All the attention is on the prospect of a Clinton-Trump race, but it is underreported that there may be a Libertarian entrant in this election: Gary Johnson. Who is Gary Johnson? Well, he served as the Republican governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003. He’s not a nut and he’s not manifestly dishonest, and that sets him apart from the field. He may not exactly hit the sweet spot as a third-party candidate, and I say he could never win the general election, but be on the lookout for the growing potential of the Johnson campaign after the Libertarian National Convention in Orlando in just more than two weeks. It wouldn’t take much for his candidacy to make a difference in a close race.
Johnson was also the Libertarian candidate for president in 2012, and received 1.27 million votes, or almost 1 percent of the popular vote. Keep in mind that in 2012, there was not as much widespread dissatisfaction with the Democratic and Republican parties’ nominees. In 2016, Johnson could benefit from Republicans, Democrats and independents who find they cannot vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Some of the young, left-wing Bernie Sanders supporters may be attracted by Johnson’s advocacy for legalized marijuana, military non-interventionism and pro-choice stance. Republicans could be attracted by his credible experience as governor, his rational commitment to balancing the federal budget and his pro-Second Amendment views. Many middle-of-the-road voters might simply be reassured by his calm demeanor, mature presence and credibility. In a race between Shouting Hillary and Insulting Trump, his lucidity may offer a vivid contrast.
Anyway, the Johnson campaign will certainly be worth watching — again, not because he could ultimately win, but because he could add another element of uncertainty to this election. Polling is obviously fluid and unreliable at this point in the race, but in a poll with a hypothetical Trump-Clinton-Johnson matchup released yesterday, he is already at 4 percent. And in a poll from late March, Johnson had 11 percent.
I’m not sure if he would take votes from Clinton or Trump, but Johnson’s Libertarian campaign for president has some disruptive potential.