I've followed governor Gary Johnson with mild interest since becoming aware of him during his 2012 campaign. Reason Magazine in particular has covered him closely over the years. In 2012, he was about as marginal a figure in the campaign as a third party candidate can be. But this cycle, with both major parties nominating candidates having historically low approval ratings, Johnson looks increasingly relevant. That this would happen to a libertarian seems ironic after Rand Paul’s dismal primary campaign, but Johnson has drawn the attention of ex-Bernie supporters and fiscal conservatives alike.
The most important number in the Johnson campaign is 15. To qualify for the debates, which will allow him access to an audience bigger than he has ever had access to before, Johnson needs to poll at 15% nationally — which he is attempting to get to before August 15th.
I don’t want the governor to be our president, but I want to see him in the debates. His voice would probably be a breath of fresh air in the debates and introduce some sanity to the discourse. I am not a Libertarian, but at this point in our national dialogue, the Libertarian perspective — which is important and beneficial — has been completely lost. Neither Clinton nor Trump have an ounce of libertarian thinking. Specifically, I mean a healthy skepticism at the governments ability to do everything well, attention to the unintended consequences of policy, attention to police militarization/violence, and attention to the costs of the drug war. In so many ways America has become so un-Libertarian, that even if you don’t believe in a libertarian society, the notion that America should be more libertarian on a relative basis should be much less controversial. As Republicans have (perhaps only temporarily) relinquished their alliance with economic conservatism, Libertarians seem to be the only ones drawing attention to economic truisms, like that good policy intentions do not equally good results (and in fact have unintended consequences) and that comparative advantage exists (as the recent wave of anti-free trade sentiment has forgotten).
Johnson on stage would also represent the possibility of the honest politician. He constantly seems like a genuine, and dare I say cool guy. Johnson, having grown up in the middle class, started a business in college that he grew into a multi-million dollar enterprise, in a classically American way. He built his own home. He is a spectacular athlete, having competed in Iron Men competitions. As a mountain climber, he has climbed the famed Seven Summits, the seven highest peaks in the world. He is a paraglider and avid skier, having proposed to his fiancée on a chairlift at the Taos ski resort.
Johnson has disappointed me in some ways this cycle though. In an attempt to woo the "Bernie or Bust" crowd, he has moved left, at least rhetorically. Particularly on religious liberty, gun rights, and an overarching vision of small government, Johnson has softened. Even so, his message is still largely libertarian, and his voice should still be beneficial.
Despite not wanting Johnson to be president, I still might vote for him. I live in California, an uncontested state, so my vote is not relevant to the outcome of the election. Even in a swing state, the odds of a single vote is minuscule. A favorite statistic of mine, calculated by Nate Silver is that of any state one would vote in, an individual’s highest chance of flipping a presidential election is in Virginia, and even there the odds are 1/10,000,000. Why vote for him then? Because if the Libertarian Party receives 5% of the vote, they gain access to approximately 10 million dollars in federal funding, allowing them a much louder voice in 2020. As the role of third parties has traditionally been to influence the priorities of the Democrats and Republicans, hopefully a louder Libertarian party will make the political establishment more liberty-oriented.
With increasingly mind numbing political rhetoric, a fresh voice is needed. And even if you don’t agree with Johnson to a large degree, a new voice on the debate stage will disrupt the inevitable, boring back and forth of the two major candidate. So if you are called by a pollster in the coming weeks, tell them Johnson.