Here’s Why Libertarian Gary Johnson Could Pick Off Bernie Supporters
Policy + Politics

Here’s Why Libertarian Gary Johnson Could Pick Off Bernie Supporters

REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski

Now that Hillary Clinton has clinched the Democratic nomination, at least numerically, the race for president now comes down to the former Secretary of State, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump or…Gary Johnson? 

There are plenty of other third-party candidates itching to sit in the Oval Office, but former New Mexico Governor Johnson, the nominee of the Libertarian Party and a recovering Republican, has an edge over the rest of those on the fringe of the presidential contest. He will be on the ballot in 32 states and is working to get on the rest; he has been here before, having captured one percent of the general election vote in 2012; and he is at long last starting to get noticed.

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Johnson’s positions haven’t changed much since his last run, but in this bizarre election year, there is a factor that could work in Johnson’s favor: Bernie Sanders and his frenzy of followers.

Johnson and Sanders are on many of the same pages: Both support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, both are pro-choice, both support equal pay for equal work, both vigorously back same-sex marriage, both want to keep America out of foreign conflicts, both are for criminal justice reform and both would decriminalize marijuana. In fact, Johnson may be more vocal about what he calls the failed War on Drugs than Sanders, and he opposes mandatory minimum sentencing that has removed “common-sense discretion from judges and prosecutors.”

Although Sanders has been called soft on gun control by Clinton and others, Johnson is a stronger supporter of the Second Amendment. And his fiscal positions are considerably more conservative – and somewhat less realistic -- than those of Sanders.

Government spending
Johnson’s website says that by the time President Obama leaves office, the national debt will be $20 trillion. “That is not just obscene, it is unsustainable — and arguably the single greatest threat to our national security,” his position statement says. Johnson blames both Republicans and Democrats for years of fiscal irresponsibility and calls balancing the budget without cutting military spending and reforming entitlements “fantasy.”

Johnson told Judy Woodruff on PBS NewsHour last night that he would eliminate income taxes, eliminate corporate taxes, abolish the IRS and implement a federal consumption tax. “If we abolish corporate tax in this country, I believe tens of millions of jobs would get created. Imagine not having to comply with the IRS,” he said.

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His website reflects the Libertarian rejection of Big Government and its influence on the lives of everyday Americans. “Tax laws have been used not just as a means to collect needed revenues, but as a weapon with which to manipulate our behavior, create and destroy industries and fulfill politicians’ dreams of social engineering,” Johnson’s position statement says.

A Smaller Washington
Besides eliminating the IRS, Johnson wants to shut down the National Security Agency (NSA), whose domestic spying is anathema to most libertarians both inside and outside the party. And like a lot of conservatives, he favors shuttering the Department of Education.

Unlike Senator Sanders, who has excited many of his younger followers with a call for free college education, Johnson doesn’t believe that the federal government should have a role in education – he thinks schooling at all levels should be in state and local hands. That includes getting government out of the business of guaranteeing student loans.

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“Only chance of we have of winning,” Johnson told Fox News, “is to be in the presidential debates.” To be included in the debates, Johnson and running mate William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts, must be getting at least 15 percent in the polls, according to the rules of the Presidential Debate Commission.

In the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, Johnson takes 8.5 percent of the vote, vs. 39 percent for Clinton and 38 percent for Trump. But a new poll by Investor’s Business Daily gives Johnson 11 percent.

Should Johnson actually get on America’s radar screen and snatch a place in the debates, he would make what has been a wildly unconventional election season even more so because the 63-year-old, pot-smoking candidate (he promises to give up weed if elected) is in many ways less mainstream than Sanders or Trump.

“I believe in free markets. The model of the future should be Uber-everything,” Johnson told satirist Samantha Bee in a refreshingly wacky interview on Full Frontal, “ Uber-accountant, Uber-lawyer, Uber-doctor.”  Responded Bee: “I can’t wait to pay surge pricing mid-colonoscopy.”