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The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

Gary Johnson failed the Libertarian Party


2016 was supposed to be the year. The Libertarian Party was going to take complete advantage of one of the worst political megastorms in United States history and make a real case for a third option in American politics. Many believed that this would be the year the party went completely mainstream. Given the two historically unpopular major party candidates and with a former New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson, as their nominee, things were looking good for the Libertarians. Johnson made it onto the ballot in all 50 states. He was regularly polling in the low double digits, and his support held up after the Democratic and Republican parties’ conventions.
Not that Johnson would become president, of course. He was more running as a giant advertisement for his party which means he had to seem likeable to as many people as possible. He was the last hope that libertarian ideas and philosophy would be promoted at a new level, potentially piercing America’s popular conscience like never before. Prominent libertarian writer David Boaz wrote two years ago that Johnson “will present a clear alternative to Trump and Clinton: strong and coherent fiscal conservatism, social liberalism, drug-policy reform, criminal-justice reform, reining in mass surveillance, ending executive abuse of power, and a prudent foreign policy that is neither promiscuously interventionist nor erratic and bombastic — all grounded in a philosophical commitment to liberty and limited government.”
Sadly, Johnson really did none of this. Over the course of the 2016 election race, Johnson continually made a mockery of both himself and his party while also seeming to push away any kind of small support he had from moderates. To be fair, you don’t need Johnson to make the Libertarian Party look downright insane, but his job was to overshadow this by appealing to the widest range of people.
Most libertarians would point to Johnson missing the debates as the main reason he began to fall apart. He lost about 1.5 percentage points from his national poll numbers in September of 2016 when the first debate took place. He may, however, have already been on a downward trajectory before the debates took place; on September 25, the day before the first debate, he had 7.3 percent (on average) in national polls, compared with 9 percent a month before. So, it’s quite possible Johnson’s numbers would have continued to dip even if he appeared on the debate stage. And this is, of course, the ultimate problem: Gary Johnson cannot seem to be normal for even five seconds.
Johnson committed some major policy-related gaffes— not knowing basic facts about the Syrian War or being able to name a foreign leader he admires — that suggest the debates would have been rough on him. But heck, we elected a man president who had essentially these same problems, so why did “The Johnson Experiment” not work? Surprisingly, the answer is less questionable than that name I just made up. Johnson just can’t connect with voters when he’s acting like a complete buffoon and hurting his own agenda. One of the worst moments to come out of his ill-fated campaign was his “I will give up smoking weed if elected president.” For a man who owns a weed dispensary and has been fighting government for decades over decriminalization, Johnson seemed to completely shut down his liberty thinking ways when it came time to be interviewed. For a libertarian who thinks weed should be legal, it’s highly questionable from all sides why the drug would suddenly be reprehensible while on the most stressful job on Earth.
Johnson had his chance. It was the biggest shot the Libertarian Party will likely ever have in my lifetime, and his campaign did more to diminish liberty than promote it. The Libertarian Party must come to terms with the fact that the only way to affect the larger political landscape is elect a somewhat normal person. Moderates and realists within the party must come together to support actual libertarians instead of washed up goobers who can no longer communicate to other humans. Johnson’s simple 2016 task was twofold: First, present libertarianism coherently, and hopefully, make it look appealing to the largest common denominator. Second, don’t look like an idiot.
He failed both miserably.

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  • J

    Jonathan DevlinFeb 3, 2018 at 9:17 pm

    I’d have to disagree. Obviously being a buffoon doesn’t exclude one from becoming president. The fact that Trump was elected and that George W. Bush served two terms is all the evidence needed to prove that wrong. In my opinion Bill Clinton was a bit of a buffoon as well. Also Trump constantly hurts his own agenda, so you can’t point to that as the reason that Johnson lost.
    I think it’s more a case of libertarians failing Johnson. First of all the Libertarian party is more splintered than both the GOP and Dems. It is a party that is comprised of anarchists, republican leaning people and everything in between, so it’s doubtful that the “party” will ever unify behind one candidate. Then you have the political opportunists like Rand Paul who are all about libertarianism when it benefits them, but don’t have the courage to stand up and say, “This person is better for the job than those two clowns”, when it is needed. Mostly I think the fault lies with the party, whether it be official members or not. I was made very clear from the start that the only media attention Gary Johnson would get was when he messed up and that hurt him, even though Trump messed up multiple times a day and was also constantly caught lying while Clinton just completely avoided the media acting like she had the election already won. Since the media refused to do their supposed mission, it was up to Libertarians to educate people on the reality of what Johnson/Weld was about and their accomplishments. I am not a member of the party and I have vowed to never be part of any political party, but by educating others I was able to turn numerous people to vote for Johnson. If people would do that instead of keeping the dumbass, “I have to vote for this one to stop that one”, mentality then I imagine he would have fared much better.
    And there’s just the fact that Americans have become so apathetic and stupid. I don’t know how many times I had to frame it this way and people still didn’t get it: 60% of the country wants neither Trump or Clinton. If everyone votes the way they believe then neither will win and the election will be decided by Congress. In that case we would probably still get Clinton or Trump, but the country would finally wake up and say, “Oh s**t, we have more than two choices that could actually win.” That would drastically change the face of both the midterms and the next presidential election.

  • C

    CopymanJan 30, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    At this point, you have to wonder if it’s possible for the Libertarian Party to be anything but a spoiler. If they couldn’t pull more than 5% when the Democrat and Republican Parties put up (what the public perceived as) historically unpopular candidates, is it even possible for them to break that threshold?