LAST night, CNN’s Anderson Cooper hosted the second Libertarian Town Hall in New York, with the party’s candidates for President and Vice President, Gary Johnson and William Weld. As the Trump/Pence campaign continues to hurtle toward dumpster fire status, these two Republican ex-governors, Johnson of New Mexico (1995-2003) and Weld of Massachusetts (1991-1999), may conceivably have a larger role to play in this election than was previously thought. Right before last night’s CNN Town Hall, one poll had them at 12% (most had them at 9 or 10%), and they only need to be at 15% to be included in the Presidential debates. CNN has Green Party candidate Jill Stein polling at 5%, and will host a Town Hall for her and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, on August 17.
The performance of Johnson and Wells last night suggested that they might very well best Trump and Pence in their respective debates. It is less clear how they would fare against Clinton and Kaine. But as more and more conservative and moderate Republicans flee the Trumpster fire, looking for an alternative to apostasy with Hillary, Johnson and Weld may have an opening.
In the 1990s, Johnson and Weld were two of the most fiscally conservative governors, and both were also socially liberal, supporting LGBT rights and the legalization of pot. Against Trump’s bleak the-house-is-burning rhetoric, Johnson and Weld said last night that America is in a relatively good place now, but the ferocious rancor between the two main parties is making it impossible for anyone to get anything done. They’re offering an alternative to this governing gridlock.
Concerning the current campaign, they said Trump “has a screw loose,” and Hillary is part of the “beholden” class of “pay-to-play” politics. When Anderson Cooper asked them about their political models, both Johnson and Weld named Thomas Jefferson, for his “restraint and modesty.” At one point, Weld described himself and Johnson as “a couple of nineteenth-century Jeffersonian liberals.” Weld also said he admired Hugo Black and William O. Douglas on the Supreme Court, but declined to name his favorites on the current court.
In response to a question from the audience, Johnson said he and Bernie Sanders are in “about 75%” agreement on the issues; so disaffected Bernie supporters are another possible source of Libertarian votes. If their candidacy really begins to catch on, they might even attract some Democratic voters who harbor real reservations about their current standard-bearers, but that is, at this point, a long shot.
Their biggest problem at this point is Duverger’s Law, which says that third-party candidates cannot win within the current Electoral College set-up. One scenario would have the Johnson-Weld ticket drawing enough support away from the two major party candidates to prevent either from reaching the required 270 electoral votes, throwing the election to the House of Representatives. If that vote goes beyond the first ballot, we could have our first Libertarian President and Vice-President.
It is unlikely, but the current climate favors the unlikely. Whatever else happens, Johnson and Weld should be included in the debates, something that hasn’t happened with a third party since Ross Perot in 1992.
David Levi Strauss
Thursday, August 4, 2016, 2 pm.
LINK to all David Levi Strauss Power 2016 Dispatches