This is the sixth part of a seven part series I will do this week making the case for and against each of the major candidates, with a wrap-up on the weekend. I did this in 2012 and I will observe the same ground rule I did then: making the case for a candidate means making the case for a candidate, not a case against the opponent. That’s the subject of later posts. So “he’s not Hillary” is not a reason I will list for voting for Trump and “she’s not Trump” is not a reason I will list for voting for Clinton. Each one of them will get their own special post all to themselves about they don’t deserve our votes.
Today, I’ll look at the case for and against the man I voted for in 2012 and will most likely vote for this year: Gary Johnson.
For the first time ever, the Libertarian Party has a chance to make some real noise. The extreme unpopularity of the two major candidates has Gary Johnson polling at about 10% and threatening to have a Perot-sized impact on the race. Young people, in particular, are taken with Johnson, who is currently outpolling Trump and could possibly overtake Clinton. Numerous analyses have indicated that this is the biggest reason for Clinton’s tumble at the polls: young voters moving to Johnson and Stein.
The reason to not for Gary Johnson is pretty straight forward.
A vote for Johnson may spill the election to Clinton or Trump (although it’s not clear which). This is the biggest reason I’ve heard for not voting for Johnson. I’ve heard it from the Right and from the Left (Krugman had a particularly silly column today on the subject). If you honestly think that one of these candidates is going to bring about the apocalypse and the other won’t, this is a big reason not to vote for Johnson.
Johnson is a small-government conservative who favors marijuana legalization and a United States that is less involved with foreign countries. I know it sounds weird, in this election, to make the case against a candidate based on, you know, issues but those are the biggest reasons one might vote against him: if you fear isolationism, support the War on Drugs and want a bigger government, Johnson is not your guy.
There are some other things you could say against him: he doesn’t have foreign policy experience; he’s an admitted marijuana user (who has given it up for the campaign); he has been out of government for more than a decade; he hasn’t got much of a personality (although I find that to be a blessed relief). But for me, the main reasons one might vote against him arex his potential as a spoiler and his stance on the issues.
The reasons to vote for him?
Johnson-Weld is easily the best of the four tickets. Donald Trump has no experience in government. His running mate is one-term governor who had a very good chance of being unelected this fall. Clinton’s experience, as I noted, is less impressive the more you look at it. Her running mate was a moderately successful governor of Virginia.
By contrast, Johnson and Weld were both twice-elected Republican governors of blue states with strong records of fiscal restraint. Johnson, in particular, vetoed the hell out of spending in New Mexico (although he was often overridden). Both are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Neither has been tainted by scandal. And they are running a clean issues-oriented campaign. They have now received more endorsements than Trump, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, which broke a century-long streak of endorsing Republicans. And every endorsement says what I said above: they are experienced governors who can get things done but have shown no compunction about facing down their legislatures when they think it’s important. They do have a few positions I don’t like, such as the Fair Tax. But overall, this is best ticket I’ve seen on a ballot since Reagan-Bush. No, that’s not a joke.
If they had a shot at winning, this would be no contest. But they are polling at around 10% and likely to perform a bit under that. They have not been invited to the debates (despite polling around where Perot was in 1992), which puts a crimp in any plan to upset the leaders. So it is very likely, barring a spectacular meltdown by one of the front-runners, that they will win. So, ultimately, this may end up a protest vote.
But in this case, a protest vote might be more important than ever because:
A strong libertarian vote would scare the parties. Ross Perot’s 1992 success was a big reason we had a balanced budget in the 1990’s. That was his signature issue and garnering 19% of the vote scared the crap out of both parties and let them know what the American people wanted.
Johnson doesn’t have as much of a signature issue, however, so it’s not clear what message would be sent other than, “We hate you both.” But a strong libertarian movement would, while not necessarily empowering the Libertarian Party itself, create a formidable voting block that has to be reckoned with.
The popularity of Johnson among young people is one of the most positive political trends in the last decade. I really hope he can sustain it because young liberty-oriented people would grow up to a motivated liberty-oriented voting block. And God knows we need that right now.
A strong libertarian showing would deny either candidate a mandate. If Gary Johnson polls well, the winner of this election will have less than half the vote. If he polls extremely well, they could even poll under 40. Such a low showing would deny either candidate a mandate for their agenda (although both would claim it anyway). They would find themselves in the same position Bill Clinton once did: weak, opposed and without a mandate. Bill was a slick enough politician to get what he wanted done anyway (while he still had Congress, at least). Neither Clinton nor Trump are the equal of Slick Willie. And they will face a determined Republican Congress.
This “lack of mandate” stuff is not just inside the beltway politician talk. It’s real. It’s the biggest reason why the parties agreed to lock third parties out of the debates after 1996. They realized that if Perot-scale showings became routine, we would have a series of weakened Presidents governing without a mandate, if you can imagine such a thing.
The reason to vote for Gary Johnson, oddly enough, is the same reason many people voted for Bernie Sanders. It has the potential to shake up the system. And this system badly needs shaking. Donald Trump isn’t the one to bring real change. He’s the vomitus of a sick system; a political insider pretending to be an outsider. Hillary Clinton isn’t the one to bring real change, either. As my friend Maggie McNeill said, Hillary couldn’t be more establishment if she had a concrete foundation and were wired for electricity. Johnson, on the other hand … could be.