Gary Johnson: The Libertarian Party's Best Hope Yet?

Conor Friedersdorf thinks so, in a pretty perspicacious piece at the Atlantic. Highlights, after surveying the quality of LP candidates dating back to John Hospers in 1972 (the only one to win an electoral vote, thanks to renegade elector Roger MacBride, who became the LP's 1976 standardbearer):

A former governor of New Mexico, he was re-elected by that state's voters, left office popular after two terms, and therefore has the most executive experience of any Libertarian Party presidential nominee. He can also cite the state he ran as evidence that nothing radical happens when he's put in charge. An economic conservative and social liberal, he represents a new direction for a party that has long wrestled with its paleo-libertarian wing. And yet he too is certain to lose on Election Day, as third-party candidates in American presidential elections do. The question is whether he can match his party's 1980 high-water mark and win 1 percent or more of the vote, and whether he might win even more in the key swing state of New Mexico, where voters already know and have cast ballots for him. 

Reason's coverage of the LP convention this past weekend in which Johnson won the Party's nomination.

For much more on the history of the LP, see my book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.

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  • yonemoto||

    The Libertarian Party's Best Hope Yet?

    The bar is pretty low, although, I'd honestly say that so far, the libertarian party's "Best Hope" was Ron Paul, 2008, before they nominated that Epstein virus.

  • Adamson||

    So basically they like him because he's nothing radical.

    I'd rather take my chances with a Badnarik, who at least walks his talk, than Johnson, who would still be a Republican if they wanted him.

  • daveInAustin||

    Ron Paul would still be a Republican if they wanted him. In fact, they don't want him and he is still a Republican. Does that disqualify him as a libertarian?

  • Adamson||

    Irrelevant - he's not running as a Libertarian.

  • Rob||

    I agree with Barry Goldwater's statement, "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice" but members of teams red and blue tend to react harshly to this idea. Ultimately libertarian ideas get pushed out of the Republican and Democrat tents.

    I'll support a less strident libertarian if it means there is a chance of 1 or 2 libertarian ideas slipping past the red and blue gatekeepers.

  • Proprietist||

    Seriously? If Johnson is little different from Romney in your eyes a.) I'd like a little of what you're smoking and b.) why not just go vote for Jim Duensing with the Boston Tea Party, where all true Scotsmen libertarians reside?

    We like Gary Johnson because he is electable, has experience and consistently supports movement in a libertarian direction. He imperfect and could use more charisma, and some of his policies are merely on the right side of status quo. But he is on the right side, so stop fucking complaining that he isn't Libertarian Jesus. If he can somehow get on stage with Romney and Obama, and call them out for their bullshit policies and reach out to the average American with libertarian solutions, it will be the greatest event in the history of the LP.

  • Adamson||

    He wasn't even a Libertarian until a couple months ago. Those of us who have been in the trenches for decades despair of yet another Presidential Nominee who needs a "LP for Dummies" primer.

    PS: You might be taken a bit more seriously if you didn't use foul language.

  • Proprietist||

    He was a dues-paying member of the LP in 1993 until he realized that hurt his chances at a political future.

    Also, many of us who have been in the trenches for decades despair of losing constantly, not just LP races but in the direction of politics and government in general.

    Libertarians like you who crap all over the first Libertarian (probably even first 3rd party) presidential candidate ever that has more executive experience than both establishment candidates combined because the perfect must be the enemy of the good are simply suicidal, politically.

    You are shooting yourself and your values in the foot and then running a marathon you are always going to lose to the statist establishment that gets a head start anyways. But you give yourself a consolation pat on the back for your perseverance and your bravery for continuing with a bullet in your foot. Of course, you never had to shoot yourself in the first place.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Speak for yourself, Adamson. I've been "in the trenches" for decades. I first voted Libertarian in 1980 -- not once falling for Reagan's line -- and never looked back. I voted for Ron Paul for President a few years later. I admire both Paul's and Johnson's ability to basically pursue a fairly libertarian path while wearing GOP clothing -- but look at what it did to both men: they haven't gotten any love from the GOP for years, though they remain popular with their constituents, and the libertarians look on them with a mixture of respect and suspicion. A Libertarian must live in the real world, where the game is (for now, at least and for my entire life so far) defined and run by the statists. Johnson has shown that he can run and win in this rigged game and still have a significant libertarian effect. I think he has earned some respect for walking his own talk along that very fine line. Let's see how he does, and whether he keeps the promise to help grow the party and increase the influence of libertarianism after the election, something that Mr. Barr seems to have avoided (though that's probably for the best, as I doubt he would be perceived as our most persuasive representative after the 2008 drubbing).

