US presidential race 2016
There is a lot to say about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump which explains why Gary Johnson (the Libertarian Party's candidate for president) hasn't attracted much attention. This state of affairs could change. Since the former governor of New Mexico was confirmed as his party's candidate a month ago, his rankings in national polls have nudged double figures. If Johnson can get over 15% in five national polls, he earns an invitation to the presidential debates and greatly increased exposure.
His campaign is still the definition of a long shot. Past experience suggests it is all but impossible for a third party to take the prize (Ross Perot's 1992 run was the most recent; he managed to get 19% of the vote but didn't carry a single state) but when two candidates are as disliked as much as Trump and Clinton, anything can happen.
So who is Johnson and what does he stand for?
Like his running mate, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, Johnson is the former Republican governor of a blue state. A self-made millionaire and former competitive triathlete who has climbed the tallest mountains on all seven continents, Johnson does not stray far from the Libertarian Party slogan of maximum freedom and minimum government. He is not, according to Aaron Homer in this post on The Inquistr in May, a hard man to read:
Sussing out Johnson’s position on just about any issue is a relatively easy undertaking: Imagine whichever response to an issue involves the least amount of government intervention, and you have his position. That means ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, dialing back military spending, supporting gay marriage, ending NSA surveillance, and, in general, truly limiting the size and scope of government, both fiscally and socially.
Some of Johnson's policies are harder to swallow than others (he has said, for example, that he wants to close down the Federal Department of Education). But both Republicans and Democrats can also find something to like in his platform (smaller government for the former, individual freedom for the latter) and, suggests Linda Kallan in the Wall Street Journal, plenty are looking for an alternative:
The Johnson-Weld Libertarian ticket is hoping to appeal not only to the 40% of American voters who identify as independents but to Republicans who don’t like the idea of voting for Mr. Trump and many of Bernie Sanders’s young supporters who aren’t fans of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
On the San Francisco Chronicle's sister site SF Gate, Deborah Saunders scolds the major parties for their choice and finds Johnson to be a refreshing change:
Somehow both parties have nominated candidates who don’t really pass the smell test. Shame on Democrats for nominating a candidate likely to invite dozens of ethics investigations. Shame on Republican voters for picking the one candidate who could hand the White House to Clinton. Voters who are hungry for a positive alternative should pay attention. You can listen to Gary Johnson for a whole hour and not feel dirty afterward.
But in this article on Salon, Conor Lynch rather reluctantly concludes Trump was right when he dismissed Johnson as a 'fringe candidate':
...libertarians do bring much-needed sanity to the American right on issues like militarism, the drug war, and social issues; but their dogmatic insistence that the government can never do anything good and will always lead to tyranny (without considering corporate tyranny through widespread privatization) makes them as irrational as communists who believe the market can never do any good. It also ensures that the movement will always fail at democracy.
Photo: Getty Images/Bill Clark