Campaigns/Elections

Gary Johnson Presidential Announcement Gets High Fives

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Encouragingly libertarian-leaning former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson made it official last week that he's running for the GOP presidential nomination, and the world has had some things to say. A roundup of some of the more interesting reactions:

Race 4 2012 sums up some highlights of a public Twitter question-answering session from Johnson. I summarize their summary with quick picks, some obvious, some less so: no intervention in Libya, originalist Supreme Court nominees, blames the Federal Reserve for the economic crisis and supports the idea of commodity-based currency and would pardon Liberty Coin maven Bernard von NotHaus if his conviction stands, would legalize pot and pardon pot criminals, no tax hikes (but for a Fair Tax reform), very pro-domestic oil drilling, abolish the Department of Education and cut agricultural subsidies by at least 43 percent, kill the Transportation Security Administration, says he's into Austrian economics, thinks WikiLeaks is a good thing, and wants a path to legal working status though not citizenship for illegal immigrants.

* Brian Ross at Huffington Post, who knew Johnson from old New Mexico days, sees him as a real threat to Obama:

National political analysts still mislabel Johnson as your Dr. Paul fringe candidate. True, Johnson has been an advocate over the last year for the legalization of Marijuana, a controversial stance which even President Obama has shied away from, which definitely alienates him from many in the fundamentalist religious base of the national GOP. It does, however, open the door for him with many liberals who are dissatisfied with Mr. Obama, and many independent voters, and he approaches the issue from a tax-dollars bottom line, which might even find a few libertarian and fiscal conservative adherents….

Mitt Romney, arguably the front-runner in current polls at around 16%, is a fatally-flawed candidate. Religious zealots don't like his Mormonism. He will not easily explain away Romneycare to the Health Care bashers. He would almost certainly have to run to the far Right to get the nomination, then spend the next year running away from everything that he just said to win the general.

Johnson is going to have a tough time surviving the primaries, particularly navigating the crazy waters of the fractious Tea Party. His tough, common-sense, low-key style worked in New Mexico, though, at a time when that state suffered from much of the same kind of partisan divide that the federal government experiences now.

His downside is that his style, his business acumen as a rancher, and his limited experience in the bigger shark tank of party politics may play well to folks who want more outsiders in government, but may make it very difficult for him to raise money, get much media attention, or even run a country controlled by insiders if he beats the deck stacked against him and succeeds.

Still, he is going to win converts. If he makes it to the general election, he has enough expertise at wooing skeptical independents and even fiscally conservative liberals into taking a serious look at him.

Even though there is very little significant in anything a president has to do with in policy terms other than immigration on which Paul and Johnson differ, I suppose that sort of pitting them against each other is inevitable as they seem likely to each be vying for office. Such comments cast as insults against Paul ignore his remarkable and real success in 2008 in fundraising, attention, movement-building, and even votes–he had the 4th highest delegate count during the campaign. That said, I think Ross is correct in the end: a Johnson who gets any attention in the media at all will win converts.

* Two major voices of old-world conservative journalism note his annoucement with little fanfare or commentary: National Review and Weekly Standard. I suspect that lack of fanfare or commentary will continue to define the mainstream right commentariat's attitude toward him, unless and until a primary shocker occurs.

* The 420 Times tests whether its pot-loving audience are complete idiot tools by polling them on whether they prefer the powerfully pro-pot legalization Johnson (he toured California regularly supporting its failed legalization measure Proposition 19 last year) to Obama, who is terrible on the issue in every way.

* Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic sees the Zen in Johnson, and likes it:

Johnson's dearth of name recognition and unproven track record as a fundraiser make him a long-shot candidate, especially in a nation obsessed with political celebrity. Let us not, however, be prisoners to opinion polls. Early in primary season, the press and the public ought to focus on better knowing candidates rather than handicapping their chances in Iowa and New Hampshire. In that spirit, I sought out Johnson when he passed through Los Angeles in late January, hoping that I'd be impressed by a candidate I liked on paper. We've got differences, but he's a successful two-term governor, a fiscal hawk, and almost alone in advocating an end to America's unaffordable wars (drugs, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya)….

Other right-leaning journalists warned me that Johnson is unable to answer policy questions with the specificity required to successfully win a major party nomination—a point he partly conceded when I asked him if that was a fair criticism. "If you go back a year ago, when I started giving interviews, that was really a soft opening relative to today," he said. "I'm a lot sharper now—and a year from now it's going to be much different. It's the same process I used when I successfully ran for governor. And I know I won't be viable unless I can provide that  level of specificity."….

As another long-time Johnson watcher, I can vouch for both the validity of the complaint and that he's getting better at question-answering with seeming specific understanding. The story goes on with many specific details on his openness to the citizens he governs and his desire to hire people who are willing to disagree with him, as well as fire whoever needs to be fired if they are ineffective. Back to The Atlantic:

As noted earlier, Gary Johnson finds zen—"living in the moment"—in both sports and politics. His most impressive feat, as a sportsman, is climbing Mount Everest…

ME: I've played enough sports to understand its appeal to someone like you. But how is politics similar?

JOHNSON: When I first enjoyed a level of financial success like I had never dreamed of, it was very destructive. Because the reality was, guess what, bells and whistles don't go off all day long. They don't. I still have to get up every morning, I still have to put my shoes on, I still have to eat. And so it's not a bells and whistles kind of experience all the time. I could then say with certainty that financial success wasn't the key to life. The key to life, what it's all about, is enjoying what you do everyday.

ME: And you enjoyed being governor?

JOHNSON: It was a blood boiling job. It was 24/7. On hundreds of issues, I got to be in the middle of understanding them. What I liked was the process. The learning, the deliberation, the decision-making—putting it all together, and asking, 'Given these options, what is in the public's interest? How can we get that done?' It was an 'in the moment' experience for me. It was really in the moment.

If elected, how would he govern? What would it look like to have a zen personality leading the executive branch? As yet, I'm unsure whether I'll cast my ballot for him or not. But I'd I'd love to see what happened if an honest man with executive experience, an aversion to wars of choice, and a soft spot for civil liberties took the White House.

The amazing part is that even after all that love, he still isn't sure he'd vote for him. That's the weird part of public reaction to obscure politicians who seem too good to be true. (Friedersdorf also threw in some irrelevant Paul-bashing to disguise how similar Paul is to his new possible love Johnson.)