Rarely has a presidential race been so toxic and personal, and rarely have so many Americans been so fed up with an election year that seems to go on forever.
Both major presidential nominees are unpopular with the broader American electorate, as evidenced by the numerous polls compiled since the conventions this summer. Hillary Clinton is viewed by Donald Trump’s core supporters as a scheming, untrustworthy elitist who acts and believes she is above the law. Hillary’s supporters label Trump as a relic of the 1950s, a time when paranoia dominated our political discourse and when immigrants were often treated as threats to society rather than constructive members of America’s social fabric.
Enter Gary Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld, both of whom are on track to lead the Libertarian Party to its greatest share of the presidential vote this fall. The two former Republican governors of Democratic states (you can’t get much bluer than Massachusetts) are hoping and praying that dissatisfaction with both Clinton and Trump will provide them with the heft they need to be true election contenders.
Johnson and Weld are interesting candidates by their very nature: socially inclusive on issues like gay marriage, conservative on taxes, the size of the federal government and government spending, but reasonable where other libertarian extremists might scare voters away. The socially liberal, fiscally conservative combination helped both Republicans govern solidly Democratic or Democratic-leaning states for two terms – the kind of success that is increasingly hard to find when polarization is at a high.
None of this, however, will matter much if Gary Johnson is unable to get on the debate stage with Clinton and Trump later this month. Johnson needs 15 percent support across five major national polls to qualify, a steep hill to climb given his 8.1 percent share according to a RealClearPolitics average. For that percentage to go up, Johnson needs to be a constant face on television and he needs to spend all of the money he has in his small bank account.
Johnson and Weld are making a late play on the television airwaves starting this week in order to explain to voters that there is indeed a third option available for them. The two weeks of TV time come on top of $1 million in radio ads from Johnson that predominately target states in the west and southwest. Compared to the tens of millions of dollars Clinton and Trump have at their disposal, Johnson’s war chest (including Super PACs) is peanuts, which means he needs to act a little more creatively to reach Americans like granting interviews and town-hall appearances on CNN. Good showings with newspaper editorialists help too; the Johnson/Weld ticket received a nice boost from the Chicago Tribune editorial board last month, writing that “in a year when the public is sick of politics as usual, Johnson would bring a set of ideas to the debate stage a lot of people may like.”
Johnson and Weld will need all the help they can get to meet that 15 percent threshold – a number that is completely arbitrary but would nonetheless sink third party candidacies like Johnson’s and the Green Party’s Jill Stein. With a late push on television, the Libertarian ticket is showing that it is leaving nothing to chance. For the sake of the American people, Democrats, Republicans, and independents should all hope that Johnson’s ad blitz succeeds. Even if you’re in the bag for Clinton or Trump, we should all be able to agree that democracy is better served with more ideas being represented?