The Libertarian Party on Monday afternoon re-elected in a surprising first-ballot landslide incumbent Chair Nicholas Sarwark to an unprecedented third consecutive two-year term. In doing so, the nation's third-largest political party swatted down what was supposed to be the most contentious challenge at its biannual national convention—to a leadership that was considered by various critics to be too operationally incremental, too ideologically tepid, and too (in the words of Ludwig von Mises Institute Senior Fellow and popular podcaster Tom Woods at a nearby New Orleans rally Saturday) "SJW-friendly."
Instead, Sarwark's main opponent, the Mises Caucus-endorsed Joshua Smith, stumbled badly in a defensive debate performance at the New Orleans Hyatt Regency Sunday night, and ended up Monday on the business end of a 65 percent-22 percent rout. In the vice chair race, two-term incumbent Arvin Vohra, who has become a lightning rod over the past year-plus for intentionally provocative public comments such as "Bad Idea: School Shootings. Good Idea: School Board Shootings," was resoundingly drummed out of office, never receiving more than 11 percent of the vote in three rounds of balloting that ended Tuesday with a positivity-exuding 33-year-old finance/tech/consulting guy named Alex Merced squeaking past the 50 percent finish line.
"What I think the race shows is that if you want to change the direction of the Libertarian Party, if you have new ideas about how we can grow and reach new members, the election of Merced to vice chair shows that the delegates want that kind of change," Sarwark told me Tuesday afternoon. "If your campaign is seen, or has themes of trying to kick people out, of trying to attack people like Gov. Weld, or... basically anyone—if your campaign was seen as trying to drive people out of the party, the delegates soundly rejected that. And I think that that is the biggest takeaway from the convention."
Weld, the controversial-within-the-party 2016 vice presidential nominee and former moderate Republican Massachusetts governor who is laying the groundwork for a possible 2020 presidential run (and was everywhere to be seen at the convention, amiably taking on all skeptical comers), played a pivotal role in the decisive debate. Candidates had the opportunity to ask their opponents one question, and when it was Smith's turn, a delegate in the audience shouted out, "What do you think about Bill Weld?!" (Weld-heckling was a sporadic feature throughout the three-day event.) Smith decided to make that his question.
"What I think about Bill Weld," Sarwark started slowly, building into a feisty crescendo, "is that he is still in the Libertarian Party, while many of his opponents are not. [He's been] raising money for and endorsing Libertarian candidates. He is fundraising for us. And the exposure of Bill Weld to the Libertarian Party has not made the Libertarian Party more like an establishment Republican, but has made Bill Weld a lot more like a Libertarian....He knows something about winning public office, and [we need to] learn how to do that from anybody who will help us, anybody who will join us. And we should not PUSH PEOPLE OUT who are willing to help!"
As New York gubernatorial candidate and popular party organizer Larry Sharpe, who had backed Smith, commented later, after that exchange it was "game over."