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1. What happened at the contested Libertarian convention — and how it could reshape the 2016 election
Remember when it looked like 2016 would (finally!) be The Year of the Contested Convention? The Republican Party, hopelessly divided between hostile-takeover artist Donald Trump and master delegate manipulator Ted Cruz, was destined to descend into civil war in Cleveland, while the Democratic Party — its head with Hillary, its heart with Bernie — seemed to be careening toward its own squabble in Philadelphia.
But alas, Cruz surprised the political world by deep-sixing his campaign immediately after Indiana, Sanders’ path to the nomination basically disappeared when Clinton clobbered him in state after Eastern state and contested-convention aficionados — like yours truly — were forced to set aside their dreams for yet another election cycle.
Then came the Libertarian Party convention in Orlando, Fla.
If you missed the fireworks, fear not. Sane people have better things to do over Memorial Day weekend — like eating, honoring fallen heroes, and/or watching actual fireworks — than watch C-SPAN as a second-tier political party with 250,000 registered members struggles to select a nominee.
But for those of us craving an honest-to-God contested convention — i.e., a convention where it takes multiple ballots for a standard-bearer to emerge — the Libertarians offered up the only fix we’re likely get this year.
What’s more, the ticket they eventually settled on — former two-term New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson for president and former two-term Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld for vice president — could be the first third-party pairing to actually influence a presidential election since Nader-LaDuke in 2000.
Here’s a quick convention recap for readers who were too busy barbecuing to tune in. Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s 2012 nominee, had long been favored to reprise his role in 2016. But the party’s self-described “radical” wing balked when Johnson revealed in late May that he’d invited Weld, a Libertarian newcomer, to join his ticket, and several rivals challenged Johnson in Orlando: party activist Austin Petersen, “Free State Project” activist Darryl Perry, Silicon Valley entrepreneur John McAfee, physician Marc Allan Feldman and self-styled “average guy” Kevin McCormick. (The Libertarian Party doesn’t hold primaries, so all winnowing occurs at the convention itself.)
On Saturday morning, roughly 750 delegates submitted “tokens” to decide which candidates would debate on live TV Saturday night and appear on the final ballot Sunday. With 226 tokens, Johnson led Petersen (106), Perry (104) and McAfee (97) — but he was still a more than a hundred shy of a majority.
Then the campaigning began. As Dave Weigel of the Washington Post detailed in a series of stories, the process was hardly a cakewalk. Amid glad-handing, strong-arming, and “Never Johnson” protests on the convention floor, Larry Sharpe, a business consultant from New York who was running against Weld for vice president, mocked the idea of “Republican-lite” candidates, asking whether “one Republican governor is not enough.”
Meanwhile, Petersen denounced Weld as a “horrible statist” and accused him of “trying to build up his reputation after multiple business ventures that failed and multiple novels that failed;” at one point, Petersen chased and confronted Johnson in full view of many of the 200 reporters covering the convention.
During Saturday night’s debate, Johnson was loudly booed when he said that he supported the idea of driver’s licenses and would have signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act — positions that each of the other top-five contenders rejected.
And when it came time for the first ballot — after candidate speeches that included McAfee pontificating while flanked by two performance artists on stilts; Perry ceding his time to fellow radicals such as Starchild, a costumed male prostitute; and Feldman rapping about how “Republicans and Democrats are wack” — Johnson again fell short of the majority necessary to clinch the nomination, this time by six votes. It took a second ballot for Johnson to get over the hump.
“I’m not Republican-lite,” Johnson declared. “And we’re not just a couple of ‘old white guys,’ OK?”
Getting Weld nominated turned out to be an even heavier lift. Throughout the weekend, Weld and Johnson fended off charges of opportunism and impurity — Weld’s apostasies include supporting gun control and endorsing John Kasich — by arguing that Weld alone would attract the donations and media attention the party will need to be competitive in the fall.
But that wasn’t enough to prevent another first-ballot failure.
“This is someone who sold his soul to the GOP and sold our ballot access in New York City,” said one of Weld’s veep candidate rivals. “He had his opportunity to prove himself, and he failed.”
