Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson tried to put a string of foreign policy gaffes behind him on Friday with a speech at the University of Chicago that began with some brickbats for how the media had covered him.
“Because you can dot I's and cross the T's on names of foreign leaders and geographic locations, then that qualifies you to put the military in a situation where the military is dying,” Johnson said. “If that's the qualification to be president, dotting the I's and crossing the T's on the names of foreign leaders and geographic locations, and because that's the quality that you have to possess, we'll just count on the military policies of this country continuing.”
After a summer polling bump that took many Democrats by surprise, critical media attention and the Clinton campaign's concerted attempt to split him from millennial voters have driven down Johnson's poll numbers. In the five polls used by the Commission for Presidential Debates to determine who gets onstage for a debate, Johnson is polling in the high single digits, far below the 15 percent cutoff. In an interview this week with the New York Times, Johnson acknowledged for the first time that he was unlikely to make this Sunday's presidential debate in St. Louis or the final debate in Las Vegas, effectively closing off his shot at a breakthrough.
Instead, starting in Chicago, Johnson is refocusing on the libertarian message that he and the party's activists believe can win over voters disgusted by the Clinton-Trump race. Johnson promised to “honor the War Powers Act, without hiding behind dubious legal opinions from my own lawyers,” thereby promising not to take any military action without approval from Congress. Johnson, who has said he cast his first presidential vote for George McGovern, suggested that the last 30 years of military interventions had been a string of disasters.
“It is difficult, if not impossible, to identify an instance where our military interventions and regime changes in the past 15 years have improved the lives of anyone,” said Johnson. “Iraq? Yes, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. No question about it. But are the Iraqi people better off today because we decided to take him out? Are we safer here in America? No.”
Taking questions from the audience after the speech, Johnson spoke as if his campaign was still riding the highs of August and early September. He referred to polling that showed him tied with Democrat Hillary Clinton among voters under age 30, something that was not quite true then and is less true after pro-Clinton PACs ran ads attacking Johnson's laissez-faire approach to climate change.
Johnson's speech did not mention climate change, focusing instead on Clinton's record of intervention and Trump's promise to destroy ISIS through unspecified military action.
“The notion that we will someday celebrate V-I Day, Victory over ISIS, is both naive and misleading,” said Johnson.