The New, Colossal Opportunity: The Libertarian Option
Can Libertarian Gov. Gary Johnson become the next President of the United States?
Written by Trent Kannegieter
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Since their inception, the booming words of “The New Colossus” have welcomed immigrants into Ellis Island, as well as our country as a whole. The symbol of Lady Liberty is one we as Americans have grown up with plastered to our minds for more than a century. However, today, the abstract symbol of freedom has transcended into a much more tangible opportunity: the freedom to break free of the dichotomy of the American political system. How? Through the Libertarian Party’s ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld.
Today, we are faced with an election that will undoubtedly be studied by political scientists and sociologists alike for years to come. While the entire process can be disorienting in the whirlwind of offensive data one can find, let’s focus on one key aspect of the general election. The approval ratings of the presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees are almost hilariously bad. (Please note that this article assumes there will be no “insurrections” so to speak at the GOP or Democratic conventions that that the mathematical winners of the primaries, Trump and Clinton, will be nominated.) In a world where both parties have strong factions with stronger distaste of their leading players, the one of the most inclusive primary processes of all time might transcend into a general election when disheartened individuals might simply not vote, not wanting to cast a ballot for anyone remaining. (The Washington Post has argued that a popular psychology among those who do plan to vote is just voting for the one you hate a little less.)
However, this gloom doesn’t need to be felt, as there’s another way. The Johnson/Weld ticket has the opportunity to captivate these disheartened individuals with a relatively moderate platform, a professional option, and more executive experience than both of the major parties’ selections combined. The goal of this article is to give a semi-holistic analysis of the context surrounding the Johnson/Weld ticket so that readers may make their own decisions.
The greatest potency of Johnson’s ticket comes from its seemingly perfect pairing of an insider’s experience with the appeal of an “outsider” that has driven so much of this cycle. Johnson served two terms as Governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, and he was received well by his home state, known for creating a budget surplus. His Vice Presidential candidate, William Weld, was an immensely popular governor of Massachusetts in the 1990s, winning reelection by the highest margin in state incumbent history, who also has worked in the federal government through being the United States Attorney for his state’s district. (It is important to note that both of these candidates served this time as Republicans. As the Republican Party continues to have an identity crisis thanks to Trump, the more libertarian-leaning faction of the party has far more potential to transition to the Lib Party by following other converts.) This amount of executive experience totals to more than that of Trump and Clinton combined (which is… zero), and while being painted as part of the “establishment” has proven to hurt tickets in this cycle (see: Jeb! Bush), as a third party ticket, Johnson/Weld is as anti-establishment as it can get. Pairing this with a legitimacy to govern not seen in other recent third party movements (Perot, Nader) gives the Libertarians a true opportunity in this election.
However, in order to have even a hope of winning, the Libertarian ticket must not only be the most sound option, but it must topple the two-party system that has been institutionalized over 150 years of politics. The stability of the Democratic and Republican parties has almost been institutionalized to the point that it is impossible to beat them. Almost like political trusts who were never broken up — you can’t expect them to break themselves up, right? — the parties have been able to grow and grow in stature to the point that accomplishing many things in politics seems impossible without them, including making a presidential run. After all, many do not even know that Johnson also ran for President in 2012, as he wasn’t even allowed on ballots in states (my home of Alabama included.) Many third party candidates have tried to vanquish this behemoth in the past, Perot and Nader included, unsuccessfully, but it is very important to note that none of these candidates have experienced any situation comparable to the disdain of politics that saturates the 2016 election. However, in order for Johnson to be allowed into the debates and have any chance at legitimacy in this election, he must gain 15% of the electorate in polling. This presents a large problem, as, in order to gain exposure enough to bump tremendously in the polls, he must be at the debates, and in order to be at the debates, he must be included in the polls. (However, some polls have placed him with upwards of 10% support, probably in part because of the aforementioned disdain of other candidates. Once again, the fate of this election might come down to the same media that powered Trump’s rise to power; make of that what you will.) This twisted Catch-22 situation is the sort of machine that in institutionalized to maintain order, especially in a post-2000 world, after Ralph Nader arguably gave George Bush the thin margin to allow him to eventually win.
Another important question to ask is, assuming Johnson takes a considerable amount of the voter populace, which party he will “steal” the most votes from? Expert analyses of this are decidedly pitted against each other. Many more “classical” political scientists assume that the libertarian option will take votes from Republicans, as for many years, Libertarians have voted with their economic alliances in the GOP. However, the independent-leaning Republicans make up a much smaller section than who Johnson really seeks to absorb: Bernie Sanders supporters. Young, idealistic voters might be more willing to vote for what some older people will see as a “protest candidate” simply because of his party affiliation, and in the process, might undermine Clinton as much as, if not more than, Trump. However, before you decide that this means that a Johnson ticket gives Trump the White House, two very important factors to remember about this. First, many Bernie voters are the same people who would not participate at all in a Clinton campaign anyway, and are the same aforementioned disheartened voters who wouldn’t get to the voting booth come November (which means that the votes aren’t getting “stolen” from Clinton as much as they’re adding new votes.) Secondly, there is a real legitimate chance that, if Johnson makes it to the debates, the combined forces of ex-“Bernie Bros”, moderate Republicans, and independent voters would be more than enough people to win a three-way election.
Perhaps more important than all of this, though, is the role of the Libertarian Party itself and how it needs to “mature” in order to seize this moment. One of the main reasons the Libertarian Party hasn’t ascended to a true political legitimacy (despite its beliefs absorbing a vast percentage of the American populace) is the fact that the party of freedoms has a notorious reputation for bucking traditional norms… many times to its own detriment. One of the best examples of this came over Memorial Day weekend, during the party’s national convention, through the actions of James Weeks, who, while giving a speech during his campaign to enter party leadership, decided to strip all of his clothes off before ending his bid. While this might be funny in a random collegiate SGA, it doesn’t do the trick when giving your party the legitimacy it needs to stage a true battle against the greatest powers of our status quo: the modern American political parties. If things like Weeks’s antics continue, we can’t expect the ideas to speak for themselves, and maybe it takes newcomers to the party like Johnson and Weld to break it from its dogmatic slumber and allow it to transcend into the option that the nation so desperately needs right now.