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Trump is Courting Libertarian Activists and Trying to Ensure They’re Not Drawn to RFK Jr.’s Campaign

Donald Trump plans to use an address Saturday night at the Libertarians’ national convention to court a segment of mostly conservative voters that has often been skeptical of the former president, while trying to ensure that party activists aren’t drawn to the campaign of independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Libertarians will pick their White House nominee during the gathering in Washington that wraps up Sunday. Kennedy, who initially ran in the Democratic primary, addressed the convention Friday.

Polls have shown for months that most voters, even a majority of Democrats, do not want a 2020 rematch between Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden. That dynamic could potentially boost support for an alternative like the Libertarian nominee or Kennedy, whose candidacy has allies of Biden and Trump concerned that he could be a spoiler.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson won about 3% of the national vote in 2016, when Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in a tight race. Party nominee Jo Jorgensen got only a bit more than 1% during 2020’s close contest.

Peter Goettler, president and chief executive of the libertarian Cato Institute, suggested in a Washington Post column published this week that Trump’s convention invitation violated the gathering’s core values and that “the political party pretending to be libertarian has transitioned to a different identity.”

Trump’s campaign says his appearance is part of an ongoing effort to reach would-be supporters in places that are not heavily Republican. For example, he held a rally Thursday in the Bronx during a pause in his New York hush money trial. His team was expecting some at the convention to oppose Trump, but hopes he will get credit for showing up and fighting for votes.

Trump supporters also showed up to cheer him on Saturday night. About two hours before the former president took the stage, Libertarian organizers asked large groups in the audience, many of whom wore red “Make America Great” hats and T-shirts and had filled up seats near the stage earlier, to vacate the first four rows.

They did that so convention delegates — many of whom said they’d traveled from around the country and bought expensive tickets to the proceedings — could sit close enough to hear the speech. Many of the original seat occupants moved, but organizers eventually brought in more seats to better accommodate the stage-adjacent demand.

Before Trump began speaking, Libertarian delegates endorsed a variety of topics they hoped he would address including calls to liberate imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and promote “peace not war.” Other topics they wanted to hear about overlapped with more traditional Republican rallying cries including “abolish the deep state” and “defend the Second Amendment.”

The Libertarian ticket will try to draw support from disaffected Republicans as well as people on the left who oppose perceived government overreach. Such voters could also gravitate toward Kennedy.

Kennedy cites his track record of fighting for the middle class against powerful interests. He is also trying to win over conservatives who want to see the national GOP move away from Trump.

Kennedy’s anti-vaccine activism has appealed to some on the right who oppose COVID-19 vaccine mandates. He has also suggested that some of the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, may have been prosecuted for political reasons.

Trump previously praised Kennedy and once considered him for a commission on vaccination safety, but has changed his tone now. He suggested on social media that a vote for Kennedy would be a “wasted protest vote” and that he would “even take Biden over Junior.”

Trump, while in office, referred to the COVID-19 vaccine as “one of the greatest miracles in the history of modern-day medicine.” But the former president now says that, if elected, he would “not give one penny” to public schools and universities that mandate COVID-19 vaccination. He also accused Kennedy of being a “fake” opponent of vaccines — efforts that could shore up Trump’s support among some in his base who might otherwise consider defecting to Kennedy.

In his speech at the Libertarian convention, Kennedy accused Trump and Biden of trampling on personal liberties in response to the pandemic that spanned their presidencies. Trump bowed to pressure from public health officials and shut down businesses, Kennedy said, while Biden was wrong to mandate vaccines for millions of workers.

Biden, meanwhile, has promoted winning the endorsement of many high-profile members of the Kennedy family, in an attempt to marginalize their relative’s candidacy.

Kevin Munoz, a spokesperson for Biden’s reelection campaign, also slammed Trump and top Republicans for opposing access to abortion and supporting limits on civil society, saying in a statement Saturday, that “freedom isn’t free in Trump’s Republican Party and this weekend will be just one more reminder of that.”


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