank you for your consideration.
    D. Frank Robinson is a co-founder of the LP and Chaired the Constitution, Bylaws and Rules Committee at the founding convention in 1972.

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