Libertarian Gary Johnson looks to 2012 and beyond

In leaving the Republican presidential race — and the Republican Party itself — to seek the Libertarian nomination for President, Gary Johnson made it clear to Human Events last week that he was in the third party for the long haul.  Should he win the nomination of the 40-year-old Libertarian Party at its national convention in Las Vegas May 5, the former two-term governor of New Mexico will strive to win the five percent of the vote that will give the party millions in federal matching funds.  

“And someone can really make a difference with resources like that,” the 59-year-old Johnson told Human Events over breakfast during a trip to Washington, D.C., estimating that the matching funds for the Libertarian Party after securing five percent of the vote this November would be $90 million.

Johnson is clearly onto something.  Major parties, along with minor parties that reach the 5 percent threshold, do indeed qualify for grants in federal matching funds (although the $90 million figure Johnson referred to is unclear at this point). According to the Congressional Research Service report “Public Financing of Presidential Campaigns: Overview and Analysis” (by R. Sam Garrett, Dec. 5, 2011), “Based on their nominee’s performance in the preceding election, existing third parties may qualify for lesser amounts, although none did so for the 2008 election cycle. New third parties may receive limited public financing retroactively if they receive at least five percent of the popular vote in the general election, meaning that they are ineligible for funds until after the campaign concludes. (Funds received after the election could be used to pay remaining debts.”

The task is an awesome one. The only third party nominating convention to have received public funds was the now-defunct Reform Party in 2000.  Libertarians have never come close to the 5 percent threshold needed to get the money in question.

Johnson, who left the Republican Party last December after being shut out of numerous televised debates, voiced confidence he can secure the Libertarian nomination over nine little-known opponents.  He pointed out that he has been winning state party conventions for delegates to Las Vegas with ease and sometimes with 80 percent of their votes.  As for a running mate, he joked that “I will withhold names to protect the innocent.” But he did volunteer that he is “considering some former office-holders, including a former congressman that you would know.”  (Although Johnson can recommend a running mate, the Libertarian convention itself selects the vice presidential hopeful independently.)

Would he help Obama?

The scenario of the former multimillionaire construction company owner and governor leading a party that is on the ballot in all fifty states can set off a few bells — especially among Republicans, who want their nominee to go one-on-one with Obama.

Would Johnson take votes away from the eventual GOP nominee and perhaps throw the electoral votes of key states to Obama?  Without hesitation, he shot back: “I reject that analysis.  You’re saying that people who support marriage equality [gay marriage], ending our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and smoking marijuana would vote for the Republican candidate if I wasn’t in the race?”

Although believing he would take more votes from among Democrats and independents than Republicans, Johnson did concede that some of his agenda and his record as governor of the Land of Enchantment — including 750 vetoes and cutting taxes 14 times — might appeal to conservatives.  He also believes in abolishing the corporate, capital gains and income taxes in favor of a consumption (or “Fair”) tax, not unlike Mike Huckabee’s proposal in 2008.

And Johnson wants to get the federal government out of health care for the poor completely, making the states the overseer of Medicaid with a limited amount of federal dollars in the form of block grants.

The key to getting Gary Johnson to the five percent showing he so desperately wants is, he believes, to be included in televised debate with Obama and the GOP nominee.  He recalled how “when I did get in one of the [Republican] debates, fundraising went through the roof.”  Johnson blames the GOP hierarchy, especially National Chairman Reince Priebus, for keeping him out of most of the debates and forcing him to go Libertarian.

How Gary Johnson performs this fall and whether the Libertarians reach “the magic five percent” remains to be seen.  But there is a far bigger story to be written — namely, of a third party movement he wants to lead performing beyond expectation and growing.