Gary Johnson for President

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December 28 marked an important day in Libertarian Party history — the day that the party gained a presidential candidate, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, capable of smashing its previous high in any presidential election, and perhaps even making the LP marginally relevant for once (or, at least, gaining the party's second-ever electoral vote). Johnson as standard bearer would be something of a perfect storm for the LP — which, though unavoidably also a tempest in a teapot, would nonetheless make a bigger splash than the Party has ever been capable of before.

Flash back to the last election cycle. No, go back two, to 2004, when the LP, still reeling from Harry Browne’s machinations, nominated a complete unknown as its presidential candidate. The list of “missed opportunities by the Libertarian Party” is a long and tragicomic one, but surely the choice of Michael Badnarik must be at or near the top: in an election evenly split between the military-statist Bush and the eco-statist Gore, the LP could’ve had a healthy cut of the excluded middle — but Badnarik’s was not the name to draw those voters.

In 2008, with that swing-and-a-miss behind them, the LP whiffed with the opposite approach, nominating a big name who was a, shall we say, imperfect fit with party ideals. I’m not one to deny the place of pragmatism in politics, but the man who authored the Defense of Marriage Amendment and fervently prosecuted the Drug War was a strange choice for the supposed party of freedom. No matter how hard he pushed his Road to Damascus narrative, a large chunk of the LP base (namely, donors and state and local party poobahs) was never going to buy into his campaign.

As a result, Bob Barr’s failure was utterly predictable — the rift in the party in 2008 was clear for all to see — but more to the point, just as utterly inevitable. In Barack Obama, the Democrats found a candidate who could reach out to the same undecideds the LP tries to make its own — those looking to cast a vote in dissent, anything so long as it has nothing to do with the party in power. Empty as we now know (or always knew) his promises of “Hope” and “Change” to be, they were nonetheless effective in closing off any change the Libertarians had of playing a role in the last cycle.

All of which is to say, the LP screwed up by getting its candidates backward — if anything, the off-the-ranch Republican with name recognition would have fared much better in 2004, serving as an alternative to two unpalatable statists. Meanwhile, 2008 would have been the time to run an outsider, someone who could elucidate a libertarian point of view, in the rare moments he (or she — vide Mary Ruwart) was called upon to do so.

But in 2012, the LP has the opportunity to pitch a candidate to an electorate seemingly sick of the whole process. Obama’s broken promises, aforementioned, have alienated a small but substantial portion of his base — those who cannot overlook our nation’s ongoing, unnecessary, and inhumane foreign wars; the continued attacks on the constitutional rights of the citizenry; the all-enveloping secrecy in which the government carries on its affairs; the gulag archipelago we are building up in our modern prison system . . . in short, all those left-leaning pundits and bloggers not in step with the all-conquering Obama line foisted upon us hourly by the power-loving, bootlicking establishment media outlets.

Who will these people turn to? Certainly not the Republican Party, at least not once Ron Paul again is defeated by, or cedes way to, a far inferior challenger. Despite moments in the sun for the laughable Herman Cain and the odious Newt Gingrich (not to mention Rick Perry’s campaign, brought to you by Tom of Finland), this nomination has from the first been Mitt Romney’s to lose. Only trouble is, Romney and Obama are, as The Root recognized long ago, nearly the same person. And more recently, one of Romney’s chief advisors was heard loudly rattling the saber for war with Iran — something that seems increasingly inevitable whichever party ends up with its finger on the button.

Hence, there is a chance that an experienced, eloquent Libertarian Party candidate — one capable of making, forcefully, the case against war, whether against other nations that pose no threat to us, or against those of our own citizens whose only crime is to ingest federally frowned-upon substances — could steal a sizable chunk of the vote, and not just from the college crowd (who, as we all know, don’t vote — I should know: I am one still). And that’s where Gary Johnson comes in. He’s an experienced pol who has the benefit of gaining his experience in a somewhat out-of-the-way state, allowing him both to get away with more than he might elsewhere (witness the in-progress crucifixion of Chris Christie in New Jersey), and to get raves from both Right and Left at different times for his handling of budgets and various other crises.

