Friday, December 23, 2011

Johnson Out, In

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.


  1. Long term, I suspect Johnson has more of a future than Paul. He does have less baggage, and more reasonable positions for the most part (he's not a goldbug, for instance). But agreed that the Senate seat would have made more sense for him right now.

  2. Why anyone who has a good opportunity to win a Senate seat wouldn't run is beyond me. Just kinda nuts, if you ask me.

  3. Johnson is a rare example of a libertarian with governing experience. For the anarchist fringe of the Libertarian Party, he won't be radical enough. But most will view his record as impressive -- he vetoed everything in sight, pardoned hundreds of drug offenders and remains one of the most popular politicians in New Mexico. Having said that, the LP nomination is Paul's if he wants it. There's also talk of Jesse Ventura running, although it sounds like what he really wants is to be Paul's VP candidate, then run in 2016 in his own right.

    Jonathan, you're analysis is good. I'll just ad that Johnson was clearly screwed by GOP insiders, while they helped along Huntsman and tolerated Santorum, two other marginal figures. Hey, that's the way the game works, but the GOP shouldn't be surprised by Johnson's move. This is a warning sign for their treatment of Ron Paul going forward.

    phat, it's hard to disagree with that. My impression is that he just doesn't want to be a Senator and he's not going to let any political consultants talk him into it. It's too bad… Johnson would provide a Senatorial voice for blue state libertarians just as Rand Paul does for red state libertarians.


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