The Libertarian Party (LP) held its presidential nominating convention in Florida this past weekend, and after a few rounds of voting Gary Johnson and William Weld emerged as the presidential and vice presidential nominees, respectively.
Both are former Republican governors—Johnson of New Mexico and Weld of Massachusetts—and their combined name recognition and electoral record makes them perhaps the LP’s most credible ticket to date.
That’s especially the case in a year when many #NeverTrump Republicans and #NeverHillary Democrats are desperately casting about for an alternative to the two major party candidates.
So now that the LP has made its choice, here are five things you need to know about the nominees of America’s largest third party:
Though Johnson has never been my favorite (mostly on foreign policy grounds—he’s not a consistent non-interventionist), he ran the most successful LP campaign ever in 2012, netting more than 1 million votes, after dropping out of the GOP race. Here’s a profile from GQ in 2011 which will give you a good sense of Johnson is all about:
The wildly popular (still) two-term Republican governor from a state that is two-to-one Democrat. A guy who’s confident that he knows how to manage the purse strings and balance a budget because he did it—eight years in a row—in New Mexico. His fiscal conservatism is unmatched by anyone in the race. And his socially liberal cred—the only pro-gay and pro-choice Republican candidate—is unmatched even by some Democrats. (Of course, while this could be an asset in the general election, it’s a bitch of a liability in the GOP primary.)
Even the backstory had a self-made charm: Born fifty-eight years ago in Minot, North Dakota, the son of a tire salesman turned teacher and a mom who worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Johnson started a one-man handyman operation when he was 21, grew it into a construction company with a thousand employees, and sold it in 1999 for about $5 million.
This biography puts Johnson in a strong position both against Trump’s bragging about his business smarts and Clinton’s emphasis on her governing experience.
Read more here.
This ticket is a remarkably pragmatic choice for a party known for its ideological purism—clearly a decision influenced by the unusual electoral situation. As Cato Institute Vice President David Boaz writes at The Daily Beast:
Neither Johnson nor Weld is a purist libertarian, and both have come under fire within the Libertarian Party, which will nominate its candidates in Orlando over Memorial Day weekend. Johnson displeased many libertarians (including me) by saying that government should ban discrimination on the basis of religion, including requiring a Christian baker to bake and decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding. Weld has supported some gun control measures.
But they will present a clear alternative to Trump and Clinton: strong and coherent fiscal conservatism, social liberalism, drug-policy reform, criminal-justice reform, reining in mass surveillance, ending executive abuse of power, and a prudent foreign policy that is neither promiscuously interventionist nor erratic and bombastic—all grounded in a philosophical commitment to liberty and limited government.
The issue isn’t so much whether this ticket can appeal to a significant portion of the population—it definitely can—but rather whether those people will hear about the LP option.
Read more here.
As I’ve explained before, the barrier to a third party victory is much bigger than differences of name recognition, party loyalty, fundraising numbers, and the like. The real problem is about how our voting process is structured in a way that will always produce a two-party system:
Because our elections generally follow the “winner takes all” method, third parties inevitably struggle to get the funding and name recognition to get into office. The hurdle is simply too high.
This is most obvious in presidential elections, where it’s extremely difficult for third parties to compete because they must run a national campaign in which they collect the majority of the vote on a statewide level. Getting one third of the vote in every state, for instance—a much better showing than even Perot managed—would still mean zero Electoral College votes (well, they could maybe pick up a couple from Maine or Nebraska).
Meanwhile, ballot access laws give third parties trouble to get on the ballot itself, let alone win elections…
I hate to be so pessimistic, but unfortunately our Constitution all but ensures a major-party win.
Read more here.
Let’s be honest: The presidential debates are a racket.
The event is managed by leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties—who have an obvious interest in keeping other candidates off the stage while ensuring a reasonably softball experience for their own nominees. But the unique circumstances of this year’s election means there’s a serious chance interest in the LP ticket will be high enough to get the Libertarian candidates into the debates. The Atlantic notes:
Libertarian leaders want their candidate on the debate stage alongside major-party candidates, similar to third-party nominees of the past like Ross Perot. But to qualify, a candidate needs at least 15 percent of the vote in five national polls chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates. When I asked the campaign Tuesday how Johnson could bump up his percentage, his communications director, Joe Hunter, noted that the “first step” is getting into polls, “which is finally happening.” More awareness and more interest around Johnson “will go a long way toward 15 percent,” Hunter said.
Johnson is already polling around 10 percent in a Trump vs. Clinton match-up, so 15 percent is way more realistic this year than in elections past. In fact, the debate commission chairs admitted back in January that they wouldn’t be surprised if a third-party candidate did make it on stage.
Read more here.
Libertarians are almost guaranteed to be a little unusual, and that’s ok. But it is so discouraging to see headlines like “Man drops bid to be Libertarian party chair by strip dancing live on CSPAN” coming out of the party’s national convention.
Arguably worse than such antics, however, is the LP’s continued willingness to get distracted in bizarre and hypothetical minutiae on national television. Consider this report from Reason’s Brian Doherty:
Whoever wrote the questions did the Party, in my judgment, a great disservice. A C-SPAN audience did not need to see the five candidates pondering out loud whether drivers licences are legitimate. (Among other challenging questions that could serve no other purpose but to embarrass the Party and its candidates in the eyes of any random cable viewer were such pressing, burning 2016 presidential campaign questions so often thrown at Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as: would you have fought World War I? II? Apologized for bombing Hiroshima? Voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act? Do you think drivers need to be licensed? Should it be a crime to sell heroin to 5-year-olds? I’m enough of a movement veteran that these things just flowed by me at the time, but in retrospect they seem the worst sort of hectoring irrelevances designed to make the Party’s candidates seem like eccentric loons.)
What the hell? Drivers licenses? World War I? These are not topics a presidential candidate of any party needs to be discussing.
This is not some esoteric political strategy; it’s basic common sense.
If the LP wants to avoid squandering the chance for real exposure that the 2016 election is offering, it needs to learn how to share the message of liberty more effectively than this.
Read more here.