To some libertarians, that was no tragedy. Johnson, running as the LP's presidential nominee for the second time, drew criticism for a performance that only occasionally found focus. CNN's moderator Chris Cuomo seemed to throw Johnson without trying, briefly stumping him when asking for him to sum up Donald Trump in one word.
"I'm sure there's something good to say about Donald somewhere, I'm sure," said Johnson. "In the debates — I play a game in the debates, so during the Republican debate when it was asked the question, will you support the nominee, I would have said, 'Look, I'll leave it open, but I would not support Donald Trump based on what he has said to this point.' And that was all the things that he had said to that point. I'll leave it open. But everybody else said they would support the nominee. I would have said no to Donald Trump unless things change."
Cuomo moved over to Weld, the party's vice presidential nominee, who did have a word in mind for Trump.
"Huckster," said Weld. "If you give me more words, I had a lot more."
"I took the liberty of using more words," said Johnson.
On Twitter, Libertarian commentators rooted for Johnson, but repeatedly saw Weld as the more adroit TV presence.
Still, the very existence of the hour-plus special was a tribute to how far into the spotlight Johnson had dragged Libertarians. Since convincing Weld to join his ticket and, thereby, creating the most politically experienced third party campaign since 1980, Johnson had sat for scores of interviews, most of them friendly, like an episode of Samantha Bee's "Full Frontal" that had Johnson climbing a rock wall and imitating Sylvester Stallone.
CNN, which promoted the Libertarian forum just as it had presented similar showcases for Republicans and Democrats, mostly let the candidates explain themselves. Johnson meandered with a question about a ban on members of the terror watch list being able to obtain guns, comparing the error rate on that list to the conviction error rate for criminals on death row. He found dry land again when explaining his tax plan — a national consumption tax — or health care.
"If we could bring genuine competition to health care, health care would be one-fifth the cost of what it is right now," said Johnson. "You would have Stitches R Us."
Johnson, a teetotaler who went on to run an edible marijuana company, was challenged by a mother who blamed heroin for a crippling injury to her son.
"Can you people in positions of power please get rid of the drugs?" asked Maureen Morella.
After calling her son's story "heartbreaking," Johnson offered an on-point libertarian solution. "We are not espousing the legalization of any drugs outside of marijuana," he said. "But what you are pointing out is that prohibition is really what your son succumbed to." Johnson imagined government regulation that could monitor the quality of drugs, like heroin, that would not become legal, and stuck to that position after Morella worried it would not stop the problem of young people being harmed.
Weld got less thorny questions, and occasionally stepped up when Johnson wanted to skip one. When one questioner asked if the Libertarian Party's goal of deep military spending cuts would make America less safe, Johnson turned to his running mate.
"Want a crack at that one?" he asked.
"Sure," he said. "I personally have never seen a layer of government that didn't have waste in it."
Both men, who had only won elections as Republicans, were at their best when trying to reframe Libertarian positions as sweet spots between the parties. After Johnson skidded around a question about whether he really could raise the Social Security retirement age to 75, Weld stepped in with a lecture about the failure of Republicans and Democrats.
"It's almost like the parties exist more for the purpose of slandering each other than they do for the purpose of legislation," he said. "I think people's teeth are set on edge against each other as groups. A lot of the reason is Republican versus Democrat. Gridlock in Washington. Hyper gerrymandering. And I think the next president has to rise above that, as did President Eisenhower, President Reagan, make us all feel good about being Americans."
With that, Cuomo turned to the subject of Johnson's athletic hobbies.
"Hardest thing I have ever done?" Johnson said. "It was bicycling 600 miles in 36 hours."