It’s been no secret up here in the Panhandle of Florida that I’ve been less than enthusiastic about the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign.
From the earliest days of Gary’s public ignorance of things libertarian, to his running mate’s not so hidden infatuation with Hillary Clinton, I advocated that my fellow libertarians and I not put all our credibility eggs in Gary’s basket or risk getting a sidewalk omelet. Events confirmed my caution. In the short span of five months after the 2016 LP convention, Gary’s appeal dropped while my feelings about his run for office went from anticipation, to confusion, to frustration, to dull resignation and finally ended with a sense of betrayal at the wasted opportunities and amateurish execution of what should have been a truly historic, break out campaign.
Now it is over. Let’s ask ourselves what has Gary left the Libertarian Party going forward?
Gary did compete, and win, in an open nomination process that brought literally thousands of Libertarians together like never seen before. He gave our party a glimpse of what it may mean to have ballot access, money, media coverage and compete as a real political force to be reckoned with. That’s a lot.
He raised money in greater amounts than we’ve ever seen ($12 million). That bodes well for other libertarians seeking office.
He increased Libertarian votes nationwide from .99% in 2012 to 3.2% in 2016 and he is the most voted for Libertarian Presidential candidate ever.
It showed the Libertarian Party is actually doing something about becoming greater than where we’ve been, and that we can organize and produce at a level that merits national political attention. That brings new people in, which is critical for the future.
But He also chipped away at the bedrock of what it means to be libertarian. On such varied topics as mandatory vaccinations, banning guns from people on watch lists, carbon taxes, eminent domain, drug legalization, increasing the number of agents for the FBI, and even forcing bakers to work for those they prefer not to, Johnson made Panhandle Libertarians wince. He was apparently not paying attention to promoting a free market, making government the guarantor of individual rights, or reducing the size and influence of government as he should. He reinforced the already skewed public view of libertarians as Republicans who just want to smoke pot.
On top of that, he also allowed strong libertarian themes to be coopted by the opposition. Issues such as how the system is rigged (I can point to laws in Florida), there is no rule of law for the powers that be, immigration, lies in the poll data, lies in the economic reporting, lies in our foreign policy, lies in public testimony and lies by our legislators in general are all identified as Trump issues now. Gary ignored mortgage fraud in 2012 saying “no crimes were committed,” despite massive indictments to the contrary. Well, he ignored important issues again, and that will make it harder to bring in votes.
Lastly, he lacked political savvy, remarkable considering he is a two time Governor and two time Presidential candidate. Panhandle libertarians have to live with Gary actually offering a cabinet job to Mitt Romney; the image of Gary rolling his tongue in an indecipherable and miss delivered joke, and reinforcing his own vacuous image by lightly referring to his own mistakes as “Aleppo moments.” We have to live with him calling Hillary a fine public servant and his running mate literally vouching for her in the national news (as if she would return the favor for Libertarians). He never made a powerful and compelling image for liberty and the benefits thereof. He never made an economic argument that stuck why libertarian ideas would bring more happiness and prosperity to the average American, especially by getting rid of barriers to entry, monopolies and regulation. All of this hurt his credibility as a leader, and by extension, hurt us.
Gary probably left us a stronger Party, but one where we have to live with a legacy stained by his verbal gaffs, mind farts, non-libertarian ideas, and wasted chances to show reliable, consistent, leadership not based in force or fraud.
Our task now is to keep finding the candidates who can do Gary one better.