The Case for Gary Johnson

photo credit: Gary Johnson via photopin (license)
photo credit: Gary Johnson via photopin (license)

Every election, it seems like there is no shortage of people proclaiming that it’s the most important of our lifetime (and there’s no shortage of articles touching on this topic). I dislike hyperbole, but it’s hard to look at this year’s election and the major parties’ nominees and not think that this election is in the running for the most important in recent memory. Between the crass, bombastic, bullying ignorance of Donald Trump and the militaristic, shape-shifting, scandal-plagued untrustworthiness of Hillary Clinton, it’s hard to think of two more distasteful nominees for the presidency during my lifetime (let alone two running in the same election). On the plus side, the American public seems to agree with me, with both candidates having historically high unfavorable ratings. On the negative side, these are the two major party candidates because significant portions of the American public voted for them.

The good news is that there is another option. There is another candidate who will be on the ballot in all 50 states. He is a successful governor/entrepreneur/athlete with positions on the issues more moderate and more in tune with the American electorate than Trump or Clinton. His name is Gary Johnson.

Who? Right, so I know “Gary Johnson” is about as boring and generic a name as possible. You’ve probably already forgotten what it is, so I’ll repeat it: Gary Johnson. Before entering politics, he was a successful entrepreneur, having started a door-to-door handyman business and turning it into a company with more than 1,000 employees. He’s also an avid athlete, and has scaled the highest peak on each of the seven continents. He’s also the Libertarian candidate for president and former Republican governor of New Mexico, which was one of only 4 states in the country with a balanced budget when he left office. Both Johnson and his running mate have scored well on the Cato Institute’s fiscal report cards. Johnson is also racking up an impressive number of newspaper endorsements for a third party candidate and has even gotten more endorsements than the Republican nominee (6-0).

Check out what some of these endorsements have said:

  • Chicago Tribune – “Every American who casts a vote for him is standing for principles — and can be proud of that vote. Yes, proud of a candidate in 2016.”
  • The Detroit News – “Gary Johnson has excelled at public service. In his eight years as the Republican governor of New Mexico, he cut taxes while balancing the budget, and left the state in better fiscal shape than when he arrived. He also was a champion of school choice, and the state under his guidance made great strides in improving education.”
  • New Hampshire Union Leader – “Americans are being told that we have to choose the lesser of two evils. No, we don’t.”
  • Richmond Times Dispatch – “He is a skilled and experienced leader, an able communicator, an intelligent man.”

Where is Gary Johnson on the issues? Put simply, he’s like most Americans in that he’s socially tolerant (pro-gay marriage, pro-immigration, anti-drug war) and fiscally conservative (decreased spending, cutting deficits, pro-free trade). I invite you to check out his website to learn more. I believe that everybody can find something there to agree with, and the majority of people will find they have more in common with Gary Johnson than they do with Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

I can already hear the objections, so let’s get some of them out of the way right now:

Objection: Aren’t libertarians crazy fringe candidates?
Response: Gary Johnson and his running mate (William Weld) were both Republican governors of states typically considered liberal (New Mexico and Massachusetts). Despite this, both won re-election and were considered popular governors. Johnson was the first governor of New Mexico to serve two successive four-year terms after term limits were expanded and Weld was re-elected by the largest margin in Massachusetts’ history. Republicans not only winning elections but becoming popular in states that are 2-1 in terms of registered Democrats to registered Republicans (as New Mexico was when Johnson was elected) seems to be the very opposite of radical and fringe. In fact, it’s hard finding a better example of a moderate, centrist president who would be able to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats and Republicans. Wouldn’t that be appealing to a country fed-up with gridlock in Washington?

Objection: Don’t libertarians want kids to be able to buy heroin at their local grocery store?

Response: While the Libertarian Party platform calls for the repeal of laws against recreational drug use, Johnson made it clear on a recent CNN town hall appearance that he is not advocating the legalization of all drugs, only marijuana. Considering 25 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form, that seems like an opinion that more and more Americans share.

Objection: I don’t want to waste my vote.garyjohnsonmemevote
Response: This is an argument that I just don’t understand. What, exactly, is a wasted vote? Is it a vote that has virtually no chance of making a difference? If so, I hate to break it to you, but in that case your vote is almost certainly wasted no matter who you vote for. Thanks to the electoral college, in order for your vote to make a difference, you need to (1) live in a battleground state (2) have the election come down to the result of your specific battleground state and (3) have the results in your state be an exact tie. It’s been described as saying that you are more likely to be struck by lightning twice than to have your vote make the difference in an election. Far more likely, in fact.

In a way, voting for third party candidates is actually less of a waste of a vote than voting for the major party candidates. For the major parties, the only important milestone is getting a majority of the votes. Any other result is practically meaningless. For minor parties, there are a number of milestones which are important to reach. 15% gets a candidate into the debates. Other percentages allow for automatic ballot access or public matching funds. Put simply, a vote for a third party candidate has a greater chance of making a difference than a vote for a major party candidate.

Objection: Gary Johnson? Isn’t that the guy who couldn’t even name a single foreign leader?

