Gary Johnson

There's Something About Gary: LP Nominee Johnson "Has a Plan"

The former New Mexico governor says his policies match up with most Americans.


Reason TV

One of the questions about the Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson is whether he can inspire people in a politically conventional manner.

Sure, we've have presidents who are wet blankets, but we need an "inspirer in chief," don't we?

Well, no actually: Think about Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush—that is, most recent presidents excepting John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. None was a mover of crowds in any considerable way and yet each managed to win at least one presidential campaign. Still, there persists this media desire for somebody who will at least shoot a tingle up the leg of reporters, if not jes' plain folks. And on this score, Johnson is nobody's All American.

As Eli Lake recently wrote at Bloomberg View in a scathing (and, IMO, inaccurate) appraisal of the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, "Johnson is about as telegenic as an educational film about the metric system. He is a gangly ball of nerves who exudes the charisma of Don Knotts from his 'Three's Company' years."

For a different evaluation of Johnson's impact on people, check out this interesting new profile written by Ben Birnbaum at Politico. Birnbaum embedded with the Johnson campaign for a good chunk of the summer so far and does an excellent job of capturing the moods and moments of a long-shot, underdog campaign. Johnson, observes Birnbaum is "free-spirited and highly distractable…[he] evokes the innocence of a kid that likes to color outside the lines, projects warmth and neuroticism—a combination that makes him both highly approachable and equally difficult to imagine as commander-in-chief."

But it's also true that Johnson can in fact work a crowd. Birnbaum recounts walking the streets of Cleveland with the candidate during the Republican National Convention, as Johnson moved toward the Quicken Arena, where the convention was taking place:

As we move closer to the vicinity of the RNC, the trickle slowly escalates into a downpour and I give up on even trying to count the raindrops; Johnson is mobbed seemingly every minute by millennials asking for selfies, Baby Boomers telling him he has their vote, and—at one point—by two young veterans who ask Johnson if he's willing to be filmed doing 22 pushups with them for a wounded-warriors charity (Johnson hands Tom his coat and drops to the floor with the men). Johnson keeps his sunglasses on for most of the day, but there is no escape. When we stop at a table outside a Starbucks and I go inside, I hear two men chatting near the window. "Is that that Gary Johnson guy?" one friend asks the other, doing a double take. "Oh yeah, that is him," he says, taking out his phone to snap a photo. "Saw him on CNN this morning."

And Birnbaum recounts Reason TV's Facebook Live stream (embedded below) conducted the same day in the same vicinity, right out on the street:

Within 10 minutes, the crowd has mushroomed to more than 100. I walk over to [a campaign staffer] and ask if he's seen a spontaneous crowd this big. His eyes are darting around; he seems unnerved by the suddenness of it all. "Not this big," he says. As Johnson finishes the interview, the crowd erupts in a chant—"GARY! GARY! GARY!"—and Joe has to play blocking back to prevent the candidate from being mobbed. What's remarkable throughout all this is that Johnson does not experience a single hostile encounter. He is, to be sure, still a stranger to the vast majority of Americans; but those that do know enough about him to form an opinion seem to like him.

There's a good reason for that, which flies in the face of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the two most-disliked presidential candidates in documented history (each has disapproval ratings that range close to two-thirds of Americans). Trump is an unregenerate bully and blowhard whose policy prescriptions are even uglier than his resting bitch face. For her part, Clinton has been a divisive figure for her entire public career, in large part thanks to her paranoia and penchants for secrecy, self-pity, and scandal. Like Trump, many of her specific policies—her hawkishness, for instance, and her trade protectionism—are widely disliked too. In contrast, Johnson comes across not only as a truly decent human being but as someone who reflects the broadly libertarian sensibilities of many, if not most, Americans. He's socially liberal and fiscally conservative, which may not be a precise definition of libertarian, but it's a pretty good working definition in the realm of politics. Don Knotts clone or not, Johnson is a good guy with good ideas at the right time. As Birnbaum writes:

Almost accidentally, [Johnson] the candidate has become 2016's last remaining bearer of a whole set of modern conservative ideals from free trade to entitlement reform; some top Republicans wary of Trump have already declared for him and many more are leaning toward doing so. At the same time, Johnson's anti-war foreign policy and liberal stances on social issues have resonated among Bernie Sanders stragglers. And lastly, his message of bipartisanship—or, rather, tripartisanship—is attracting independents frustrated with an increasingly dysfunctional two-party system. To capitalize on this perfect strom, Johnson's campaign has a game plan, a clearly targeted set of states to nail down that—if all the chips fall their way—could upend the election and, in their vision, land Johnson and Weld in the White House.

