Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson appeared on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos to discuss his exclusion from the presidential debate on Monday, how he differs from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the big issues, and, of course, the need to colonize other planets.
It's another way of saying that the former two-term governor of New Mexico turned in a performance like all-too many of his media appearances: He was equal parts compelling and kooky. ABC set up the interview by replaying Johnson talking to a reporter with his tongue stuck out between his teeth, mumbling that all he would need to do to win the presidential debate was appear on stage and hold his tongue (get it?). That's unfortunate but then again, nobody forced Johnson to pull such a trick, did they? He did quickly get on to more-substantive topics, noting correctly that he is the only candidate who is openly and continually addressing pressing issues such as government debt and spending, entitlement reform, and the need to abandon regime change as the nation's go-to foreign policy. As important, he pointed out that he was the only candidate who is actually in favor of free trade, which he said (correctly) would increase economic growth and opportunity here.
Johnson also pointed out an inconvenient truth regarding the Commission on Presidential Debates' selection process: Back in late September 1992, independent candidate Ross Perot was invited to join President George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton despite polling at around 8 percent on average in national polls. Johnson is doing better than that (though it's true that earlier in the cycle, Perot was actually leading the race).
Stephanopoulos was more interested in pushing the idea that Johnson was at best a spoiler and, well, kind of a nut. On the first point, he pressed Johnson on whether Clinton or Trump would be less bad. On the second, he played a clip from 2011 that showed Johnson joking that the sun would eventually engulf Earth, so that "global warming was definitely in our future." Johnson laughed it off, replying "Can't we have a little humor once in a while?" before talking about how innovation is a better fix for the environment than government mandates.
ABC's writeup of the appearance, titled "Gary Johson Calls for Space Colonization, Vows To Stay in Race," is a mini-masterpiece of depicting a third-party candidate as a loon, though it's fair to say that the good governor rarely misses a chance to throw a few more sticks on the fire. At key inflection points, Johnson has either muffed a question or gone down a rabbit hole that almost certainly undermines his impressive track record as a governor and his seriousness as a candidate.
Later on, during an analyst's roundtable, Matthew J. Dowd called back to Johnson's appearance, observing (among other things) that Johnson clearly deserved to be on the debate stage and that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump could afford to "be themselves" in the debate given how much everyone hates them. (Matt Welch and I talked to Dowd at the DNC in Philly; go here for that.)
Johnson remains the best-performing third-party candidate so far since Perot in the 1990s. I don't doubt that he will finish strongly if he keeps pushing how his policies not only differ from both Trump's and Clinton's but how he and his running, two-term governor Bill Weld, have real experience at running things. And if he keeps his tongue moving, rather than stuck between his teeth.
Watch today's full segment below.