“When you go with individuals who have violated the Constitution in any fashion, you have sold your soul to them,” added another.
Like his running mate, Weld eventually prevailed on the second ballot — but by a much slimmer, 32-vote margin. The Bay Stater crowed anyway.
“This is a national ticket,” Weld told the delegates. “We can offer something meaningful and realistic to the country.”
So why should you care? Because Weld may actually be right.
Given the odd dynamics of the 2016 presidential contest — and the unprecedented experience and credibility of the newly minted Libertarian ticket — it’s entirely possible that Johnson and Weld could have a Nader- or even Ross-Perot-like effect in November.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Trump and Clinton are the two least popular major-party nominees in the history of political polling. Clinton’s unfavorable rating currently averages nearly 56 percent; Trump’s currently averages 58 percent. Their favorable ratings are much lower: 37.6 percent for Clinton, 35.4 percent for Trump. These numbers — along with the difficult and divisive battles they’ve both had to wage to win their parties’ nominations — could make alternative candidates an alluring option for at least three groups of voters come fall: Bernie-or-bust types who refuse to back Clinton; movement conservatives who can’t stomach the idea of Trump taking over the GOP, and well-educated moderates who rejected The Donald during the Republican primaries.
Whether any of these voters defect to Johnson and Weld remains to be seen. Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol is reportedly trying to convince conservative lawyer David French to mount an independent bid for the right-wing #NeverTrump vote. But even then, it’s not crazy to think that a socially liberal, fiscally conservative pair of governors could still make modest inroads among moderate Republicans and hardcore Hillary holdouts. Three recent polls showed Johnson earning 10 or 11 percent of the vote in a three-way race with Trump and Clinton — and that was before Johnson had won the nomination or named Weld as his running mate. If Weld boosts Johnson to 15 percent in the polls — possible financial support from the libertarian-leaning Koch brothers may help with this as well — both he and Weld will appear on stage alongside their Democratic and Republican rivals in the fall debates.
In that case, who knows what might happen next? The answer, of course, could be “nothing”: Johnson is quirky, Weld is rusty, and no Libertarian candidate has ever captured more than 1 percent of the presidential vote. Even if the party did pick a particularly “meaningful and realistic” ticket in Orlando, it will be hard-pressed to win any electoral votes in November; that honor is historically reserved for third-party insurgents — like Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond in 1948 or anti-Civil Rights crusader George Wallace two decades later — with lots of fans in one state or region.
Yet, as things stand right now, Johnson and Weld have a better chance of siphoning support from the Republican and Democratic nominees than any of their Libertarian predecessors. If they deliver, they could reshape the election.
As Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic goes, so goes the nation?
2. Mitch McConnell to Trump: “You need more ‘boring’ — more scripts”
On Tuesday, Yahoo News Global Anchor Katie Couric spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., about his new memoir, “The Long Game,” and the state of the 2016 presidential race.
The most interesting part of the conversation (for Unconventional readers, at least) was when McConnell advised Trump to stop improvising on the stump and start being “more ‘boring’ ” — a tip that could have grave consequences for the convention in Cleveland.
“I think he needs to now portray a more studious, thoughtful approach to the biggest job in the country,” McConnell told Couric. “He’s at a crossroads, it seems to me. Does he conclude that since the way he’s been operating got him this far, that’s the way to operate all the way to the finish? Or does he need to pivot? My advice to him is that he needs to pivot.”
“Do you think he’s capable of that?” Couric asked.
“We’re going to find out,” McConnell said with a sly grin.
McConnell also rejected the efforts by Kristol, among others, to recruit a #NeverTrump candidate to run against Trump and Clinton in the fall.
“I think all that does is make it more likely that Hillary Clinton gets elected president,” McConnell said. “I don’t know why any conservative … I would not want it said of me that I participated in an effort that led to the election of Hillary Clinton. I just hope that in the end this is not successful.”
