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Focus On Libertarian Election Amid Voter Discontent Over Clinton-Trump Race


The Libertarian Party is expected to nominate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, as its candidate for president this weekend at the party's national convention in Orlando. William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, is running with him for vice president. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may have the highest disapproval ratings ever for major party nominees. Some people are openly looking for a third party movement. The libertarians already have one. Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason.com, the libertarian magazine, and he joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

NICK GILLESPIE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Do you see 2016 as some kind of potential breakthrough for a national Libertarian Party?

GILLESPIE: Yeah, I do, and more importantly, I think it's for libertarian policies or libertarian sensibilities. One of the things that has happened over this election season - the Democratic and Republican parties have been getting more and more extreme. They've been moving more and more to their far edges and suddenly the Libertarian Party, they're in the center of the American political debate. When you look at somebody like Gary Johnson and William Weld, these are two moderate Republican governors who were pro-choice, pro-immigration, antiwar. They're the moderates in this race.

SIMON: William Weld has compared Donald Trump's proposed roundup of illegal immigrants to Adolf Hitler's policy. And he said, look, I was on the Holocaust Memorial Commission, I don't say this lightly. Do you agree with him?

GILLESPIE: I think that there is no question that if Donald Trump is serious about rounding up 11 million - or he says there's 12 million illegal immigrants and they've got to go - the only way that you can do that is to create some iteration of a police state. We'll be showing our papers. We will be bringing the federal government and all kinds of law enforcement problems into everyday life in a way that is absolutely unthinkable at this point.

So the Kristol mock might be a little overheated, but there is no question that this is very problematic. And I would also say, to link it to Hillary Clinton - Hillary Clinton is a huge proponent of government surveillance of virtually every kind of communication that's going on. She is somebody who has likened Edward Snowden to a traitor. She thinks he needs to be brought home and put in prison. You know, we can have the trial later.

So one of the things that is fascinating, and I think this is what is motivating people to look at the libertarian alternative, is that Trump and Hillary obviously in many ways are polar opposites or certainly extreme. But they end up matching up on a lot of very key issues that are important to people. And then you have these people in the little middle who are like, you know, why don't we try free minds and free markets for change?

SIMON: Nick, the way you describe it - I don't know, I would guess 65 percent of the American people might vote Libertarian, except as we know according to the polls, maybe 10 percent. So what's the difference?

GILLESPIE: One of it is that politics are a lagging indicator of where American sensibilities are. What you are looking at over the long term, the past 40 or 50 years, is a hollowing out of voter identification with the Republican and Democratic Party. According to Gallup, voter identification with the Democrats and Republicans are at or near historic lows. Basically, the polls are saying about 40 percent say they'll vote for Trump, about 40 percent for Hillary. It may be, you know, one of the first elections in a long time where the winner is at 40 percent or somewhere around there.

SIMON: Is there a debate among libertarians as to whether it makes more sense to run an Independent Party, build your own party or to try and have your ideas adopted by one of the major parties?

GILLESPIE: They obviously believe in having an alternative party, and it's been around since the early '70s. It's on the ballot in all 50 states. Mostly they have run a kind of informational or educational campaigns. This time, I think they're more serious because there's a reason to believe, you know, that they can get 5 or 10 or even 15 percent.

I think the outcome of that is if the libertarians do well and especially if they more than cover the difference between the eventual winner - either the Republican or the Democratic Party are going to start looking at what are the policies of the libertarians or of this broader libertarian sensibility that they can start adopting to build more people into their vote totals.

SIMON: Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of reason.com, thanks so much.

GILLESPIE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.