I didn't get around to doing this post earlier in the week, but Gary Johnson is dropping out of the battle for the Republican Party presidential nomination...and in to the contest for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination.
I'm surely no expert on Libertarian Party politics, but presumably Johnson would be the overwhelming favorite to carry their banner -- unless Ron Paul decides he wants it. For whatever that's worth, it will mean that in most states there will be a conventionally credentialed third party candidate for president on the ballot. Indeed, I think I'd guess that Johnson's upside as a third party candidate is somewhat higher than Paul's; he's been a governor, and he has less baggage than Paul. On the other hand, however, he's a lot less likely to fulfill his upside. That basically requires good initial polling numbers, which would then get a third party candidate plenty of media coverage, money, and perhaps even inclusion in presidential debates, and Paul would almost certainly start out with higher polling numbers thanks to his much higher name recognition.
Which of course is exactly what happened to Johnson in his bid for the GOP nomination. Whatever else the debates do, they certainly divide the field between serious candidates -- those who get invited to the debates -- and cranks and kooks, who don't. As I've said before, had Johnson performed well in the very first debate and Herman Cain not done so well, it's very possible that Cain would have dropped right into the fringe status occupied by Johnson and Buddy Roemer, while Johnson could have at least made it to the debates.
But not much more: for better or worse, Johnson's campaign for anything more than crumbs vanished the day that Ron Paul jumped into the race. The "libertarians who want someone better than Paul" constituency within the GOP just isn't anything more than crumbs at this point.
On the other hand, if Johnson had really wanted to advance the libertarian cause in 2012, the natural move would have been to run -- probably as a Republican -- for the open New Mexico Senate seat. Libertarians upset with their candidates' choices should, in my view, start with that one.