Response: No, he was asked to name his favorite foreign leader, and didn’t have an immediate answer. Eventually, the answer that he and Bill Weld came up with was Angela Merkel. Interestingly enough, that was the exact same answer that Clinton and Trump came up with when asked the same question.

First of all, it’s a surprisingly tough question to answer. Pretty much every foreign leader I can name is either outright horrible (Putin, Maduro) or at least supports a number of policies that I find questionable (Abe, Trudeau). I could be given all day to come up with an answer and probably couldn’t have come up with a better answer than Merkel.

Secondly, gaps in knowledge are not at all unique to Johnson, they don’t just seem to get as much air time. Trump is infamously ignorant of a number of things: what the nuclear triad is, the difference between Quds and Kurds and what countries are a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Clinton apparently didn’t know that ‘C’ stood for Confidential. Which seems more dangerous? That Gary Johnson couldn’t immediately name a foreign leader that he respected? Or that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (whom the director of the FBI called “extremely careless” and “negligent” with classified data) didn’t know that ‘C’ stood for Confidential? What is more admirable? Admitting when you don’t know the answer to a question? Or trying to bluff and lie your way through an answer and then insulting the person who asked the question?

There’s no doubt that Gary Johnson isn’t a gifted speaker and he sometimes seems to struggle to clearly express himself in interviews, leading to awkward moments (“What is Aleppo?”). Stylistically, he will always come up short to polished politicians like Hillary Clinton. Also unlike politicians, he is honest to a fault. If he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he won’t lie or bluff or try to change the topic; That’s rare in the world of politicians. Personally, I care more about substance over style and I find Gary Johnson’s foreign policy stances to be more coherent than Trump’s and less dangerous than Clinton’s propensity to get involved in every conflict happening all over the globe.

In Conclusion:

If you consider yourself fiscally conservative and socially liberal, then you should take a look at Gary Johnson. If you are fed up with the two party system that gave us Clinton and Trump and want an end to the constant grid-lock in DC, then there is no better time to vote Libertarian. If you are looking for a president with experience governing and reaching across the aisle for the betterment of the people, then the Libertarian ticket of two former two-term governors can’t be beat. If you value honesty and humility in a leader, then Gary Johnson is the clear choice. If you want to feel good about voting for somebody instead of against somebody, then I urge you to consider voting for Gary Johnson.

If not now, when?

Google Gary Johnson, keep an open mind and see what you think.

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Paul Essen
Founder and Chief Discourse Officer at Rampant Discourse

Proud geek. Trekkie. Browncoat. Entil’Zha. First human spectre. Hokie. Black belt. Invests Foolishly. Loves games of all types and never has enough time to play as many as he wants. Libertarian who looks forward to the day he votes for a winning presidential candidate. Father to two beautiful daughters.


This article has 4 Comments

  1. I was very interested in Gary Johnson until the whole “What is Aleppo thing?”. I still like most everything about him, but I need to be convinced he is knowledgable and capable when it comes to global politics. While he does have some experience as a political leader, I feel Clinton has a major advantage over him as having held a far more varied set and political seats, (first lady, senator, secretary of state), and that makes her a much more qualified candidate.

    I didn’t know the climbing things about Gary Johnson, that’s a nice boon in my mind. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sure, and no doubt it was some bad optics for the campaign. I do feel like third parties sometimes get held to a higher standard with these kinds of things, though. Johnson had one brain fart while Trump has said dozens of things just as bad if not worse in terms of being insufficiently knowledgeable. Even Hillary, who has made her experience and foreign affairs knowledge a centerpiece of her campaign, has made some mistakes that nobody made a big deal about at all (http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-10-20/gary-johnson-says-glaring-double-standard-kept-hillary-clintons-mosul-mistake-from-being-an-aleppo-moment). Also, all the knowledge in the world doesn’t do any good if you make bad decisions with that knowledge, and I think we’ve seen plenty of evidence during her time as Secretary of State that Hillary does not make good foreign policy decisions.

      Hillary has held many posts, but has no executive experience (Johnson and Weld were both governors) and I frankly worry about her ability to work with the opposition party. She had an unimpressive record as a Senator of getting things done and her major initiative as First Lady was also a spectacular bust (Hillarycare).

      I’m not sure who you are considering instead of Gary Johnson, but if it’s Hillary Clinton, and you haven’t read it already, might I suggest you give my other political piece a read (http://rampantdiscourse.com/why-liberals-should-vote-for-gary-johnson/)? Might sway your opinion some.

  2. In the article regarding the double standard and Hillarys comment on Mosul it shows much more knowledge than Gary Johnsons glaring ignorance of aleppo. Hillary stated several facts, it’s a sunnI city, held by isis, close to Syria, this is a far cry from the total ignorance of Johnson and seems to further highlight the gap in knowledge of foreign affairs. I think this is still a major strong point for Hillary over Johnson.

    1. Sure, I’m not disputing that Clinton probably has more foreign knowledge than Johnson. I would hope she would, after serving as Secretary of State. The point was more that candidates have brain farts all the time. Those incidents just seem to get blown up more by the media when it’s a third party candidate. Also, I stand by my point that all this extra foreign policy knowledge hasn’t helped her make good decisions with Libya, Iraq, Russia, Syria….

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