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Why the hell did Trump speak at the Libertarian convention?

“The Libertarian Party should nominate Trump for president of the United States,” Trump said in an address to the Libertarian National Convention over the weekend. The exhortation was met with a resounding chorus of boos and jeers. “What?” the former president asked, reeling from the hostile reception. “Only if you want to win,” he steadied himself. “Maybe you don’t want to win.”

When it comes to the Libertarian Party, that’s not an assumption that can be summarily ruled out. But nor is it especially remarkable to see a group of committed ideologues beholden to the promotion of laissez-faire economics at home and nonintervention abroad look askance at the former Republican president, particularly given his explicit disdain for the virtues of small government.

Nor should the reaction to Trump surprise anyone given the way in which he solicited libertarians’ support. Trump insisted that he was himself a “libertarian without even trying to be one.” Why? Because “in the last year, I’ve been indicted by the government on 91 different things, so, if I wasn’t a libertarian before, I sure as hell am one now.”

For libertarians who come to their free-market maximalism and civil libertarianism by way of an intellectual exercise, Trump’s shallow profession of fealty to the libertarian movement comes off as remarkably flip. His conversion narrative begins and ends with a self-pitying reflection on his own circumstances. It culminates in the stereotype that libertarians are thoughtlessly soft on crime. By the end of his solicitation, Trump appears to lose even the few convention attendees who initially cheered his appearance.

Trump seemed embittered by his reception. “Keep getting your 3 percent every four years,” he closed dismissively. The animosity is clearly mutual.

In recent weeks, Trump and his campaign have received deserved plaudits for making the most of the former president’s legal obligations by cleverly holding impromptu campaign events in New York City’s diverse boroughs. Even if no one expects Trump to carry the Bronx in November, making a show of his appeal to voters outside the Republican base is still valuable. Not only can that approach yield dividends by peeling off Democratic voters on the margins, it also hijacks the news cycle. The Biden campaign seems incapable of doing anything interesting, and Trump has filled the void left by the president’s comatose reelection effort.

But there are risks in that strategy as well as rewards. As the former president’s appearance before the Libertarian Convention demonstrates, there’s little value in appealing to voters outside the base if the candidate cannot conceal his contempt for them.

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