Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a former two-term (Republican) governor of New Mexico, appeared on Meet the Press this morning, talking with host Chuck Todd about what he called a "unique combination" of being fiscally conservative and socially liberal that he alone brings to Election 2016.
That's a simple, appealing message, especially in an election where the major-party candidates are disliked by large (and apparently growing) majorities of Americans. Johnson insisted that he was the "only skeptic at the table" when it came to recent overseas military interventions, that he would "sign off on any reduction in the federal government," and that we "always come down on the side of choice" in everything. As important, Johnson's spoke in the broad, big-vision strokes of a candidate while also being able to discuss specifics with ease. In today's political climate, inspiring confidence and trust is as much as a question of how you speak as what you say.
"The great middle of this country is libertarian. Most people are fiscally conservative and socially liberal," he said, adding later, "Our military interventions are having the unintended consequences of making things worse, not better." Johnson rushed to reject the notion that libertarians are isolationists, saying, "When we are attacked, we'll attack back. I reject the notion that libertarians are isolationists." But in a move that draws a distinction between Hillary Clinton, who seems uninterested in the question, and Donald Trump, who seems to have never read the Constitution, Johnson also insisted: "Let's involve Congress in declarations of war."
There was this notable exchange:
Todd: What is the role of government in your view?
Johnson: Less government. Smaller government. Government tries to do too many things.
When asked to define what is government should do, Johnson replied, "Protect us against individuals, corporations, brutes, foreign governments." He added, "I think we should provide a safety net, I just think we've gone way over the line in defining need. If we don't reform Medicaid and Medicare, we're going to find ourselves unable to provide that."
Johnson rejected the idea that he was a spoiler, noting that recent analysis of polls that included him in a three-way race with Trump and Clinton he drew "from both sides," and that he is the only alternative candidate who will be on the ballot in all 50 states.
"All this talk about third parties," he said. "Well, I'm it."
If Johnson is going to bring libertarian sensibilities to the masses, he's off to a pretty good start.
According to the Huffington Post's poll aggregator, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have disapproval ratings in the mid- to high 50s. Various polls show around half of all voters say they will consider a "generic" third-party candidate, a number that will certainly change as voters get more worried or disgusted by the major-party candidates.
Well, that's a generic candidate. If Johnson is right—and I think he is generally is—that most Americans are socially tolerant and fiscally responsible, his particular message could have more resonance than, say, that of the Green Party (which is for more government involvement in everyday life).
A week ago, I talked with NPR's Scott Simon about libertarianism, the LP, and Gary Johnson's rise in an age of alienated voters. Listen below or read more here.