Politics & Policy

Is the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson a Plausible Alternative to Trump and Clinton?

(Gary Johnson/Flickr)

Good news, disgruntled Americans: As you ponder whether to vote for one of the two most-disliked, dishonest, and morally corrupt politicians ever to run for president — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — you just might have a third option. His name is Gary Johnson. He’s a popular two-term former governor of New Mexico. He’s the likely Libertarian party nominee. And he’s set to be on the ballot in the vast majority of states.

Moreover, the short case for him is pretty compelling. Johnson is a self-made man, starting a handyman business in college that grew into a 1,000-employee construction firm. He ran for governor as a fiscal conservative in a blue state, won handily, and can now boast that he cut taxes, vetoed hundreds of bills, presided over significant job growth, balanced the state budget, and created a substantial reserve fund. He won reelection in a rout.

Johnson is an extraordinarily strong gun-rights advocate, and he favors free trade, but he’s far too committed to relatively open borders — advocating a “simpler and more efficient” process for entering the country.

He calls himself pro-choice, but he’s well to the right of Hillary Clinton — supporting late-term abortion bans, parental-notification laws, and opposing public funding for abortion — and he’s indicated that he’d appoint judges “who will interpret the Constitution according to its original meaning.” He also believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided because it “expanded the reach of the Federal government into areas of society never envisioned in the Constitution.” In the past, Johnson has indicated that he’d rather leave abortion policy to the states.

Being generous, one could even call him a sort of peaceful Teddy Roosevelt: an adventurer politician. He’s run dozens of triathlons, he’s climbed the highest mountain on all seven continents (including Mount Everest), and he built his house with his own hands. So, on balance, Gary Johnson for president, right?

So, on balance, Gary Johnson for president, right?

Not so fast. This being 2016, the world has gone mad, and there are no easy choices left. Johnson is a Libertarian, and that means he’s for drug legalization. That’s not necessarily disqualifying. After all, his views are similar to those of the founder of National Review, William F. Buckley Jr., and are shared by a number of conservatives. Johnson, however, is an actual drug user — boasting recently that he’d just consumed “Cheeba Chews,” a form of “marijuana-infused taffy.” (To be fair, he claims that he does not drink alcohol.) But that’s not all, not by a long shot.

In 2014, Johnson became a “pot entrepreneur.” He was named the CEO of Cannibas Sativa. The company’s intended products included medicinal oils and — get this — a “cough drop–like” pot candy. Johnson of course tried and endorsed the product, asking, “Why would anybody ever smoke marijuana given this as an alternative?”

#share#But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and presume for the moment that he would not, in fact, transform the Cabinet into a highbrow version of Obama’s legendary “Choom Gang.” Are there any other reasons to worry about Gary Johnson?

As a two-term governor and self-made millionaire, Johnson has serious credentials.

Oddly, when it comes to religious liberty and the rights of conscience, he may not be libertarian enough. In the Libertarian party’s presidential debate, he offered a bizarre and rambling defense of forcing a Jewish baker to bake a Nazi wedding cake — in the name of ending religious discrimination. He also briefly endorsed, then walked back, using state power to ban the burqa in the United States. (On the bright side, he did indicate that he understood the political nature of sharia law and its incompatibility with American conceptions of liberty.)

Regarding national defense, he’s not as extreme as some libertarians — some go so far as to view the rise of jihad as fundamentally America’s fault — but he does believe that American military interventions have made the terrorist problem “worse.” I’ve often wondered how a self-defense oriented libertarian would alter American policy once they received a full and complete national-security briefing. Libertarian purists would likely be surprised at the military aggression of a libertarian president. If Johnson were ever elected, we’d get to find out.

#related#Unless and until there is another viable third-party alternative, now is the time for the Libertarian party candidate to make a serious case to the American public. As a two-term governor and self-made millionaire, Johnson has serious credentials. And he has more executive experience than either Clinton or Trump. I’d rather see Rand Paul as the libertarian alternative — he could at least get on the presidential debate stage, he’s pro-life, and he has far-more-developed and realistic policy goals. But Johnson is likely his party’s choice.

Make your argument, governor. You can make the case for liberty to a nation embracing authoritarianism. You won’t win, but you can matter. This is your moment.


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