Finley: Libertarians may draw the disenchanted

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

The political party that seems to be more closely aligned with mainstream America than either the Republicans or Democrats may get a chance this election cycle to finally have an impact.

The Libertarian Party is meeting this weekend at its national convention in Orlando with more energy and justifiable exuberance than ever in its history.

Libertarians bill themselves as the third largest political party in America, but it’s a distant third. In 2012, their ticket garnered just under 1 percent of the presidential vote, its best showing ever.

But this year, Libertarians are hoping the intense dissatisfaction with the major party presumptive nominees gives them an opening to play more broadly in the election, and attract a lot more money to tout their ticket.

Compared to the GOP with Donald Trump and the Democrats with Hillary Clinton, the Libertarian ticket has some strong appeal to the country’s middle.

As it did in 2012, the party is expected to make former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson its nominee. Johnson is a former Republican who was something of an eccentric for that party. He’s pro-choice, pro-gay and pro-pot.

As vice president, the Libertarians are expected to nominate former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, also a former Republican who was much too moderate to get an invite to the tea party.

Together, they are two governors running against Clinton, the ultimate Washington insider and manipulator, and Trump, the volatile billionaire who won the GOP nomination in reality TV show fashion.

One of the most common expressions heard this political season is, “I can’t vote for either one of them.” That gives the Libertarians, with a respectable ticket, their opportunity.

Johnson and Weld are enough outside the establishment to appeal to those young Bernie Sanders voters who are so angry about the Democrats’ rigged nominated process that they’ll never vote for Clinton. And they’re mainstream enough to be a credible alternative for anti-Trump Republicans who would never blacken the circle for, say, the Green Party.

And the Libertarian creed of individual liberty and responsibility and a government that doesn’t meddle in personal lives is refreshing in contrast to the extreme positions of the Republican and Democratic platforms.

What the Libertarians need is money. Reports were red hot earlier this month that billionaire political funder David Koch of the infamous Koch brothers would bankroll a Johnson run. Koch, who was the 1980 Libertarian vice presidential candidate and a major supporter of the libertarian Cato Foundation, said he made no such commitment.

But if he did pony up the funds for a legitimate campaign, and was joined by the wealthy Republicans who paid for the failed #nevertrump campaign, the Libertarians could become a player in the election.

Focus intense money on winning a few states, deny Trump and Clinton the requisite electoral votes, and the presidential contest could end up in the House of Representatives for resolution.

It’s a crazy long shot, I know. But not much crazier than an election in which far more voters dislike the major party candidates than like them.

Nolan Finley’s “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.