While the two main parties in the US go through their procedural requirements before officially giving their candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the nod, in a quiet corner of Orlando, the Libertarian Party have secured their presidential and VP nominations. Gary Johnson and Bill Weld will represent the party in this presidential election cycle.
It’s an interesting pick. The libertarians, maybe somewhat focused on the relative unpopularity of the Republican and Democrat choices on offer, have chosen pragmatism over purity. Gary Johnson almost certainly fails most libertarians’ “purity test”, but so what? Politics is the art of the possible, and if you vote for Ayn Rand to represent you, you’re going to end up spending most of the election cycle justifying why roads must be privatised, or some other ‘kooky’ side-issue. But picking Johnson and Weld, the LP have a real shot – even though the odds are still against it – of picking up more serious numbers this time around. Johnson could even end up being part of the presidential debates if he gets 15% recognition in a series of polls. He’s around the 10% mark with his name in at the moment. Again, it’s unlikely, but it could happen.
Let’s make this clear. There will be three serious names on the ballot in all 50 states this time around: Clinton, Trump and Johnson. Clinton and Trump are statistically the least popular picks in recent history. I couldn’t find a time in the last 50 years where the Democrat and Republican candidates both polled with less than 50% approval ratings.
Which leaves one question: how much approval would Gary Johnson get? He has a problem: people have to have heard of him first. But if there’s enough attention (and with both disenfranchised Reps and soon-to-be pissed-off Bernie voters looking for alternatives, that attention could well be on its way), then here’s a guy who arguably represents the mainstream view of most Americans.
I’ve felt for quite a while now that while there’s some die-hard ideologues on both the left and the right, broadly speaking the majority centre-ground in the US are people who are fiscally conservative (read ‘competent’), and socially liberal (read ‘tolerant’). That’s a fairly nice big-tent definition of a libertarian, but Americans haven’t been specifically looking for one before. Today, that could well change.
In the 2012 elections, Gary Johnson polled over a million votes. It was the largest raw numbers the Libertarian Party had ever seen, but was still only 1.2% of the vote, not even quite their highest level. The odds of Gary Johnson becoming the next president are very slim, but if he can push the needle far enough, then there’s every chance that libertarianism in mainstream American politics could flourish as a result of his run.
Gary Johnson is a libertarian. Weld is, arguably, a libertarian-leaning Republican. They may offer an optimistic insight into the future of the GOP. Let’s take Gary Johnson as an example. He’s a two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, in a state that’s 2:1 Democrat. How did he do it?
There’s no doubt that America is moving further and further away from the old socially conservative model that Republicans have hung their hats on for years. The times, they are a-changin’. And for a while now, the GOP has refused to move with it.
Lots of things can happen in the next few years to change that. However, it’s not totally unrealistic at this stage, to say that I can see a time in the next 20 years or so, where Republican presidential nominations are like, well, Republican gubernatorial nominations in a heavily-Democratic state like New Mexico. Gary Johnson came along, with lots of money (a successful self-made millionaire), and gave the GOP some money. They were grateful, but tried to steer him away from wanting to become the Republican nominee for governor. Despite that, they eventually picked him. After all, he had lots of energy and enthusiasm, and the rest of the field were going through the motions comparatively . After all, what’s the point? Republicans seldom win in a state that’s 2:1 Democrat.
Once he had that platform, he went full-blown libertarian, challenging the inconsistent positions of the incumbent Democratic governor. And people flocked to the idea. It was new, it was fresh, it was exciting. But more than that, it felt, it felt… right.
So he won. Became governor. Did everything he promised he would. He upset the Republican old-guard as much as the Democrats in that state. And once it came to the next election, he happily conducted dozens of debates with his challenger, and won with a bigger majority.
Imagine a time, not too far from now, where the whole US is like New Mexico. Majority Democrat. Picking a Republican candidate is not important any more, because those guys just don’t win any more.
So, just like in New Mexico, a younger, fresh-faced person wins the national GOP nomination on an energetic libertarian platform. He or she doesn’t get too much opposition from the GOP establishment because that establishment has shrivelled up. Then that libertarian pick gets to be on the main stage with the Democratic clone.
Then the future of American politics starts to get interesting. And, for this libertarian, a lot healthier too.
Donald Trump says he wants to “Make America Great Again”.
Gary Johnson says he wants to “Make American Sane Again”.
I think the two-term governor of New Mexico is on to something.