3. Will the ‘King of Hollywood’ help Trump spice up the GOP convention?
We’ve already reported on Donald Trump’s desire to “put some showbiz into [the GOP] convention” this summer, lest “people … fall asleep.” We’ve also speculated about how Trump might achieve this particular goal: more marble, more Phantom of the Opera, more celebrities like Dennis Rodman and Kirstie Alley.
But we hadn’t heard anything concrete about Trump’s actual plans to bring Hollywood to Cleveland — until now.
In an extended interview with media columnist Michael Wolff for the Hollywood Reporter, Trump revealed Wednesday that super agent Ari Emanuel — co-CEO of top talent agency WME/IMG; brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; inspiration for Jeremy Piven’s pit-bullish Ari Gold on the HBO series “Entourage” — has offered to “take charge” of the celebratory film that is customarily shown at the convention right before the nominee appears onstage to accept his crown.
“You’re shocked to hear that, right?” Trump said — presumably because the Emanuels are major supporters of President Obama, a man whose birthplace Trump has been known to question. “But yeah, I might do something with Ari. Does he represent you?”
In the profile, Wolf goes on to describe Emanuel as one of Trump’s “frequent media and now political confidants.”
“He’s a very good friend of mine,” Trump confirmed. “He calls me a lot. I call him a lot and we talk. He’s very political. Even though he’s not political, he’s political. He gets it.”
This isn’t out of the blue; Trump and the Emanuels have history. In December 2010, Trump donated $50,000 to Rahm’s first mayoral bid — even though Rahm was Obama’s most recent chief of staff and Trump, who was a considering a Republican run for president, would out himself as a birther three months later.
The reason? Business, of course.
As Chicago magazine put it at the time, “Trump, who opened the Trump International Hotel and Tower here in 2008 and will undoubtedly hope to add another pastel namesake to Chicago’s skyline, recognized that Rahm would soon be running the nation’s third largest city. Why wouldn’t he want to curry favor?”
As for Ari and Donald, they go way back. Ari was, for a time, Trump’s agent — though when asked recently whether he would consider re-signing the tinsel-haired mogul, Emanuel snapped, “I’m not delving into that conversation with you.”
In September, Ari’s agency purchased the Miss Universe Organization from Trump for an undisclosed amount. And Trump has always had good things to say about Ari.
“Ari, king of Hollywood,” Trump told the Chicago Tribune editorial board last August. “I love Ari.”
As for what the “king of Hollywood” might do with Trump’s convention film, it’s still too early to say. But WME/IMG represents an extensive roster of celebrities (Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Tina Fey) and musicians (Rihanna, Maroon 5, Pharrell). Surely Emanuel could use his legendary powers of persuasion to convince at least a few conservative-leaning Hollywood types to appear in Trump’s little movie?
In related news, Trump also told Wolff that he will “probably” take Mitch McConnell’s advice and use a teleprompter for his acceptance speech — unless, of course, someone else advises him otherwise.
“I find myself urging him not to, precisely for the theater of it all,” Wolff writes. “The spontaneity. Who would want to miss that? Let Trump be Trump.”
“Very interesting,” Trump replied. “What he’s saying is very interesting.”
4. How does Sanders keep going, and going, and going?
Bernie Sanders is now barnstorming California, a delegate-rich state he sees as his last hope to slow Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination. Over the holiday weekend — when Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, had scheduled just one public event and Hillary Clinton, the most likely Democratic nominee, had nothing public on her schedule — Sanders held one rally after another, interspersed with TV appearances. Ventura, Pomona, and Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday; Long Beach, Inglewood, the Young Turks and Bill Maher on Friday; Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Bakersfield on Saturday; Visalia and Fresno on Sunday; a few stops in Oakland on Monday.
Sanders’ opponents might consider his relentless pace a metaphor — why doesn’t he just stop running already? But Sanders vows to continue until the convention in Philadelphia. Recently, Yahoo News Chief National Correspondent Lisa Belkin boarded Bernie’s bus to find out how he keeps going. And going. And going.
“We are doing something that to the best of my knowledge has never been done in California political history, holding rallies just like this up and down this state,” [Sanders] says again and again. “By the end of this, I am confident we will have personally met and spoken to over 200,000 Californians. We will win here, and we will go to the Democratic National Convention with the momentum to make our case.”
