Summer is here, and the season's hottest trend is ... Libertarians!
Largely ignored by the mainstream media for most of the presidential campaign, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson is suddenly racking up headlines in The Washington Post and New York Times and on CNN and NPR.
Volume of coverage is a difficult thing to quantify comprehensively, but consider one striking metric: Lexis-Nexis, which logs articles and transcripts from thousands of news outlets, tallied 452 stories related to Johnson in U.S. media between May 18, the day he tapped former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld as his running mate, and June 3. That's more attention in a 17-day span than he had received in 4½ months of campaigning to that point.
Several factors likely contributed to the spike in interest. Adding Weld made a decent-size splash. A former Republican governor of a politically important state is certainly a bigger newsmaker than, say, a former county judge, which is what Johnson had on the Libertarian ticket in 2012.
The Libertarian Party held its national convention in Orlando last weekend. So there was an event to cover. That helps.
But the most important factor is not the Libertarian candidates themselves — or their events. It is the impending nominations of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Just look at how the press is framing coverage of Johnson-Weld. The focus is generally on the Libertarians potential to play spoiler in a contest between two unpopular major-party candidates. There is very little about Johnson's positions.
Did the Libertarian Party just stumble upon a viable Stop-Trump ticket? (The Fix, May 19)
Libertarian Gary Johnson to never-Trumpers: 'I'm it' (Associated Press, May 26)
With Trump vs. Clinton looming, Libertarians get a look (Christian Science Monitor, May 27)
Libertarians could hurt somebody. But who? (Bloomberg, May 31)
The most powerful people in America: This duo could hand Trump the election (New York Post, June 2)
That pretty well summarizes the range of coverage. The press isn't sure whether Libertarians will hurt Trump or Clinton, but its confident they will hurt one of them.
What does Johnson actually stand for? There appears to be less interest in the proposals of a candidate with no real shot to be president. Perhaps that's understandable.
But Right Turn columnist Jennifer Rubin offered some suggestions for the media this week that are worth considering. Two stand out:
* In figuring out how to balance air time, the media rightly complains Hillary Clinton is not available nearly as much as Trump. That excuse, however, does not wash with Johnson-Weld, who should be interviewed on a regular basis.
* In treating Johnson-Weld as normal candidates the media should press for positions on key issues. What do they plan to do about the Islamic State? If they cannot get a flat tax, what sort of tax reform do they favor? If they disband the Education Department, should federal funding for schools disappear? What drugs would they legalize?
It remains to be seen whether the press will follow Rubin's advice. But you have to figure that reporters and editors will eventually grow weary of stories about which major-party contender is more likely to suffer as a result of Johnson's presence on the ballot.
If that happens, perhaps the Libertarian Party will get its biggest media platform ever.