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Gary Johnson plays the role of spoiler

Heath Haussamen

Heath Haussamen

Until reform gives third-party candidates a realistic chance to become viable, perhaps spoilers are our best hope of keeping the two-party system in check.

After securing the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president this weekend, former N.M. Gov. Gary Johnson insisted that he could win the race if the media lets him into nationally televised debates.

“If that happens, I want to suggest to you that anything can happen,” the Albuquerque Journal quoted Johnson as saying. “I’m honored to have the nomination, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think I could win…”

I’ve already written that, as the Libertarian candidate, Johnson could impact the race. But I also wrote about a potential path to victory for him when he was a Republican candidate that ended up not coming to fruition:

 “Johnson is someone who shares the tea party’s ideology but has actually had to balance that ideology with governing in a practical way. His candidacy may present a moment for the tea party to decide its future.

“…I have my doubts about whether the tea party movement is prepared to follow someone like Johnson. And even if the movement is ready, Johnson’s positions on social issues will make the road ahead difficult for him.

“Perhaps it’s likely that Johnson’s presidential campaign will go nowhere. But I think there’s also a chance, if the tea party gathers around him, that he will become a significant candidate – and the tea party will become a lasting force.”

Well, Johnson didn’t become a significant candidate in the GOP race, thanks in part to the machine that protects the warring two-party system – a machine that included the national media and, in this instance, the Republican Party.

Johnson is too liberal on social issues for the most active GOP primary voters, so the powers-that-be decided early on that he wasn’t to be taken seriously. His GOP campaign was doomed.

‘Everybody says they want a viable alternative’

Johnson is running the best campaign he can now. A record-high 40 percent of Americans identified as independents in 2011 and are fed up with the two-party system. Johnson’s campaign website opens with this phrase:


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“Everybody says they want a viable alternative to America’s two-party chokehold. Everybody – meet Gary Johnson. The two-party is over.”

Maybe there is, someday, a chance of that happening, if most people outside the two-party system rally around one candidate. But the Americans Elect movement doesn’t list Johnson as a declared candidate for its nomination that will place a yet-to-be-named candidate on the ballot in many states.

While Johnson is likely to be on the ballot in all 50 states, he may not be the automatic alternative to the two major parties.

Here’s a dose of reality from Reuters:

“The Libertarians’ best presidential showing came in 1980 when nominee Ed Clark won 921,128 votes or 1.1 percent. In the 2008 election, party nominee Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman, got 523,686 votes or 0.4 percent.”

‘The distinct and alarming traits of a spoiler’

Now, I think Johnson can and very well may do better than any Libertarian in history. Here’s what I wrote about him earlier this year in my Tea Party column:

“Johnson is intelligent and articulate; he’s athletic and hip (he climbed Mount Everest with a broken leg); he will be viewed as honest (he’s very open about his past drug use). He has potential in most categories that lead to likeability. That’s far different than the situation with Ron Paul and his son.

“Johnson has a very simple message for America: We’re bankrupt, we’re on the verge of financial collapse, and we have to balance the budget, no matter what it takes. It’s a message that will resonate with many.

“And he has the experience to back up his message: He’s made difficult choices, cut government waste and vetoed hundreds of bills…”

The Daily Beast suggests Johnson could “shake up 2012:”

“In an era of infinite political dysfunction, Johnson is rolling the dice with a brand of fiscal responsibility and social tolerance that could make him a real threat in November.

“… Johnson has been polling between 6 and 9 percent nationally, a number just large enough to cover most Obama-Romney spreads. His name is expected to appear on ballots in all 50 states, and unlike the president and Mitt Romney, Johnson will spend the next six months speaking freely in language unmolested by establishment advisers or influential special interests. As the predictable election trench war digs in, the unassuming New Mexican is taking on the distinct and alarming traits of a spoiler.”

Spoiler it may be, particularly in New Mexico, where Johnson’s name recognition might win him a higher percentage of votes than other states. Polls haven’t yet shown that New Mexico is a swing state this year, and while I expect the presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney to tighten, Romney isn’t the type of conservative who blue-leaning New Mexicans generally rally behind.

Johnson is… or at least used to be.

I’m not saying Johnson can or will win New Mexico. But he’ll be on the ballot and make it more difficult for Romney to compete here.

Johnson has some liberal appeal, but he ensured that he will win more conservative support than liberal backing when he accepted the Libertarian nomination.

Forcing Republicans to rethink who they nominate

I don’t think third-party hopefuls shouldn’t run simply because they might spoil the chances of a mainstream candidate who leans their way. We’re never going to fix our political system if we don’t fight against the machine that unfairly keeps the two parties in power without forcing them to earn that right.

Johnson has almost zero chance of winning the race. The best he can do is keep Romney from winning. And that might force Republicans to rethink who they nominate for president, just as Ralph Nader has done for Democrats in recent elections and Ross Perot did for both parties in the 1990s.

Until reform gives third-party candidates a realistic chance to become viable, perhaps spoilers are our best hope of keeping the two-party system in check.

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14 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. While I disagree with him on a majority of issues, I think that Gary Johnson is a welcomed addition to the Presidential race.   He has integrity and actually governed exactly as he said he would.

    The Republican Party has become so dysfunctional and so crazy over the past two decades that Republicans are not fit to govern in Washington at this time.  They need more time in the wilderness.   

    In their own strange way, libertarians often make more sense that the Republican Party as a whole.  There is no reason to have active U.S. military bases in 130 countries.  Marijuana policy in this country makes no sense.   And there are strategic cuts that could be made to the federal budget of at least $450 billion that even many liberal Democrats should be able to agree on — without cutting people’s benefits or hurting people.  We certainly need to prioritize and focus what the federal government is trying to do.

    So the Libertarians bring more to the table this year than ever before.  And as a consistent libertarian who also improved New Mexico’s infrastructure and held education even as a share of state spending, Johnson has shown the capacity to govern well from a libertarian and fiscally conservative stance.   He deserves the nation’s attention and consideration.

    Other than the deficit and a couple issues like underfunding NASA, I’m pleased with our current President, so I’ll be voting with enthusiasm for him to have a second term.  But I can see some of Gary Johnson’s virtues.            

      
        

     

  2. There you go being simple, intuitively obvious, and dead wrong again. Do you have any evidence to support your claim that there’s no other way
     
    to explain such incompetent , empty suit, and weak Presidents as Bush and Obama.
     
    You’re drawing a parallel, making a comparison. Yet all you’[ve done is list a bunch of adjectives without giving any evidence or reasoning to support the claim of comparability, or of the propriety of the adjectives. Can’t you actually make the argument? Perhaps an example of incompetence, or of weakness, for both presidents?

  3. See Michael, we’re not so different, I voted for Anderson too!

  4. Mr. Schneider says:  

    “No, I blame the electorate. We demand simple, easy, wrong answers and we demand simple, glib candidates who look good and sound confident, we don’t care about facts and issues, and we get what we want.”
    Now you have finally said something I can agree with, how else to explain such incompetent , empty suit, and weak Presidents as Bush and Obama.
     

     

  5. DJ, there WAS a great presidential candidate, in 1980– John Anderson.  As I recall, he was minority leader of the House for 20 years before he ran. 

  6. “Johnson has a very simple message for America: We’re bankrupt, we’re on the verge of financial collapse, and we have to balance the budget, no matter what it takes. It’s a message that will resonate with many.
     
    Simple, easy to understand intuitively, and dead wrong.  It’s also a message that’s being carried perfectly well by Paul, Romney, and a bunch of others.
     
    Also wrong were Nader, Ron Paul, and even John Anderson (that’s in retrospect – I voted for Anderson). But they were no more wrong (no wronger?) than McCain and Palin and Reagan and Bush.
     
    It’s true that our system discriminates against third party candidates. It’s also true that the country would probably be much better off if we had instant runoff voting, or proportional voting, or a parliamentary system.  On the other hand, do we really need more candidates with bad ideas? Does everyone remember the California Governor’s election where there were a gazillion whacko candidates?
     
    No, I blame the electorate. We demand simple, easy, wrong answers and we demand simple, glib candidates who look good and sound confident, we don’t care about facts and issues, and we get what we want.

  7. There is no such thing as a spoiler. No one owns the voters, much as many candidates and parties think they do. There is a multi-candidate effect whenever more than two candidates vie for a position. Electoral reforms – such as ranked choice voting which requires a winning candidate to actually have a majority – have been enacted in many jurisdictions within the US and are used in other countries. Electoral reform, campaign finance reform and term limits are needed to bring more democracy to the US.
    There will be at least 7 presidential candidates on the ballot in NM in November.

  8. qofdisks says: ” …there are issues on which Americans agree.”  It would seem to be precious few when the details of policy comes out and the polarization starts immediately, like on this blog.  It is not the media doing it, they just report on what all of us are saying when we can’t agree on much of anything these days.

  9. I don’t think there was or is any thing wrong with Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot or Gary Johnson.  They are all great candidates and very qualified to be president.
    I am distressed about the assumption that Libertarianism is automatically associated with the Tea Party and the Right.  There are a good number of Liberal Libertarians out there also.  Libertarianism overlaps elements of both the Left and the Right.  Believe it.  You may not be able to tell by the craven divide and conquer propaganda spewed by the corporate media that there are issues on which Americans agree.
     

  10. It appears a libertarian candidate will take votes away from Romney across the country, not only here, thus improving Obama’s chances for victory in an already projected tight race. And I guess the liberal support for Johnson likely comes for those who want to legalize marijuana.  

  11. I could agree with that Heath, but its’ like the chicken and the egg, when a great candidate comes along third party, you will have your opening to expand the system in my opinion, but I agree it is rigged so they never do.

  12. I disagree Dr. J. I believe the system is designed, from top to bottom, to make it more difficult for third-party candidates and thus discourages qualified candidates from running.

  13. Heath says:  
    “Until reform gives third-party candidates a realistic chance to become viable, perhaps spoilers are our best hope of keeping the two-party system in check.”
    Sorry, but that’s a very simplistic statement about the problems of third party candidates.  They are just too odd, clumsy, inarticulate, unpolished, and quirky to be viable mainstream candidates.  Look at Johnson, I mean really who could imagine him running a country, he couldn’t even handle NM.  Others like Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, etc. all prove the point of them being as I described, no majority or even plurality of Americans could take leave of their senses to put a check in their box, it will never happen as long as third party candidates are like these.  Sorry, find some real candidates with real credentials and abilities and a third party has a good chance these days.

  14. Nobody mentions the VP candidate for the Libertarian Party. He is former judge James “Jim” Gray of California. Johnson handpicked Judge Gray, a prominent advocate of marijuana legalization. A Johnson staffer said: this selection “puts pot front and center in the campaign.”
    “I was a drug warrior until I saw what was happening in my own courtroom,” Judge Gray said in 2010.
    It is of interest that Johnson has 15 percent support in New Mexico in a match-up against President  Obama and Mitt Romney, according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey.
     

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