Take a look at the map above. It was put together by Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight and it depicts an unlikely but credible scenario in which Gary Johnson wins his home state of New Mexico and neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton get the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election outright.
Silver stresses that "plausible is a long way from likely" but also skylarks that "it's not far-fetched to think the Electoral College would be close enough that New Mexico would make the difference, and it's not totally crazy to think that Johnson could win his home state." Silver points to a new Albuquerque Journal poll that has Clinton at 35 percent, Trump at 31 percent, Johnson at 24 percent, and Green Party nom Jill Stein at 2 percent.
Exactly how that ends up with Johnson winning New Mexico is a Stretch-Armstrong-style reach, but let's play with this a bit. Trump is either in full panic mode after blowing the first debate or getting there between the Miss Universe story and continuining questions about his taxes. In any case, his lack of direct experience and volatility will likely make him less appealing to non-committed independents who otherwise want change. Clinton is not anyone's true favorite and perhaps her comments about Sanders' supporters being history's losers and living in their parents' basements starts some bleeding on the part of her lukewarm supporters. Maybe Wikileaks, which promised a while ago to leak some really bad stuff about Clinton this Wednesday (and then cancelled the event), actually has the goods on her in a way that causes her to crater. And let's assume Johnson takes Matt Welch and other critics seriously, ups his game, and wins over the folks who know him best, New Mexicans, to eke out a victory in his home state.
The guy is pulling down newspaper endorsements, after all, and angering Bill Maher, who recently called Johnson a "fucking idiot." Maher grants that Johnson is a good guy, but he's afraid that apart from being against dumb wars, the surveillance state, and the war on drugs, Johnson will cost Hillary Clinton the election. That sort of articulation can only help Johnson with voters who are indeed socially liberal and fiscally conservative, a group that Maher (and many others) essentially says doesn't exist. Seeing self-consciously edgy, avant-garde types slag Johnson for believing too strongly in free markets, global trade, and technological innovation will help erase doubts raised by the governor's spaced-out answers on Aleppo and world leaders. As the Albuquerque Journal notes, Johnson is pulling more support from Clinton than from Trump in New Mexico.
We live in a country where Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction by a two-to-one margin and large majorities or pluralities hate the major parties, dislike Clinton and Trump, and think the government is trying to do too much that should be left to individuals and businesses. To such people, Clinton isn't any kind of solution to what ails us, and neither is Trump (if nothing else, both are talking about spending more money than our currently historically high levels during peacetime). Each of them is part of the problem and a figure like Johnson may come to be seen as a true alternative: an experienced non-professional politician who promises a smaller but more effective government.
The idea of Johnson winning New Mexico and the two major-party candidates stalling out short of 270 is of course incredibly unlikely. But it is worth thinking about, especially for those of us who stubbornly refuse to buy into the false "binary choice" narrative being pushed by both Republicans and Democrats. Change needs to be seen as possible before it takes place, right? Sometimes change comes in big, revolutionary waves. Other times, it comes from a small but steady rivulet of water that hollows out seemingly impregnable structures. However awful the 21st century has been so far to many of us, it is far worse for established ideologies and political parties, who are really taking it on the chin. The question is, what's the smallest victory it will take to show just how weak and foundering our political duopoly really is?