‘No wannabe dictators!’: Donald Trump booed at Libertarian convention | US elections 2024

Donald Trump, the former US president, has suffered the rare humiliation of getting booed and heckled during a raucous speech to the Libertarian National Convention.

Trump’s rocky ride at a Washington hotel on Saturday night, including cries of “Bullshit!” and “Fuck you!”, underlined the challenge that the Republican presidential nominee faces to broaden his appeal both left and right on the political spectrum.

“The fact is we should not be fighting each other,” Trump pleaded. “If Joe Biden gets back in, there will be no more liberty for anyone in our country. Combine with us in a partnership – we’re asking that of the libertarians. We must work together. Combine with us. You have to combine with us.”

The appeal went down like a lead balloon as delegates booed, jeered and shouted insults. It was a stunning rebuke for a man who has become accustomed to cult-like rallies where his every word is cheered to the echo.

The Libertarian party, which prioritises small government and individual freedoms, typically gains 3% or less of the national vote but its members could yet prove crucial in swing states this November. Trump’s clumsy attempt to court them resulted in him scolding them instead.

Taking the stage, he was confronted by Libertarians, who have their own factional disputes, shouting insults and decrying him for running up huge federal deficits and enriching pharmaceutical companies with the coronavirus vaccine development. A smaller core of diehard Trump supporters clad in “Make America great again” hats and T-shirts chanted “USA! USA!”. One person unfurled a Palestinian flag.

A Libertarian party member shouts protests as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the Libertarian National Convention in Washington. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Amid this melee, Trump’s appeal to Libertarians to vote for him or join his campaign were repeatedly rebuffed. Referring to the four criminal indictments against him, he joked: “If I wasn’t a libertarian before, I sure as hell am a libertarian now.”

The ex-president quoted an article written by political commentator Deroy Murdock arguing that Libertarians should vote for Trump. The crowd again erupted in boos and jeers.

Trump retorted: “Only if you want to win. Only if you want to win. Maybe you don’t want to win. Maybe you don’t want to win. Only do that if you want to win. If you want to lose, don’t do that. Keep getting your 3% every four years.”

Trump went on to argue that Libertarians should make him their presidential nominee or at least vote for him in the election. Again there were boos and wails of derision. He went on: “The Libertarians want to vote for me and most of them will because we have to get rid of the worst president in history and together we will.”

The Republican promised that, if elected, he would put a Libertarian in his cabinet and others in senior posts. Again the crowd made clear its dissent. Ever the salesman, Trump prodded: “Pretty good. That’s pretty big.” But this time the old tricks did not work.

Again Trump chided them for getting 3% in past elections. Competing with chants, he said: “No, you want to make yourself winners, it’s time to be winners. You have a lot of common sense.”

Trump pressed on with his speech, saying he’d come “to extend a hand of friendship” in common opposition to Biden. That prompted a chant of “We want Trump!” from supporters, but more cries of “End the Fed!” – a common refrain from Libertarians who oppose the Federal Reserve. One person who held up a sign reading “No wannabe dictators!” was dragged away by security.

The ex-president claimed that much of his record was libertarian, citing examples such as tax cuts, slashing bureaucratic red tape, cancelling and defunding federal diversity, equity and inclusion programmes. He promised to appoint Libertarians to a taskforce to “rapidly review the cases of every political prisoner who has been unjustly persecuted” by Joe Biden’s administration.

Trump said: “As everyone knows, it will be my great honour to pardon the peaceful January 6 protesters or, as I often call them, the hostages. They’re hostages. There has never been a group of people treated so harshly or unfairly in our country’s history. This abuse will be rectified and it will be rectified very quickly.”

“And if you vote for me on day one I will commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht.” The room, where many had been waving “Free Ross” signs, erupted in roars and whistles of approval. Ulbricht was the founder of Silk Road, an online marketplace for the sale of heroin, cocaine, LSD and other illegal drugs, who in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison.

With that the tide had turned in Trump’s favour and his gamble of addressing the convention was looking less disastrous than it first appeared. The crowd gradually became more muted and supportive.

The ex-president received further acclaim for pledging to sign an executive order banning federal agencies from censoring free speech, introduce record tax cuts, oppose the Green New Deal and drill for oil and gas, secure the future of crypto and bitcoin currencies and defend religious liberty and gun rights.

Still, not everyone was won over. When Trump said, “I want your support and again, you can either nominate us and put us in the position or give us your vote,” a chorus of boos rose again.

Afterwards one delegate, who gave his name only as Joe, said: “He’s full of shit.”

Glen Lewis, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Mississippi, said: “It was a lot of politicking. He came here to tell us to pull our people’s votes towards him using the fear of Joe Biden’s presidency. But real men and women vote on integrity.”

Lewis, 54, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, added: “I went into the group of Trump supporters who could not defend him printing money. They could not defend him giving immunity to the pharmaceutical companies. They could not defend him not stopping wars. I will benefit him with not starting any new ones, but he did not end the ones that were there.”

Michael Fitch, 35, who has been a member of the Libertarian Party since 2012, said he appreciated Trump’s “bravery” in coming to the convention but has no intention of voting for him. “A lot of people like Donald Trump because they think he’s a conservative but he’s not a conservative,” he said. “He actually raised the deficit – he spent millions and millions of dollars.

“He capitulated to the pharma regime. Obviously his base, the Maga revolution, is very anti-lockdown but Donald Trump was the one who did Operation Warp Speed. We can’t let this guy off the hook: if we’re gonna come after [Anthony] Fauci and Biden, Trump’s on the same list. He’s just as complicit as the rest of them. I don’t think his base fully appreciates that and Donald Trump isn’t going to be the one to tell them it.”

Joe Gravagna, 77, a retired computer security worker from Westfield, Indiana, said he voted the Libertarian candidate in 2020 but might consider Trump this time. “I like his ideas on deregulation, de-weaponising the justice system and non-intervention. He’s less of a hawk. I don’t think he likes wars. Anybody worth their salt would not have left Afghanistan with $88bn worth of weapons left behind.”

Among the committed Republicans in the room was Brandi Bohannon, 37, from Gulf Shores, Alabama. She said: “He’s different. No wars. He doesn’t get paid off by K Street. He’s honest. He’s feisty.

“We’ve never had a border this open ever – what, 8m have crossed? These wars would have never happened under Trump. Russia would never have invaded Ukraine. Israel and Palestine wouldn’t have gone to war. Serbia and Bosnia look like they’re about to go after each other again. So scary times.”

Libertarians will pick their White House nominee during their convention, which wraps up on Sunday. Trump’s appearance also gave him a chance to court voters who might otherwise support independent presidential candidate Robert Kennedy Jr, who gave his own Libertarian convention speech on Friday.

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