Libertarians are known to be caustic. Hard to please.
Until this year always on the outside of the party, like a ’40s film Eve Arden character, Libertarians have in the past appeared to be on the sidelines, at best wags offering cutting assessments about the prom queen and king.
The high unfavorables of this year’s GOP quarterback and (somewhat thick and superannuated) Democrat head cheerleader have the Libertarian Gary Johnson out on the floor cutting a rug, his dance card full of almost daily national media requests from every TV talker from Bill Maher, to Chris Cuomo, to Sandra Bee, to Bret Baier.
But Libertarians themselves aren’t happy. There is constant carping on social media from Facebook to the readers at the libertarian Reason magazine, as well as in outlets like National Review that are occasionally promoting Johnson as an alternative to Trump for disaffected GOP voters.
Somewhat like Bernie Sanders’ fans, the supporters of the other contenders for the Libertarian Party nomination that Johnson won (on a second ballot) are refusing to unify behind Gary Johnson. One meme circulating critical of Johnson and running mate William Weld depicts the two former Governors as puppets on a string manipulated by Hillary Clinton.
The general complaint is that Johnson seems too calm, moderate, and, well, boring.
Though there are lots of specific causes of outrage, one of the low points for Johnson among libertarians was his CNN Townhall appearance when Cuomo asked him what he thought of Hillary Clinton and his answer was: “A good public servant.”
Combining this with Johnson’s public charge that Trump or his policy proposals are “racist” has many libertarians pulling their hair out over why the Johnson campaign seems to be courting the left and ignoring the right. Despite the left-leaning strategy — Johnson held meet and greets outside both the GOP and Democrat conventions, and like Green Party candidate Jill Stein fished for Bernie voters at the Democrat convention in Philadelphia — Marvin Bush (Jeb and George’s younger brother) has endorsed Johnson, and both Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are rumored to be considering doing so.
Johnson is following the votes. Polls show he pulls more from Hillary than from Trump — though like Trump he probably pulls heavily from the 40 percent near majority of voters who had given up on voting in presidential races at all.
Johnson’s strategy isn’t some cannabinoid induced error. It’s deliberate.
When questioned about the CNN Townhall where Johnson and Governor Weld — who seems to have a cordial personal history with Hillary Clinton — refrained from criticizing the Democrat candidate, one of his chief media handlers told me the Johnson campaign wasn’t concerned with turning off libertarian voters: “We already have them. The libertarians who won’t vote for Johnson because of things like the CNN Townhall are the cranks who would find some other reason not to vote for him anyway.”
Jeff Phillips, a Ron Paul activist and small “l” libertarian in the GOP who was elected to a local Michigan school board asks why he should vote for Johnson:
Here’s what doesn’t make sense to me. Obviously Gary Johnson’s whole campaign is about promoting the Libertarian Party to a broader sector of society, and for whatever the reason he’s decided to target the liberal leftists on it. It’s a turn off to me, but I get it. I can at least understand it. However, it’s clearly a party over principle type of approach.
Being that I’m in the Republican Party, if I were to stand on my convictions and decide that Trump sucks enough for me to vote principle over party–which for me doesn’t take a whole lot–then in looking for another candidate and looking at say the Libertarians, why then would I vote for a Libertarian candidate that is running a party over principle campaign? It seems incompatible. Either I’m voting principle over party and looking for a principled candidate, or I’m voting party over principle in which case I have zero reason to vote third party.
But Phillips and other right libertarian may be indeed out of luck if what they want to do is express themselves through their vote. The Johnson campaign is aiming for disaffected Hillary and Bernie supporters, and even more for Democrat-leaning Independents.
They don’t view the election primarily as an opportunity to posture, to educate, or to virtue signal. They view it as a way to get either 5 percent of the vote and federal funding in 2020 or better yet 15 percent in the polls and debate inclusion in 2016, as steps to crack the two party system.
Donald Trump could take note of this.
The Presidential Debate Commission, which is not a non-partisan group — as often described by the media — but is instead a bipartisan organization owned and controlled by the Democrat and Republican Party establishments. It scheduled debates on NFL dates when likely Trump voters will be watching ballgames.
Trump should argue against that scheduling, and he might also demand that Gary Johnson be included. Johnson will say awful things about him, things that may not be true, things that fit the liberal media narrative. But Johnson will also be taking votes, with the increased exposure, from the voters who would normally vote for Hillary but would feel a lot cleaner if they could vote for another option.