Read the whole Politico piece here.

Whether that general package of person and ideas makes it into the presidential debates or throws the election into the House of Representatives (I'm not convinced either outcome is likely) is besides the point. For the first time pretty much ever, there's a libertarian politician who is not simply lecturing audiences on the ins and outs of classical liberal philosophy but actually presenting a viable, if long-shot, alternative to the two-party status quo in a presidential race. The interest in his general policy approach will not disappear after November. Indeed, regardless of whether Trump or Clinton is the next president, the desire for SOMETHING DIFFERENT—specifically, something libertarian as Johnson has defined the term—will only continue to grow.

Here's Gary Johnson, live from streets of Cleveland during the RNC. Go here for more Facebook Live streams from Reason TV.

NEXT: Gary Johnson's Poll Numbers Rising in Battleground States

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  1. Within 10 minutes, the crowd has mushroomed to more than 100.

    Libertarian moment!

    1. Within 10 minutes, the crowd has mushroomed to more than 100.

      Mushrooming Johnson

      1. “Stand back, baby, I don’t know how big it’s gonna get!”

        1. just as Ernest said I didn’t even know that a stay at home mom able to make $7k in a few weeks on the computer . look at more info >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

      2. great, now we’re gonna get even more sugarfree political scat erotica about donald’s hair and mushrooming johnsons.

    2. “I walk over to [a campaign staffer] and ask if he’s seen a spontaneous crowd this big. His eyes are darting around; he seems unnerved by the suddenness of it all. “Not this big,” he says.”

      Seriously, how small time are these LP staffers?

      1. trump & clinton might draw bigger crowds but there is nothing spontaneous about them (ie their talks are the sort of intricately stage managed & preplanned BS nonevents the republicrats have spent the last 80 years convincing America are meaningful expressions of adoration for Dear Leader)

  2. I don’t know. I agree with him on most things, but he did say one thing one time that I disagreed with, which means he can’t possibly be a libertarian.

    1. He’s on the wrong side of a silly culture war debate that affects maybe a couple of dozen bigoted weirdoes, so he’s obviously a monster.

      1. I know right? No right-thinking person gives a shit about the rights of fringe “weirdoes”.

        1. Yes, better to vote for Trump. Better incoherent ideas than wrongthink.

          1. No, I disagree. Still vote for Johnson, but he is weak on freedom of association.

            1. Good, but that isn’t how many people are approaching the issue.

              Of course I don’t thin anyone should be forced to work for anyone else, but it isn’t the most important issue the history of forever like so many people want to pretend.

              1. Bake your own swastika cake, Nazi.

                1. Crawl back into your eggsac, Trump shill.

                2. Still pissed that dad missed those soccer games, huh?

                3. Are you that mcbyrne chick on Twitter?

              2. This. It wasn’t a deal breaker in 2012.

      2. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere. If you don’t stand up for the homophobic cake bakers you’re basically a communist.

        1. Exactly! Freedom of association only matters to a few dozen bigots.

      3. I have a big problem with Gary Johnson on two culturkampf issues and on his foreign policy:

        1) The whole nazi cake fiasco demonstrated he doesn’t get freedom of association. I don’t mean I’m pissed that he disagrees with me. I mean he genuinely doesn’t even understand the problem; if he did, wherever he fell on the issue, he’d have worded it differently.

        Why does it matter? Because a guy whose notion of what people should be free to do is based not on any principle but rather on popularity is going to make the sorts of decisions that led to contradictions like saying that freedom = denying businesses permission to treat their black and white customers the same.

        2) On depriving mentally ill the right to weapons. I have a good friend who is bipolar. She controls this stuff through medication, but when she is off her meds her life spirals out of control. Unsurprisingly, she’s unmarried, lives alone, in a rough part of time and is in very high danger to becoming a crime victim. Our state has made it illegal for us to have non-letahal weapons, and according to gay jay it should be dandy to deprive her of the right to any tools for her self defense.

        3) On foreign policy, he has made noises that if things overseas are bad, the U.S. might step in to make them right. Wow! Vague do-ggoderism! If only we had adopted that policy in the middle east, imagine what a wonderful place it would be!

        Johnson can fuck himself. I don’t waste my vote on people who don’t deserve it.

        1. I’m fine with someone not voting for Johnson. He doesn’t exactly thrill me either. But compared to other two…

          1. True. I mean when your competition are worms, the midget might as well be Menute Bol.

        2. Unsurprisingly, she’s unmarried, lives alone, in a rough part of time

          I think there’s an awesome sci-fi novel in there somewhere.

