Will the Libertarian Party be a factor in this year's presidential race? It's a long shot, but this is not the election year to assume that there are any certainties.
In the wake of the party's Memorial Day weekend convention in Orlando that nominated Gary Johnson as its presidential candidate for the second straight election year, three polls show the Libertarian ticket attracting 10-11 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, both of whom have high disapproval ratings. Mr. Johnson won just under 1 percent of the presidential vote in 2012, and 10 percent would put him in potential spoiler territory. Fifteen percent would get him into the fall debates.
The 750 delegates who attended the Libertarian convention raised a formidable ruckus. It was assumed that Mr. Johnson would get the nomination but his choice of former Massachusetts Governor William Weld as his running mate angered many and forced Mr. Johnson to swat aside five challengers.
Mr. Weld's main crime was that as of a week before the convention he was still a Republican, prompting opponents to understandably question his loyalty to his new-found party. One declared that he "sold his soul to the GOP." Another asserted he had "violated the Constitution," though it was not clear how. A failed Libertarian presidential candidate referred unkindly to Mr. Weld's "multiple business ventures that failed and multiple novels that failed." Mr. Weld is more corporate lawyer than businessman, though it is true that as a novelist he has not approached Stephen King's sales numbers.
The former Bay State governor prevailed by a narrow 32 votes on the second ballot. "This is a national ticket," he told the delegates. "We can offer something meaningful and realistic to the country."
Indeed, until he lost his U.S. Senate bid to incumbent Democrat John Kerry in 1996, Mr. Weld was regarded as a potential national player. As governor, he pioneered the socially moderate, fiscally conservative model that many other Republicans, including then-New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and current Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker followed.
Witty and self-deprecating, Mr. Weld is a good campaigner. He has varied interests, high among them rock 'n' roll, which makes him unusual among more typical navel-gazing politicians.
Ironically, the Johnson-Weld ticket may have national appeal for the same reasons the duo angered so many Libertarians. Mr. Weld was criticized at the convention for his longtime support of gun control, which most Americans share according to polls. Mr. Johnson was booed for supporting driver's licenses and for saying he would have signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. There are far more Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled voters than there are Libertarians, and Johnson and Weld may appeal to them as an alternative.
The Libertarians' anti-government stance is akin to that of the Republicans, and the ticket is more likely to take votes away from the GOP than Democrats. Like Mr. Weld, Mr. Johnson was a Republican before dropping out of the GOP presidential race in 2012 and joining the Libertarians. Mr. Johnson felt obligated to assure convention delegates that "I'm not Republican lite." Disaffected supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders could find the Libertarian ticket appealing, in part because of the party's long-held opposition to military interventionism.
The former Massachusetts governor has made it clear that his disgust with the emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate was a primary motivator for his successful pursuit of the second spot on the Libertarian Party ticket. Craven political hacks like House Speaker Paul Ryan are falling in line behind their bigoted, bullying standard-bearer, but Mr. Weld is one Republican who won't surrender his principles. Presumably there are many Republican voters who feel the same way and may give a serious look to the Johnson-Weld ticket.