Gary Johnson gets second chance at Fox News GOP debate

September 22, 2011

It’s a big, big night for Gary Johnson.

After being excluded from every GOP presidential debate since May, the former New Mexico governor has gotten into tonight’s Fox News confab in Orlando over the objections of the Florida GOP. Now he has to do something with his big chance.

In the May debate, Johnson looked uncomfortable throughout, complaining about not getting enough questions and then giving weak, forgettable responses when he did. For fans, the performance was a disappointment. For those who had never heard of Johnson, it was not an incentive to learn more. Since then, the candidate has all but disappeared, popping up only to complain about being excluded and to announce his latest bike race.

Tonight’s debate gives Johnson a chance to start over with his strongest argument — that he’s a Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) with results.

Like Paul, Johnson is a libertarian-leaning critic of foreign intervention, U.S. drug policy and government regulation. Unlike Paul, Johnson says that he implemented his ideas as head of a state and saw them work. He consistently cut taxes as governor; the Club for Growth calls him “one of the most anti-spending governors in New Mexico history.”

What Paul has been able to do that Johnson hasn’t is give a good debate. While he’ll always be a longshot, Johnson can position himself as the purer, more effective libertarian in the race. But he has to prove he’s capable of making that argument.

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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