The problem with Gary Johnson

In an election dominated by the real life basis for the character of Claire Underwood and a candidate whose unsuitability for office is beyond doubt, it’s hard to take a serious interest far beyond guessing how gargantuan Clinton’s margin of victory will be.

But with rumours abounding that Mitt Romney may well endorse Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson during the week, the race could be about to take an unexpected turn.

Johnson comes over as a man in full possession of the chill that Trump clearly lacks and the principles that Clinton wouldn’t recognise if they fell from the ceiling of an auditorium into her husband’s adoring grasp.

Far and away the best known Libertarian in the USA and doubtless deserving of the chance to make an impact in an election where there is clearly no lesser evil, Johnson wasn’t my first choice for Libertarian candidate. In March, while engaging in a three-way debate for the candidacy he sparred with the lesser-known Austin Petersen on an issue anyone in Northern Ireland would be familiar with – gay cake.

Petersen’s position was in my opinion the most consistently libertarian, and completely at odds with how matters had been pursued this side of the pond. He argued that anyone should be able to refuse service to anyone but that they shouldn’t be surprised if people boycotted their business as a result. Johnson on the other hand argued that discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or religion was a black hole and that it did harm to a great deal of people.

Most people agree that discrimination is disgusting and also, in the case of Northern Irish bakery Ashers, pretty bad business sense. But is it really the place of the state, in our case the odious Equality Commission, to compel anyone to make anything?

Granted, the situation in the U.S is slightly different to here. Johnson qualifies his interpretation of ‘two gay men walk into a bakery’ by reflecting on the – generally accepted as a good piece of legislation – Civil Rights Act. If discrimination in service is illegal he argues, then the act of it must be, rather than the motive behind it. Religious freedom, he’s arguing, is not a reason to refuse a service. But what he doesn’t seem to understand is that it’s not specifically religious exemptions that Libertarians would argue for – it’s the prevalence of the market.

And so, this comes to his wider problem. Johnson seems a mediocre media performer. His thought processes appear so academic and convoluted as to be rendered inaccessible, which is barely conceivable when he has, over and above the main two candidates, a strong, principled record.

As Republican Governor of New Mexico Johnson ran a tight, small government, ship, using his veto 200 times in his first six months, reducing budget growth and proposing a whole range of tax cuts, the bulk of which were vetoed in return. He advocated the legalisation of marijuana and the introduction of an ambitious school voucher programme. He left in 2002 having reduced the size of the state bureaucracy considerably and with New Mexico enjoying a budget surplus of $1 billion. Not bad.

Perhaps it’s a result of the Republican blood in his veins, or perhaps a gubernatorial leadership tendency that determines his position on ‘discrimination’, but if he’s to make any impact he needs to actually articulate what he’s about better. Because most Americans, like Britons, are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. And right now, they haven’t got a candidate.

Neil Wilson is CfL Campaigns Director. Follow Neil on Twitter: @libertyneil

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty