July 19, 2016


THE LIBERTARIANS' SECRET WEAPON : The third-party candidacy of Gary Johnson might make the most unpredictable election in modern times even weirder. (Ryan Lizza, 7/19/16, The New Yorker)

Johnson, who is sixty-three, tan, and fit, with spiky gray hair, has long been unrepentant about his use of marijuana. During his first campaign for governor, in 1994, he was asked to quantify his earlier use. "I came up with two and a half times a week," he told me. Still, as governor, he earned plaudits from the right for being one of the more conservative governors. National Review praised him as the "New Mexico maverick" and as a "Reaganite antitax crusader," who cut income-tax rates, slowed the growth of government, and eliminated the jobs of hundreds of state employees. During his two terms as governor, Johnson vetoed more than seven hundred bills passed by a Democratic legislature.

In 1999, after winning a second term, Johnson became the highest-ranking elected official in America to call for the full legalization of marijuana. His approval rating dropped into the twenties, and he returned to his agenda of lower taxes and less spending. He left office with an approval rating in the high fifties. Today, he is willing to make other concessions to the political mainstream. When we met, Johnson wore Nikes with a suit, his signature style since 2012. But, after a lively debate with his campaign advisers, he showed up for his CNN appearance wearing dress shoes.

There hasn't been a serious challenge from a third-party Presidential candidate since 1992, when Ross Perot, the eccentric Texas billionaire, ran as an independent and bought hours of TV time to educate voters about the large federal budget deficit. Perot won entry into the Presidential debates and received nineteen per cent of the vote against Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. Bush blamed Perot for his loss, though the best analyses of the race concluded that Perot had drawn equal numbers of voters from Bush and Clinton.

This year, the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump has created an opportunity for Johnson to at least match Perot's impressive showing. Last week, Republican delegates in the Never Trump movement attempted to change the rules for the Republican National Convention, in a failed effort to deny Trump the nomination. For anti-Trump conservatives still searching for an alternative, Johnson may be the only option. On the left, anti-Clinton Democrats, including some determined supporters of Bernie Sanders, would prefer a candidate who is more socially liberal and noninterventionist than Clinton.

"We have arguably the two most polarizing candidates," Johnson told me. "Hillary has to go out and she has to appeal to this 'everything's free, government can accomplish anything, what can you give us' constituency. She's doling it out as fast as she can. Trump is appealing to this anti-abortion, anti-immigration, 'bomb the hell out of them, lock them up, throw away the key' constituency."

Johnson is charming and more transparent than most politicians--sometimes to a fault--and has a knack for putting a happy face on the rougher edges of libertarianism. Weld has a shabby-genteel bearing and a boarding-school sarcasm that comes across as both appealing and arrogant. Together, Johnson and Weld represent the first Presidential ticket with two governors since 1948, when the Republicans nominated Thomas Dewey, of New York, and Earl Warren, of California. One of the Johnson-Weld campaign slogans is "A Credible Alternative to ClinTrump."

Posted by at July 19, 2016 1:32 PM


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