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Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Libertarian National Convention and gets a hostile reaction. Jose Luis Magana/AP

Trump Offered a ‘Hand of Friendship’ to Libertarians. They Slapped It Away — and Trump Slapped Back.

Trump tried to convince the Libertarian National Convention that voters should nominate him as their presidential candidate. When they loudly rejected that idea, Trump insulted them.

Donald Trump came to the Libertarian National Convention in D.C. on Saturday, seemingly to make peace with a key voting bloc that could prove decisive in November. What he got — and what he gave them — were fighting words.

Trump was repeatedly met with boos and jeers as he delivered his 45-minute speech, centered around economic messages popular with the crowd — like eliminating federal income tax, encouraging deregulation for digital currencies and ending foreign wars. But after being booed throughout the entire speech, Trump also, in true Trumpian fashion, saw it fit to ridicule Libertarians.

After suggesting that the national party nominate him for president and the crowd booing, Trump had a succinct shot.

“Only do that if you want to win,” Trump said of nominating him. “If you want to lose, don’t do that. Keep getting your 3% every four years.”

In response, some in the crowd hurled insults at him, like “Liar!” and “Swamp creature!” At one point, the crowd even chanted “warp speed,” a taunt at Trump for his administration’s effort to quickly develop and deliver a COVID-19 vaccination.

As Trump runs his third consecutive presidential campaign as the Republican nominee, he and his allies have identified Libertarians as a potential cheat code for winning the election. While Trump has already won over many libertarian-leaning voters in previous elections, the Big “L” Libertarians — part of the national political party — have stuck it out voting for Gary Johnson in 2016 and Jo Jorgensen in 2020. Even if those vote totals look small, they would be more than enough to swing the election, and Trump is looking at these voters as part of a potential coalition that he currently doesn’t have.

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Libertarian delegates jeer Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump as he speaks at the Libertarian National Convention. Jose Luis Magana/AP

Trying to appease the hecklers, Trump had two promises for the crowd if elected president: He would commute Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht’s prison sentence, and he would appoint a libertarian to his cabinet.

Both promises got roaring applause, but most of his speech did not.

When he said he was the best hope of defeating Biden, the audience booed. When he asked for a “hand of friendship,” many yelled, “No.” And when he called Joe Biden “the worst president in the history of the United States,” many yelled back, “That’s you!”

Trump was keenly aware that his address didn’t seem to be going according to plan, but he pressed ahead with his overarching message: “If we unite, we are unstoppable.”

“You have to combine with us,” Trump said.

His directive, however, didn’t seem terribly convincing. In fact, the suggestion that Libertarians should join forces with Trump’s GOP may have seemed the least appealing when it was Trump making the case.

The overall question of the Libertarian convention seemed to be whether these voters would actually jump on the Trump train. Throughout the convention, plenty of attendees appeared ready to vote for Trump in November. Plenty of speakers made the case — with some degree of success — that Trump was the only viable option for Libertarians.

One of those speakers was former presidential candidate, and current Trump VP hopeful, Vivek Ramaswamy.

The day before Trump took the stage at the convention, Ramaswamy had a tailored pitch Friday evening. He touted his libertarian credentials, including a libertarian rap career in college, and said he was speaking “as a libertarian at my own core.” The crowd applauded.

Ramaswamy’s central message, at least at first, was less popular. “I believe the future of this country depends on a libertarian nationalist alliance that will save this country,” he said to a reception of boos.

Still, many attendees heard Ramaswamy out. And even if many weren’t completely sold, by the end of his speech, he seemed to have won over most of the crowd.

Ramaswamy started by talking about how Trump would restore free speech. With that, he got silence. He then talked about restoring religious liberty. He got a couple of claps. But when he started talking about protecting the Second Amendment, suddenly, there was real applause. By the time he got to “shutting down the three-letter agencies that populate this infested city of Washington, D.C.,” the crowd was cheering.

Ramaswamy went on to claim Trump would shut down the Department of Education, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the Transportation Security Administration — and at that point, the crowd was on its feet drowning out his words.

He circled back to his pitch that had been met with boos just a minute ago.

“I believe many people in this room should be advising if not directly involved in the next administration of the United States of America,” he said. It was the biggest applause of the night.

But when it came to Trump’s exact same message the following day, the crowd wasn’t buying it.

Mary Palmer and her husband, Kevin Hale, who’s running as a Libertarian for Congress from Texas, both stood backwards, away from Trump, at the front of the room during his speech, each holding a pocket copy of the Constitution. Palmer said it was the only way to show that Libertarians reject his message.

“‘You’re only going to get 3% anyway?’ What kind of backhanded comment is that?” Palmer asked. “I’d rather get 3% and stick with my principles than get 51% and have to compromise everything I stand for.”

Instead of nominating Trump, Libertarians are much more seriously considering Robert F. Kennedy Jr. RFK was also a hot topic at the convention, and his speech — with a message of vaccination skepticism and promises to pardon whistleblower Edward Snowden and drop charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — was much more warmly received.

While Libertarians will vote later Sunday for their nominee, there’s one person who won’t be getting the nod: Trump.

He ultimately didn’t bother to file the paperwork.


Katherine Swartz is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.