Gary Johnson

Libertarians Still Arguing About Gary Johnson's 2016 Campaign

Jack Hunter slams GarJo and Charles Peralo defends, while L.P. officials scheme and Austin Petersen prepares for a "special announcement."


Guess not. ||| Reason

Gary Johnson's back! (To the political advocacy game, anyway.) So, are libertarians greeting the two-time former Libertarian Party nominee for president with open arms? Not unanimously, no.

Over at Rare, the always-interesting Jack Hunter, who is close to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), has a scathing piece headlined "Please, Gary Johnson, stay the hell away from politics." Excerpt:

[W]hen Reason reported on Thursday that Johnson was returning to politics, I did not rejoice–I recoiled.

Johnson had his chance, the biggest chance the Libertarian Party will likely ever have in our lifetimes, and his campaign did more to diminish liberty than promote it. Johnson's simple 2016 task was two-fold: First, present libertarianism coherently, and hopefully, attractively. Second, don't look like an idiot.

He failed on both.

Hunter mostly leans on the "Aleppo moment" and related flubs, and while those errors were almost all self-inflicted, highlighting the candidate's self-acknowledged limitations as a public speaker (a real hindrance when public speaking is about your only campaign weapon), I am convinced that even the most smooth-tongued of L.P. candidates (Larry Sharpe, anyone?) would have been excoriated as a gaffe-making weirdo or dunce in September 2016. Why? Because the presidential race was tightening (boy was it ever), debate season was imminent, Johnson's poll numbers at that point had failed to experience the usual third-party summertime fade, newspapers were starting the make their general election endorsements (including for the Libertarian), and the journalistic Left was throwing everything it could think of at a guy they feared was wooing too many impressionable young'uns.

Tom Steyer would have spilled tens of millions in swing states that autumn against any Libertarian candidate polling at 9 percent, and that money would have been converted into attack pieces on any John, Austin, or Darryl. (Speaking of which, do we really think that the L.P. alternatives would have polled or media-accessed anywhere near TeamGov?) Donald Trump had several more egregious foreign policy brainfarts than "Aleppo," and Hillary Clinton's actual (and unapologetic) policy record helped produce the very chaos that Johnson was being criticized for not understanding, but the media didn't care about any of that: September 2016 was Libertarian-killing season, and unfortunately Johnson offered the world a loaded gun.

That's not to say that Hunter's wrong about Johnson squandering the election overall; I still don't know how best to assess that question. (Check out the Brian Doherty/Matt Welch post-election co-production "Did the Libertarian Party Blow it in 2016?" for our most educated guesses.) As that piece states in the opening, and as the intervening months have only underlined, "Objectively speaking, 2016 was the Libertarian Party's best year ever. It was also a savage disappointment." Libertarians will be arguing about this stuff for years.

Live it. Love it. Learn it. ||| Austin Petersen
Austin Petersen

Speaking of intra-Libertarian arguments, Charles Peralo over at Being Libertarian has a long defense of the Johnson campaign against criticism that has been leveled against it from the John McAfee/Judd Weiss ticket. In the Orlando Sentinel, State L.P. Chair Marcos Miralles gives an interesting interview, mostly about local party-building stuff, that ends on a spectacularly optimistic note: "But what I can guarantee you is that whoever the Libertarian delegates pick in 2020, that candidate will have a better result than Gary Johnson had in 2016 and will have a real chance at unseating the current president." Meanwhile, 2016 L.P. presidential runner-up Austin Petersen has formed an exploratory committee to run for U.S. Senate from Missouri, and is promising a "special announcement" on July 4.

And in one of my favorite recent pieces of local journalism, The Free Press of Fernie, British Columbia, caught up with Gary Johnson in the middle of his epic Tour Divide bike race, spent several paragraphs detailing how he "may well be the fittest U.S. presidential candidate of all time," before plunging the knife in paragraph nine:

The man can clearly take care of himself. He is a self-made millionaire and ultra-fit, so of course he would run for a party that endorses the survival of the fittest. If you're wealthy and fit, Libertarianism works but if you are not, it doesn't.

Then follows a Guernica-style hellscape of local horrors that would be unleashed should Libertarians ever come close to smelling power ("Their plan to cut regulations in transportation, accommodation and other sectors to cause the sharing economy…to destroy traditional businesses. Hotels and taxi companies would go bust, thousands would be left unemployed," etc.). It's a reminder, one that Jack Hunter's old boss Rand Paul knows all too well, that for wide swaths of the public, libertarians will suffer from the Weird Man's Burden, probed relentlessly for every policy taboo, and held to a standard of conduct that standard Democrats and Republicans rarely have to answer for.

Below re-live my shaky-cam video of Johnson flipping out at a reporter asking about Aleppo, moments before the first presidential debate last September: