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Gary Johnson – closer or spoiler?

August 8, 2016

It’s no secret that many people are equally sick of Democrats and Republicans, giving third-party candidates their best shot at votes since the days of Ross Perot twenty-four years ago.

Of the two most visible, former two-term (1995-2003) New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is making the most waves at present.

At first glance Governor Johnson doesn’t seem like a bad fit for the disaffected voters from both sides. His adopted party, the Libertarian Party, bills itself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

That’s approximately where a large majority of America’s voters see themselves.

There is a certain incongruity there, since to fund social reforms you need to spend money. A lot of money. But of course that’s common sense talking, and since when are elections about common sense?

Taking his candidacy at face value, how does Governor Johnson expect to make this work?

One of the things that allowed him to balance New Mexico’s budget and leave office with a surplus was the line-item veto, a luxury not currently afforded to presidents.

On his website, Governor Johnson states that he will scrutinize every line in any budget that reaches his desk and veto any budget that doesn’t fully conform to his expectations.

That’s going to be a lot of vetoes, given that at the very best of times, every budget is a compromise.

That probably won’t bother the governor who wielded the veto stamp so often that one of his nicknames in New Mexico was Veto Johnson.

According to one source, in his first term he vetoed a New Mexico record  48% of all bills, 200  out of 424,  that reached his desk. A 2012 article in  National Review states he vetoed 750 bills in all.

Even at that, he had to yield to New Mexico’s predominately Democratic legislature several times, notably on his support for school vouchers, one of his signature issues.

There is little doubt that the so-called conservative base would have a hard time with Johnson. Many of his positions are diametrically opposite of the Republican platform.

His stance on drugs is a prime example.

Governor Johnson has long contended that some drugs, particularly marijuana, should be legalized on the grounds that it is the illicit drug trade and its obscene profit potential that fuels crime, rather than the drugs themselves.

This is in line with liberals who maintain that if drug addicts had their choice and ample access, they would just stay happily stoned in preference to having to go out and work hard enough to commit crimes.

Legalized drugs would also produce another taxable revenue stream if Colorado, which attaches a 25% tax to all pot sales, is any example.

Nationally that might be a tough sell, particularly since other Federal statutes such as the banking laws would have to be repealed or amended to make it work.

Johnson has at various times called for immediate cuts in all Federal spending as high as 43% in his first year in office to balance the budget and address the national debt.

His main argument seems to be that there is that much waste and fraud built into spending, particularly in programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the military.

His reasoning is that he would simply be forcing those agencies to spend their money on actual needs rather than political payoffs.

Most reasonably unbiased fact checkers feel that such a precipitous drop in funding would send the economy into a tailspin from which it might never recover.

On other issues he seems to be more in line with national sentiment, such as his support for school vouchers, common sense environmental regulations, his anti-nation building national defense posture, and his insistence that every decision be evaluated against a cost-benefit standard.

On balance, Governor Johnson may have caught the public’s attention too late.

Given that the anti-Trumpers are still determined to field their own candidate, it isn’t likely that Mr. Johnson will pull any support from that quarter, and those folks wouldn’t vote for Mr. Trump if he was the last human on earth.

Ardent Trump supporters absolutely don’t want their candidate to turn into Mitt Romney, but they recognize there are times that he needs to, for lack of a better phrase…look presidential. He can’t win with just his blue collar male base.

The debate stage is one of those times, and since no one knows which Donald Trump will show up there, Johnson might have the slimmest of openings.

Getting to that stage and contrasting himself with the two “official” candidates could be the only serious look the Libertarian candidate ever gets, and that’s a longshot at present.

Governor Johnson is still struggling to rise high enough in the polling average (15%) to be included in the national campaign debates that start in September. He effectively only has two or three weeks to get it done.

With some outlets reporting, perhaps wistfully, that the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) might consider making an exception if Johnson is just a point or two short of 15%, the polling companies themselves might become the deciding factor.

If the polls are in fact  slanted against any third-party candidate, as was noted in a May 12, 2016 article on The Hill.com, then the averages may not move up enough to afford Johnson a seat on the stage.

That apparent establishment bias is leading Johnson supporters to consider another online petition drive to force his inclusion on the stage.

The current gaming odds at the time this is being written in the European betting market (where betting on political races is legal) have the odds him at 100-1, with Hillary the prohibitive favorite at 1:4 and Trump just under 3:1 at 11 to 4. The Green Party candidate is at 500 to 1.

For the first time since 1992 enough Americas are sufficiently  pissed off to at least consider betting on someone like Johnson. That doesn’t bode well for either Clinton or Trump, with Trump as the close-running challenger to the status quo having the most to lose.

No matter his polling numbers, Johnson is not likely to win the presidency. At best he’s going to be the same sort of spoiler that Perot was in 1992.

Strangely, he also has the potential to vault Trump into the lead.

If Johnson did make it on stage, it would give Trump a chance to simply politely ignore him and pass the litmus rest of proving to voters that he can stay focused on the issues and his real opponent.

It’s interesting to wonder what the odds are on that outcome.

From → op-ed

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