Additionally, Johnson has a legitimate beef with the presidential process, which effectively killed his campaign before it had hardly started by the simple expedient of refusing to let him speak alongside other candidates. By switching over to the LP, Johnson can present himself as a true outsider, one unbeholden to the major-party machines and their media purse-chihuahuas. His strongest issue, the legalization of marijuana (and decriminalization of other presently illegal drugs), will find supporters all along the political spectrum, especially those who for some reason expected Obama to live up to promises to back off medical dispensaries, rather than double down on the persecution. And he is glib enough (and has the voting record, besides) to avoid the typical traps laid down for third-party candidates: disaster management, education and child safety, national security. Likewise, he lacks the baggage some others do — most particularly, he has no history of orgazinational racism or anti-gay bias in his past. And — though this ought to be by far the least important thing about him — at 58 and in good shape, he remains telegenic and does not come off as a coot or a crank.

To close, I note that this is not an endorsement, either for Liberty or for myself, personally. It is, instead, a recommendation. If the Libertarian Party wishes to be relevant in this cycle, then it should gather round Johnson early on, kick the fundraising into gear, and come May’s national convention, launch his candidacy with as much money and PR as can be mustered. If, instead, the LP’s members wish to continue as they always have, then they should quibble and cavil and play up faults in Johnson’s record, and ensure that he is hobbled heading into the general election.

The choice is there, and with it a rare opportunity. But with things finally breaking the LP’s way, what remains to be seen is whether the party is capable of taking advantage.



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Comments

Brian

What is all this talk of relevence? The LP is never going to be relevent to Republicans or Democrats.
Even Paul, who is hardly a libetarian, will receive less than 5% of the votes of Republican and Democratic voters.
The goal of the LP should be to get the votes of the 50+% that do not vote. They need to think about why they don't vote, what would motivate them to vote, etc. Conversions from true believers are very difficult. But, fortunately, the majority of americans could care less about the Democrats or Republicans.
This process has nothing to do with presidental campaigns. This process begins at the coutny level. Nothing will happen for the LP until it can convince that majority to go out and vote.

Rocketman

No one know what the future will be, but in all likelihood, I can say that I wish it weren't true but Paul is not going to win. The game is rigged. The best possible scenario that I can see is that Paul seeing that he is not going to win goes on television and tells all of his followers that he is leaving the race and to please vote for Gary Johnson as the Libertarian Party candidate. That would give the LP a huge shot in the arm and the LP could come in a strong third place. Johnson needs to get his people in touch with Pauls people and let them know just how close they are in their beliefs and that he would welcome Pauls endorsement is Paul doesn't get the nomination.

Rodney Choate

Everyone here is right, and everyone is wrong.

Regarding the election of president, the system is rigged against alternative candidates. The primary mechanism for the rigging is the requirement that the electors be chosen on a single, specified day- thus forcing plurality elections in each state, with the consequent spoiler problem. This is an evil and dangerous way to elect people. The proper election system is to have one public primary and one public runoff, state by state. Then, in the electoral college, the win could be by plurality (this last condition would not be absolutely necessary and would, of course, require amending the Constitution).

And it is THIS state of affairs, in the presidential election, that shapes party successes for the rest of the country, at all levels of government!!

In my opinion, until this problem would be fixed our discussions will pretty much lead nowhere.

Scott Jensen

If Gary Johnson wants to advance libertarianism, the WORST thing he could do is run on the LP ticket as its presidential candidate. The BEST thing he could do is run for the US Senate seat currently held by the retiring Democrat Jeff Bingaman in his home state of New Mexico (of which Gary is a former governor). By becoming a US Senator, Gary will position himself VERY nicely for 2016 or 2020 presidential races as a politician that has both chief executive experience (former Governor of New Mexico) and federal political experience (US Senator). And just Gary being in the US Senate will be a HUGE victory for libertarianism. The more libertarian voices in the US Congress, the better!

