Slate is calling him “America’s next top Libertarian.” He once said he gave his girlfriend “Atlas Shrugged” as a bottom line guide to understanding him. He wants to legalize weed, opposes the minimum wage, and believes Roe v. Wade should be overturned. And he’s attracted the attention of Paulites (though somebody’d better tell Ron Paul” and “progressive?” Libertarian icon Glenn Greenwald. Meet Gary Johnson, Republican candidate for president.
If you’re a political junkie, you’ve been hearing vague rumblings about former two-term New Mexico governor Gary Johnson for a minute. Tea Party Libertarians (as opposed to the “hands off my Medicare, ban abortions” corporate Christian rightists who dominate the tea bag set) have been itching for him to run for president for a long time. He’s their ideal candidate if they can’t have Ron Paul (and unlike Paul, he didn’t seek perpetual office after promising to live by term limits.)
It’s not just teabaggies. As Dana Houle recently posted, following a lengthy encomium to Glenn Greenwald in Out Magazine, Greenwald, who is portrayed as a progressive on cable television and in the blogosphere, is a Gary Johnson fan, too, though as Houle points out:
His written output suggests that Greenwald is politically engaged primarily by civil liberties and security state issues. He writes comparatively little about economic quality of life issues like wealth and income disparities, life opportunities and other forms of economic and social justice, including the rights of workers to act in solidarity to form unions and collectively bargain through their labor unions. And now, in learning he’s open to supporting Republican Gary Johnson, we see enough to know it’s almost certain he doesn’t share with liberals and progressives the core belief that the government has a necessary and essential role in taming the excesses of capitalism or of addressing our existential challenges as a species.
According to the 2002 edition of the Almanac of American Politics, as governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson cut taxes on the rich while cutting social services for the poor. He tried to pluck money out of public schools and funnel it in to private school vouchers. He vetoed a minimum wage bill. He signed in to law a late-term abortion ban. He won’t affirm a belief in global warming, and says even if it is happening that the effects are exaggerated and too much money is being wasted on it. And he vetoed a bill that would have continued the collective bargaining rights of public employees. That’s right, without the bluster but apparently to the same intended effect he did the same thing to public employees in New Mexico that Scott Walker did in Wisconsin.
Oh, by the way: Gary Johnson doesn’t support same-sex marriage.
On the subject of same sex marriage, Johnson told the Weekly Standard he doesn’t see a constitutional right to it, but he does think the federal government should simply get out of the marriage business altogether and leave it to the churches, and in that context he “supports gay unions.” Perhaps that’s what Greenwald approves of, since he apparently believes the federal government shouldn’t be involved in much of anything, except … um … patrolling the border for illegal immigrants (scroll to the end of the Houle post.)
Per the Weekly Standard, who reported that Johnson gave his girlfriend a copy of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” when she asked for one book that would sum him up, he’s also pro abortion rights, but thinks Roe v Wade should be overturned:
In principle, Johnson thinks abortion should be legal in most cases. “I support a woman’s right to choose [abortion] up until viability of the fetus,” he says. Why does viability endow human beings with the right to life? “I don’t personally have a sense that life starts at conception,” Johnson answers intuitively. “I don’t personally have that sense.”
But as a matter of law, Johnson thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned. “It should be a states issue to begin with,” he says. “The criteria for a Supreme Court justice would be that those justices rule on the original intent of the constitution. Given that, it’s my understanding that that justice would overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Last December, when Johnson made a tantalizing trip to Iowa, the blog Libertarian Republican raved:
Johnson, who served as governor from 1994 to 2002, supports slashing government spending, including big cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He also calls for simplifying and reducing taxes.
Which should really go over well with the eight in 10 Americans who do not support big cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
He’s also a fitness enthusiast, which Paul Ryan can tell you the Beltway media loves (wonder if he does P90X. If not he should start — should be worth at least a news cycle.) And Barry McCaffrey calls him “puff daddy.”
Slate has more on Johnson, who could become the thorn in Ron Paul’s side.
Before Ron Paul ran for president in 2007, Johnson was the Great Libertarian Hope. His come-to-Jesus moment on marijuana made him a national figure. Libertarians in the GOP hoped he’d run for their nomination; the Libertarian Party hoped he’d bolt and join their team. But Johnson was dismissive, ruling out a future in politics. “I have effectively pulled the pin on my political career with my stance on drugs,” he said in a 2001 interview with Reasonmagazine. After he left the governor’s mansion, he used the substantial earnings from the sale of his company to travel the world, climb Mount Everest, and ski. When I interviewed Johnson in 2007 (as a reporter for Reason), he asked to be described as a “businessman-slash-adventurer.”
So the Great Libertarian Hope job went to the only applicant: Ron Paul. He was imperfect. The more cosmopolitan members of the movement frowned on Paul’s abortion stance (life begins at conception), his immigration stance (he ran spine-tingling commercials about Mexicans climbing over the border), and his views on international trade. But Paul tapped into an anti-war, anti-state, pro-gold sentiment that few people knew existed. He raised $35 million. He came fourth in the delegate hunt.
Johnson studied the Ron Paul campaign. He hired Paul’s finance director, Jonathan Bydlak. He ran third in CPAC’s straw poll because some Paul supporters made him their first choice, to prop him up. In an interview earlier this year, conducted outside a restaurant in Arlington, Va.—Johnson thought we could save money if we didn’t grab a table—he explained that he wanted to expand the GOP’s base and do what Paul couldn’t quite do last time.
“I just would point out also that he ended up getting 9 percent of the vote, and I’m trying to be astute as to why that was the case,” said Johnson. “I mean, why wasn’t that a higher number? Because the idea would be—speaking hypothetically—the idea would be to win. And he didn’t win. So I try to understand that as well as I possibly can.”
The problem is that Paul still wants to run for president. At last check, his advisers said he was 60/40 on a new presidential run. He’s RSVP’d to the first Republican primary debate, scheduled for May 5 in South Carolina. He has already raised millions of dollars. The last report for Johnson’s PAC, Our America, reported only $205,000 raised, and most of it spent, in the last quarter of 2010.
So does Johnson have a shot at being president?
In a word, no. He’s too liberal on social issues to get through a Republican primary, and unless he flips those positions and becomes a birther, like Donald Trump did, he will remain an obscure figure, with Ron Paul’s policy positions (only more pristine) but not Paul’s name ID.
On the other hand, Johnson could well become the repository for a certain segment of liberals who, like Greenwald, are frustrated with Barack Obama, and looking for a libertarian savior who’s right on the issues they prioritize.
It’s not unusual for a certain segment of the left to become enamored of Libertarians, who tend to be anti-war, to oppose the national security state, and to favor drug legalization and other civil liberties priorities. Think Michael Moore or Bill Maher in 2000. That’s part of the gulf between liberal elites and rank and file liberals/progressives and particularly rank and file Democrats, who tend to care more about issues like poverty, income inequality and jobs. Also, liberal elites are increasingly preaching “a pox on both their parties,” and pulling toward third party candidates, whether Libertarians or Greens.
There are progressive opinion leaders who have a foot in both the “guns” and “butter” camps, but I could definitely see the segment of the liberal elite who detest President Obama for not being pure enough on security issues, and who think the federal government is altogether too powerful — just like tea partiers do — gravitating to Johnson, regardless of his positions on things like Medicare, Social Security and the minimum wage.
UPDATE: ThinkProgress recently interviewed Johnson, and found that he’s also a nullification advocate, who opposes child labor laws.