  • ||

    The question is whether he can match his party's 1980 high-water mark and win 1 percent or more of the vote, and whether he might win even more in the key swing state of New Mexico, where voters already know and have cast ballots for him.

    I have a feeling that most people that might be inclined to vote for him because they know of him from his time as governor are still going to fall back into TEAM mode and go "I can't waste my vote; I have to vote for my TEAM's candidate!"

  • ||

    He might affect the vote in New Mexico, where he was a very popular voter. He would probably pull more Obama votes than Romney.

  • sticks||

    pretty perspicacious piece

    Check out the big brain on Brian.

  • SIV||

    This can't be said too many times: "Conor Friedersdorf"?

    I'd probably think GJ had a shot at breaking the magical "1%" this year if not for his disastrous performance in the GOP primary contest.NOTA isn't going to bring out the base, but if NOTA was on the ballot he'd kick the former NM governor's ass.

  • Randian||

    SIV cares so little that he has to relentlessly and negatively comment about the LP and GJ every single time they come up.

    Maybe Michele Bachmann will rub your tummy for you soon, SIV.

  • AlmightyJB||

    And what if Ron Paul were to back Johnson?

  • wingnutx||

    I'd rather he'd have stayed a republican, raised his national profile in the manner of Ron Paul over the last 4 years, then run for the senate in New Mexico.

    That would give us one more libertarian senator to go along with Rand Paul. Hopefully we get Jeff Flake, too.

  • Proprietist||

    Running as a "successful" third party candidate for President is a good way to raise a national profile. On paper, Johnson is miles ahead of any other LP candidate (or any other declared third party candidate). In fact, he got more executive experience than Romney and Obama combined.

  • wingnutx||

    He was hands down the best R candidate.

  • JeremyR||

    He's probably the most serious politician to ever be the LP presidential candidate.

    But he has absolutely no charisma to speak of.

    Ron Paul, while he can get carried away, at least can inspire people.

  • yonemoto||

    I went to a RP rally in san diego and he ungracefully elided from the concept that the movement was losing the battle to winning the war - to how the soviets got bogged down in afghanistan - to how what really ended the cold war was economics. He did draw a much bigger crowd than '04, and there were a lot of cute ladies in the crowd.

  • Proprietist||

    Ron Paul's "charisma" is why people think he's a bit kooky.

    I don't think people would call the very dry Johnson a kook.

  • yonemoto||

    No, people think he's kooky half because they don't understand his ideas (like end the fed) and half because sometimes his rants come unhinged and drift off into other relatively unrelated freedom movement ideas that he's just trying to get out. His rallies, while admirably delivered ad-hoc and unscripted, are often complete rambling random walks through multiple topics in a distinctly unorganized fashion.

  • Proprietist||

    I think there are certainly ways to criticize or advocate for these things without coming off as kooky. Johnson's dry approach may be more effective at coming off as reasoned, if not as mobilizing or charismatic.

  • rho||

    LP 2012 summary: "Gary who?"

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  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    I'm one of the NM "swing state" voters and I can come up with a couple of dozen Johnson voters without even thinking.

    Admittedly it's a limited sample but this is across the political spectrum. I think he could pull double-digits here.

    ... Hobbit

  • ||

    If I were running his campaign I'd focus on pulling as big a number in NM and NH as possible. Those are the 2 places I feel he has the best chance.

  • deified||

    What about California where federal jack-boots are overturning cannabis shops every month? (California also has the advantage of having a lot of residents.)

  • ||

    I think Johnson has a chance of getting a lot of lefty gays to vote for him -- his line at the LP prez debate in Vegas about "coming out" as a libertarian delighted my bi girlfriend who was watching with me in the front row.

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