Trump, in hostile territory, faces booing during Libertarian Party convention as members pick their nominee

Former President Donald Trump was met with a crowd of repeated booing during his speech at the Libertarian Party convention Saturday night, appearing unsuccessful in his attempts to sway Libertarian voters critical of him for his COVID-19, immigration, drug war and foreign policies, as well as for his increased federal deficits and support for warrantless spying and more.

The convention is being held at the Washington Hilton hotel over the weekend as Libertarians make their choice for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee, with candidates including Chase Oliver of Georgia, Michael Rectenwald of Pennsylvania, Charles Ballay of Louisiana and Lars Mapstead of California.

Trump’s appearance at the convention suggested an attempt to pull Libertarian voters away from their party’s nominee or independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who also spoke at the convention.

As Trump, a GOP presidential candidate, took the stage for his speech, he heard boos from many Libertarians while some Republican supporters wearing “Make America Great” hats and T-shirts cheered and chanted “USA! USA!”

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In his remarks, Trump attempted to praise “fierce champions of freedom in this room” and described President Joe Biden as a “tyrant” and the “worst president in the history of the United States,” but some people in the audience shot back, “That’s you.”

Trump asked for Libertarians’ endorsement and votes during his speech, which was met with jeers from the crowd.

The former president, who is accustomed to campaign rallies in front of his supporters, was in unfamiliar territory, as Libertarians do not support him or many of the policies he proposed on the campaign trail or while in office.

Libertarians, who value small government and individual freedoms, have long been critical of Trump, and his invitation to the convention divided the party, with some saying a candidate opposed to Libertarian values running for another party should not be welcomed because it would distract from Libertarian candidates and causes, while others praised the move because Trump’s presence would bring media attention to the convention.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who ran for president in the Republican primary before dropping out to endorse Trump, was another non-Libertarian in addition to Trump and Kennedy Jr. who spoke at the convention.

Ramaswamy also heard boos as he spoke on Friday when he mentioned Trump’s name.

Trump attempted to appeal to the hostile crowd by referring to the four criminal indictments against him and joking, “If I wasn’t a Libertarian before, I sure as hell am a Libertarian now.”

As the boos and criticisms continued throughout his speech, Trump at one point insulted the Libertarians he was attempting to convince to vote for him.

“Maybe you don’t want to win …  Keep getting your 3% every four years,” he said.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson won about 3% of the national vote in 2016, and the party’s 2020 nominee, Jo Jorgensen, received just more than 1% during that year’s election.

Polls have shown for months that most voters do not want a rematch of the 2020 election between Trump and Biden, potentially allowing an alternative like the Libertarian nominee, Kennedy Jr. or another third party candidate to see a boost in support.

Despite the contentious crowd, Trump continued his speech, saying he came “to extend a hand of friendship” in shared opposition to Biden.

Chants of “End the Fed!” — a common message from Libertarians opposed to the Federal Reserve — then began. One person who held up a sign reading “No wannabe dictators!” was escorted out by security.

Trump attempted to reach the crowd by vowing to appoint a Libertarian to his Cabinet if he is elected president, but many in the crowd hissed in disbelief.

But the crowd did give a big cheer when the former president pledged to commute the life prison sentence of the founder of the anonymous marketplace website Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, and potentially release him on time served. Ulbricht was convicted over his website being used to sell illegal drugs, even though he did not sell any of the items himself.

The promise to commute Ulbricht’s sentence was aimed to win over Libertarians who believe government investigators overreached in their case against Silk Road and who generally oppose the War on Drugs. Ulbricht’s case was a hot topic during the convention, and many in the crowd held “Free Ross” signs and chanted the phrase as Trump delivered his speech.

But despite Trump’s promises, many in the crowd remained hostile toward the former president.

One Libertarian candidate, Rectenwald, said in his speech before the former president arrived that “none of us are great fans of Donald Trump.” Rectenwald and several other Libertarian candidates took the stage to scoff at Trump and his speech.

“The truth is, I don’t like having a war criminal on this stage, I don’t feel he deserves a spot on this stage,” Oliver said of Trump’s appearance.

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A couple of hours before Trump’s arrival, Libertarian organizers asked Trump supporters in the crowd to vacate the first four rows of seating, so convention delegates, many of whom had just returned from selecting their preferred Libertarian candidate, could sit closer to the front. Several Trump supporters initially resisted before eventually moving, and organizers later brought in more seats.

Kennedy Jr., in his speech at the convention, accused Trump and Biden of infringing on personal liberties during the coronavirus pandemic. He said Trump catered to pressure from public health officials, like former White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, and shut down businesses, and he knocked Biden for mandating vaccines for millions of workers.

During his administration, Trump referred to the COVID-19 vaccine as “one of the greatest miracles in the history of modern-day medicine.” Since leaving office, he continued to tout the vaccines.

Trump’s campaign claimed that the former president’s attendance at the convention was part of an effort to reach potential supporters in places that are not heavily Republican, after his rally Thursday in the deep blue Bronx during a pause in his New York hush money trial.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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