          1. Sounds like the Doctor may have found a replacement for Clara.

        3. I think those are all legitimate criticisms (I’m a little bit more sympathetic to leaving the door open to US intervention in really extreme situations) but here’s the thing — I don’t his stances on these issues differentiate him from any of the other candidates or majorities of the general population. In other words, though they may be important to libertarians, they aren’t consequential in electoral politics. And since I agree with him on a lot of other stuff AND see this election as an opportunity to maybe pull the R’s towards a more libertarian friendly position down the road and/or increase the visibility of the LP as a party that people at least maybe listen to from time to time and consider voting for in some down ballot races, I think the pros of actually going out and casting a vote for Johnson far, far outweigh the cons. It’s not like he’s going to win, regardless. And I honestly don’t think Trump will end up having a chance either, so a protest vote against Hillary is unlikely to make a difference.

        4. As if you’re vote isn’t wasted already?

          1. Sounds like a good promotion for a night club – “your vote is wasted, why shouldn’t you be, too?”

    2. Gary Johnson is a moderate, pot-smoking Republican who would have made an outstanding Senator. But he isn’t ever going to be president as a Republican or a Libertarian because he is terrible at running for president.

      1. He not going to be president because of the two-party duopoly. If a third-party candidate can’t get traction with major party candidates this shitty… it just can’t get done.

        1. He’s not going to be president because he can’t even rev up his own base, let alone somebody who hasn’t given thought to a third-party yet.

          Johnson/Weld is a ticket befitting this shitshow of an election cycle. Let’s put a gun grabber on the ticket with a freedom of association hating populist and call them libertarians! That’s definitely gonna work!

    3. he did say one thing one time that I disagreed with, which means he can’t possibly be a libertarian.


    1. He looks like he has his cell phone charging on the other side of the room and sees someone about to touch it.

      1. Huh. I always took it to be “What the fuck are you talking about” look.

        1. “Must. Pretend. To Care.”

  3. “The Former New Mexico” makes it sound like he was in a beauty pageant.

  4. He should get on the Obama founded ISIS bandwagon! It is working so well for Trump!

  5. Alt-text for that photo:

    “I paid your consultants $400/hr, and all your presented was this sh1tty PowerPoint?”

    1. “So what EXACTLY is Step 2 supposed to be?”

      1. “We’ll let you know once we have enough underwear.”

  6. If people want change, look into the mirror.

    Perhaps GJ would remind people that ‘Change’ will need to come from the People, not the politicians.
    We’ve seen a version of ‘Change’ before, and how did that work out?

    1. Man in the Mirror was pretty mediocre.

    2. “If people want change, look into the mirror.”

      “Perhaps GJ would remind people that ‘Change’ will need to come from the People, not the politicians.
      We’ve seen a version of ‘Change’ before, and how did that work out?”

      ^ This^

      Very well said.

  7. Everyone understanding Russian just giggled. In Russian, ‘plan’ is one of (many) slang names for marijuana.

    1. Just curious – are you a native Russian speaker?

      1. No, Russian second, English third.

        I haven’t been to Russia for 25 years, but I meet native Russian speakers now and then.

  8. “Think about Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush?that is, most recent presidents excepting John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. None was a mover of crowds in any considerable way and yet each managed to win at least one presidential campaign. Still, there persists this media desire for somebody who will at least shoot a tingle up the leg of reporters, if not jes’ plain folks. And on this score, Johnson is nobody’s All American.”

    I don’t know if that’s a good comparison here as they weren’t the first to win a campaign for their parties.

  9. Think about Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush?that is, most recent presidents excepting John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama

    What’s Gerald Ford, chopped liver?

    1. Yes, and he never won an election.

    2. Remember the good old days when we thought Ford and Carter were bad choices?

  10. There is something about Gary alright, it’s just now what you wish it was.

  11. Birnbaum’s article is a good read, with plenty of troll bait. But haters are gonna hate.

    I can easily put together a top 10 list of things I don’t like about Clinton or Trump being president. With Gary I can only come up with a couple of complaints, even though he doesn’t stir my enthusiasm. Maybe that’s a 3rd complaint. On the other hand, I can easily come up with a top 10 list of what I’d like about Johnson being president.

    The two-term governor thing carries a lot of weight with me. As someone with polarization fatigue, the republican getting re-elected in a blue state is a plus as well. I won’t Zzzzzzzzzzz you with the rest of the list, other than saying that having 4 years of an ‘everyman’ president could be refreshing. Especially considering the alternatives.