So as his staff catnapped in the motorcade and the press hoped for at least a coffee stop, the man himself — call him the Energizer Bernie — was completely “on” at one event after the next, giving his one-hour stump speech at what seemed like full volume over and over again.
“He runs the 25-year-old staffers into the ground,” says one former aide who recently left the campaign, which has shed team members as Clinton has closed in on the nomination.
Another ex-staffer expressed similar surprise at Sanders’ grueling pace.
“Most candidates half his age would strain under the weight of that schedule. There was one day where he hit five or six states in a single day. I really don’t understand how he does it,” the staffer said.
So how DOES he do it?
His wife, Jane, described her husband as “just one of those people who is built to keep going.” He has been sick fewer than half a dozen times in their 28-year marriage, she said, and she credits his endurance to the fact that he was a competitive runner in high school.
It’s certainly not his diet — he tends toward meat at meals, corn is his go-to vegetable, and his aides know to keep salty snacks, like pretzels, on hand in the limo. It’s probably not genetics — both his parents died young. It’s not because he is cosseted and spoiled on the trail. The former aide says “it pisses him off if we try to pamper him” and noted his preference for “simple” stops on the road.
“He’s a Hampton Inn guy, and he’s a diner guy. He’s, like, a Denny’s guy.”
It’s also not because he is religious about sleep — he is a night owl who often stays up too late — or exercises strenuously. There’s no gym time slotted on his schedule, though he often detours the motorcade to a field, or even an empty parking lot, so he can go for a brisk walk between events, with the Secret Service keeping people at bay. Staffers call these constitutionals “the Sanders Stroll.”
“He cannot stand that he doesn’t get fresh air and have a chance to walk,” his wife says. “It was 10 degrees in Wisconsin, and we went for an hour walk.”
Back home he rides his bike every day, she says, and when the Secret Service protection started one requirement was that the agents have bicycles.
And how does he keep his voice from disappearing, as happens to many candidates after such a long slog? That’s something Jane Sanders worries about. By the end of one of his congressional campaigns, he did in fact lose his voice completely and required surgery to remove a polyp from his vocal cords. Now he drinks a lot of hot green tea with lemon, she says, and has learned to rely on a microphone when he is speaking, rather than just shouting, as he did earlier in his career.
But mostly, she says, he is fueled by a lifelong feeling that you have to cram as much into a day as possible. “I first met him when he was mayor of Burlington,” she says, and even back then “he was always saying, ‘We have to accomplish this now because we don’t know how long we’ll be here.’ So he’s always pushing for a fuller day” of events. “If there are arguments with staff over the schedule, it’s always him saying, ‘What do you mean, just one rally?’ He wants to do as many events as possible, go to as many places as possible, saying, ‘We only have a certain amount of time.’”
So Bernie will not stop. Not for those in his party who say he has no real road to the nomination and that his extended campaign is only helping Donald Trump, and not for those in his circle who might be getting a little tired.
Make sure to read Belkin’s full report here.
5. The best of the rest
With all of the recent Beltway buzz about independent and third-party candidates — potential #NeverTrump standard-bearer David French; Libertarian duo Gary Johnson and Bill Weld — it’s worth remembering (as we hinted above) that not all insurgent candidacies are alike.
1948 is a perfect example.
That year, former FDR Vice President Henry Wallace, who was replaced at the 1944 Democratic convention by Harry S. Truman, launched his own left-wing White House bid in July at the newly formed Progressive Party’s convention in Philadelphia; meanwhile, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond walked out of the Democratic convention — also held in Philadelphia in July — after the party added a civil rights plank to its platform. He soon embarked on a Dixiecrat run of his own.
In the end, both Wallace and Thurmond won 2.4 percent of the popular vote. But only Thurmond earned any electoral votes — 39 of them, in fact. Why? Because his support was concentrated in one region: the Deep South. If none of this year’s independent or third-party candidates have the same regional appeal, it’s unlikely that any of them will get on the electoral-vote board.
For the latest data, make sure to check the Yahoo News delegate scorecard and primary calendar.