Jon Harrison

There is no such thing as an important day in Libertarian Party history. The LP is an irrelevancy. If Ron Paul were its 2012 candidate, then the LP could make history -- by guaranteeing Obama's reelection. Paul would get enough votes to give Barack a second term. Gary Johnson won't.

The LP should transform itself into a lobbying organization that pushes an agenda in Washington D.C. and in state houses from coast to coast. It could actually have an impact on issues like spending and taxes, drug legalization, and even (perhaps) reigning in the National Security State. But that of course would require real commitment and work. The LP, a refuge for losers and cranks, would rather play at politics than try to achieve something in the real world.

Mark Ian Uzick

"Paul would get enough votes to give Barack a second term. Gary Johnson won't."

If the Republicans look like an odds on bet to win the senate, the potential for evil that a "progressive" Republican in the White House allows would be far greater than a second term for Obama; an Obama administration with Republicans controlling both houses would probably have much in common with Clinton's second term.

Under that circumstance, it would do more good to vote directly for Obama than to waste it on a third party Libertarian.

If it looks like the democrats can hold the senate, then any kind of Republican president would be preferable to maintaining the current situation.

I think that Paul understands this and that Johnson is just bitter about the way he's been treated.

Russell Hasan

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Harrison. I am myself a loyal member of the Republican Party, but I think that the nomination of a candidate who is more likely to be taken seriously than the typical Libertarian Party candidate is not without significance. It seems to me that for those of us who want to create a more perfect American society there are really three options: 1. give up and become pessimists, 2. take over the Republican Party and wrest control away from the conservatives, or 3. abandon the Republican Party and try to get the Libertarian Party to actually try to win elections instead of preaching holier-than-thou fringe impractical idealism. I have high hopes for choice 2 (the GOP), but if Ron Paul does not win the nomination then choice 3 (the LP) is the best from among the remaining possibilities. Choice 1 (hopeless do-nothing pessimism), unfortunately, is what most libertarians will end up with. Also the public is a fickle and unpredictable creature and stranger things than the Libertarian candidate winning the White House have happened. But even though the LP is, at least for now, a joke, they do perform a valuable role by exposing the public to libertarian ideology and "making a statement." Having a viable candidate will help them to accomplish that purpose.

Jim Henshaw

re this: "Also the public is a fickle and unpredictable creature and stranger things than the Libertarian candidate winning the White House have happened."

Something stranger has happened in politics than a presidential candidate from an established political party going from 1% of the vote to 40% or so of the vote in a single election cycle?

Can you give me an example?

Much as I would like Gary Johnson to become the first LP president, I give it a 0.0% probability. If he can break into the high single digits, that would be considered a huge victory for the LP -- people would start taking us seriously.

For that matter, I would say it is far from a slam-dunk that Johnson will win the LP nomination -- about half the people who showed up at the last convention were more or less purists who voted for Ruwart, and who will be considering voting for her SO, Lee Wrights.

Russell Hasan

I think that Mr. Henshaw's probability math is slightly incorrect. Perhaps the Libertarian Party has a 0.00001% chance of winning the White House, but absolute zero is difficult to achieve in a political election where (to the best of my knowledge) the vote is not actually rigged, although the structure is designed to favor a two party system. I think that the American Revolution's rebels defeating the British Empire was about a likely as the LP quickly getting its act together and competing, and then there is the famous "Dewey Defeats Truman." My point was not that the LP is likely to win but that, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, you can rule out the impossible but not the improbable.

Aside from that, if the LP ends up not nominating Johnson then I think they will have truly destroyed any hope of the LP ever achieving relevance, however small that chance was to begin with. But of course my belief that libertarians should actually win elections is what drew me to the GOP.

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