Last week, in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman declared that what this country needs is a good third party.
His was just a cold assessment of “the political marketplace,” insisted Huntsman, who – as he exited the race last month — endorsed Mitt Romney. “We need something to compete against the [Democratic-Republican] duopoly that is getting old and tired,” the former governor of Utah said.
“That ain’t going to me, by the way. I’m not interested in that,” Huntsman added. Within minutes, former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer announced that he, too, had abandoned his quest for the GOP presidential nomination, and would run as an independent. Not that many noticed.
Truth be told, the better third-party bet was in Athens this weekend, attending the state Libertarian party convention. Gary Johnson is yet another former governor – this time from New Mexico – who failed to scratch in the Republican contest.
But when Libertarians have their national gathering in Las Vegas in May, Johnson is likely to emerge as the party’s candidate – just as Bob Barr did four years ago. Johnson left the GOP contest in December. Again, not that many noticed.
Johnson was invited to only two of the many, many debates that displayed the GOP army of candidates. His last was in September, in Orlando. The fit was never there.
“I was in Florida about 10 days ago, and I bought a Libertarian T-shirt. I’ve not worn a Republican T-shirt in my life. I didn’t want to be stuck with having to defend a Republican dogma,” Johnson said in an interview shortly after touching down in Atlanta.
In the crowd of Republican presidential candidates, Johnson was the only one who didn’t seize the label of social conservatism. His main issue is the economy – he promises a balanced budget and supports the Fair Tax, a consumption-based national sales tax.
“I like the Fair Tax because there’s a built-in constituency that goes along with [it]. I think it takes the debate and discussion down the road in a good way,” Johnson said.
But he’s also a defender of gay marriage. And Johnson applauded the end of the U.S. military’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He defends a woman’s right to abortion, and clearly would have offered an alternative view during this month’s Republican discussion of contraception.
“It occurs to me that contraception ultimately leads to less abortion. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have no contraception and no abortion, in my estimation,” Johnson said. “I would think that those that are pro-life would kind of embrace that notion. But they don’t.”
Johnson has a biography that never got much air time last year. His wealth comes from a construction company he built from scratch in Mexico. He’s climbed Mount Everest, survived Ironman triathlons in Hawaii, and endured in the Bataan Memorial Death March, a 25-mile desert run that mandates combat boots and a 35-pound backpack.
He has broken his back twice, once while hang-gliding. That episode resulted in the illegal use of marijuana to help handle the pain, the two-term governor has admitted.
His drug policy? “In a nutshell, legalize marijuana. Fifty percent of Americans support this notion. It’s never been so high,” Johnson said. Beyond that, he says, create a policy that treats drug abuse as a health issue first.
That’s not a platform likely to win Johnson the White House. But he could still matter more than other fallen Republicans.
Should Johnson win the Libertarian nomination, his next goal would be to gain a spot in the three presidential debates scheduled for this fall. Which could have a decided impact on the November vote.
To win a podium place, Johnson would have to have his name placed on statewide ballots from coast to coast –- a task well within the capacity of the Libertarian movement. And he would have to place 15 percent or better in reputable national surveys.
“They’ve been doing some polls lately. I’m at 9 percent against [President Barack] Obama and Romney,” Johnson said.
To get to that 15 percent mark, Johnson would have to win the support of libertarian voters who now stand behind GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul. Unlikely to make a third-party bid himself, the Texas congressman has vowed to carry his fight to the national GOP convention in Tampa in September.
“What do Ron Paul supporters do? First, I’m believing they’ve all got brains. I don’t think they vote for Obama, and I don’t think they vote for Romney. Or Santorum. Or Gingrich,” Johnson said. But he admits that Paul can’t endorse him without damaging the future of his son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Barr, the former Georgia congressman, anticipated picking up libertarian supporters after Ron Paul’s run for president in 2008. It didn’t happen – at least not in the numbers that Barr needed.
Then there’s the question of a Libertarian running mate. Johnson teased the New York Daily News last week by floating the name of actress Jennifer Anniston. “It’s a fine line between ginning up attention, and getting someone who can hang in the vice presidential debate that goes along with the presidential debates,” Johnson said.
He’s slightly more serious about approaching Drew Carey, the comedian and host of TV’s “The Price is Right.”
“He’s a Libertarian,” Johnson said. “I think he’s capable of articulating the ideas.” Given the game-show nature of 2012 presidential contest so far, Carey might be an appropriate choice.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider