Could a Libertarian Party bid derail Trump or Clinton?

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld is expected to run for the party's vice presidential spot as part of the Libertarian effort to secure enough votes to slow Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton's White House run.

Rick Bowmer/AP
Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson waits to speak with legislators at the Utah State Capitol on Wednesday in Salt Lake City. William Weld, who served two terms as the Republican governor of Massachusetts in the 1990s, will announce plans Thursday to seek the Libertarian Party's vice presidential nomination, Johnson confirmed in a Wednesday interview with the Associated Press.

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld is expected to join former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson in an effort to secure the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential and presidential nominations.

Mr. Weld and Mr. Johnson – the Libertarian candidate in the 2012 presidential election – hope that by adding the former Republican governor to their ticket, the party’s bid for the White House can be strengthened and could take votes from the presumptive Democratic and Republican candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“We got together and shook hands on it,” Johnson said of Weld’s plans to join his campaign, in an interview with the Associated Press.

“It brings an enormous amount of credibility to what it is I'm doing. I'm unbelievably flattered by this and humbled,” he said, adding that Weld’s “huge influence” in fundraising could boost his bid. Weld contributed to fundraising efforts for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.

Weld comes to the Libertarian Party after a career of running on Republican and Libertarian ballots for various public offices. He served as Massachusetts’ Republican governor from 1991 to 1997, winning the election for his second term by the widest margin in state history.

Weld’s move to join the Libertarian Johnson in 2016 bolsters the New Mexico governor’s case as the best alternative to Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton, both of whom are among the least-liked major party candidates in the nation’s history. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found Trump and Clinton’s unfavorability ratings to be 57 and 52 percent, respectively, making them by far the least favored front-runners since polling on the topic began – a fact that Johnson and Weld hope will lend their campaign support, and votes.

“When you have Hillary and when you have Trump, I think the two most polarizing figures in American politics today, where (are) the 50 percent of Americans that now declare themselves as independents?” Johnson said in a CNN interview.

Johnson’s campaign took in more than 1.2 million votes in the 2012 general election, good for 1 percent of the popular vote, but believes that mainstream discontent this election season could strengthen his bid enough to deny Clinton or Trump the 270 votes from the electoral college needed to win the presidency.

While third-party or independent presidential bids have been relatively unsuccessful in contemporary times – with the exception of Ross Perot’s 18.9 and 8.4 percent popular vote takes in the 1992 and 1996 races – this year’s race could shape up to offer Johnson’s campaign a better chance than in previous election years. Although a recent Monmouth University poll found Johnson to be an "unknown commodity," with 76 percent of respondents saying they didn't know enough about the Libertarian to put forth an opinion, he took 11 percent of the vote in a hypothetical match-up against Trump and Clinton.

Realistically, however, Johnson and Weld’s bid is a long-shot, even though the Libertarians will be the only third party to appear on ballots in all 50 states. Johnson has said he hopes the party's nominees will appear in national debates, as a third party has "no way" of winning without an invite to the televised events.

But if many of Senator Sanders’s supporters don't support Clinton – and if some Republicans such as Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska turn from Trump –   the Libertarians could have a wider opening than previously thought. The potential Libertarian duo both have political histories including time served as state governors, and could feed off of the energy of Sanders and Trump, who rose to the top of their parties' races despite their outsider statuses.

Johnson must secure a majority of his party’s delegates at the Libertarian National Convention next weekend in Orlando, Fla. to win the nomination, which is contested among a field of more than a dozen candidates. An official announcement of Weld’s bid is expected Thursday.

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