  12. I’m not sure he really is a Cylon, but if his plan involves Number Six and Number 8 – I’m in.

  13. The challenge for Libertarians is not an issues-to-issues matchup with the typical voter. Most political pros no matter what side they are on would grant on paper the Libertarian platform most closely matches the typical voter. The Libertarian challenge is to serve up a living/breathing candidate who doesn’t match the stereotype of a dork with a weird focus on the fringe pot issue. Oh yes, Johnson talks more than just legalizing pot. But come again, what was his last job? CEO of, eh-hem, what kind of firm? And ya think this background will change basic perceptions of the Libertarian movement? If so, enjoy those single-digit polling results.

    1. ^ this is basically the impression of GJ I get from friends and family members. Add his constant shrugging, “well gee I don’t know” response to every question, and vacillation on key issues … it’s obvious he’s not a great messenger. Of course this being the LP he’s probably light years ahead of anyone else they’ve nominated (except Ron Paul of course).

  14. For his campaign, he should use The Replacements song “Gary’s Got a Boner.”

      1. Long time since I’ve heard that tune.

  15. I think SugarFree is right – you just can’t get any traction nowadays by *opposing* the idea that “anyone should be forced to work for anyone else.”

  16. I watched him grow a crowd at U.C. Berkeley last campaign. The audience was there to eat lunch, but they started paying attention and the crowd grew as he spoke. He just needs to book multiple appearances in the same general location on the same day so he can continue the build. I don’t think it was his charisma so much as his common sense libertarian message.

  17. Oh for the love of fucking god, he doesn’t have anything.

    He’s going to lose.

    Worse, people ‘voting their consciences’ are going to piss away votes they’re going to regret on this idiot.

    It’s gonna be Trump or Clinton.

    And, given the media, the GOP elitards, and the mass of pseudo intellectual third partiers–it’s gonna be Hillary.

    Because Democrats are sheep. Hillary Clinton could rip babies from their screaming mothers arms and fuck and then eat them on national television and we’d have the media falling over itself telling us about how great a thing Hillary had just accomplished–and then we’d have two weeks of pieces about how screwed up Trump is because he said that she was a monster.

    And reason, and cato, and NRO would all chime in with their variations.

    Because gods forbid anyone accept that Hillary is going to seriously fuck this country up. In ways Trump couldn’t possibly fathom. She’s been planning it for years, decades. And we all know this.

    Our choice is between certain doom(Hillary–because a lot of you are seeming too stupid to grasp this) and maybe doom. And that’s it.

    I want a real, actual libertarian to win as much as anyone here. But that’s not one of my options. My options are trying to stop the certain destruction of a whole lot I hold dear or not.

    I don’t get to fiddle while Rome burns.

    1. Do you not own a fiddle? I have two. I can lend you one. It’s shifty and cheaply made, but since you probably don’t know how to play it no one will know the difference.

    2. MOST IMPORTINT ELEKSHUN EVAR!!1!!111!!!!!! DONT THROW YUR VOTE AWAY!!1!1111!!!!!!!! DERRRRRRPPPPP!!!!11!!11!!!!!!!!

      Fuck off.

  18. LP Nominee Johnson “Has a Plan”

    Johnson has plans, Clinton has plans, Sanders had plans . . . *you* have plans, Nick. Schemers trying to control the world. Trump’s not a schemer, he just shows the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control him really are. Trump just did what he does best. He took your little plan and turned it on itself. Look what he did to this country with a few stream-of-consciousness rants and an appeal to the mob.

  19. Too bad he is a Republican with a Neocon running mate.

  20. “…telegenic as an educational film about the metric system…..”
    You might consider using a different photo at the head of the story. Johnson looks like he’s watching a slow motion car accident. The part where the kid gets crushed.

  21. Here’s my take: Gary Johnson is libertarianism for beginners. That’s exactly what is needed (and possible) in the U.S. in 2016. We won’t get our thoroughgoing intellectual fix of libertarian argumentation from him but he is the training wheels that the rest of America desperately needs.

    We need to support him.

  22. libertarianism for beginners

    Like, er, ‘gateway drug’? There might be something to this.

  23. Anna . I agree that James `s storry is really great… last thursday I got a top of the range Mitsubishi Evo after bringing in $4828 this last 5 weeks and just over ten grand last-munth . no-doubt about it, this really is the best work I’ve ever had . I began this four months/ago and straight away started to bring in at least $87, per-hour

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