Some candidates in the 2016 race will be dropping out soon. Gary Johnson is just getting started.
Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, was the Libertarian party’s presidential candidate in 2012, and he’s aiming for the same nomination this year. If he earns his party’s nomination at a convention scheduled for late May, he’ll most likely end up on the ballot in all 50 states.
Johnson feels there’s plenty of room for him on the political playing field. "The Libertarian party is going to be the third party, the only other party on the ballot,” he tells me in the video above. Johnson describes himself as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” He favors a balanced federal budget and the sharp cutback in spending that would come with it. Yet unlike many conservatives, he’d go easy on immigrants and forget about deporting 11 million illegals. “That’s crazy, and I’m talking as a border state governor,” he says.
Various candidates, of both parties, have Libertarian leanings, while hewing to more traditional aspects of their respective parties. Republicans Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, for instance, often claim the Libertarian mantle in terms of limited government and a hands-off foreign policy. But they’re both social conservatives who are opposed to same-sex marriage. Libertarians tend to tolerate any kind of personal behavior that doesn’t overtly harm anyone else.
Johnson says he’s more of an optimist than Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who tells crowd after crowd, “we don’t win any more.” “This is a wonderful country,” says Johnson. “Can we improve on things? Yeah.”
He does have one thing in common with Trump: Johnson became independently wealthy as a businessman, starting a construction company that became one of the largest in New Mexico. His fortune, however, is a mere $30 million or so, a fraction of Trump’s billions.
As for Bernie Sanders, Johnson says the Vermont senator is too glib with giveaways. “I don’t think there’s anything Bernie hasn’t promised anybody,” Johnson says. “Our $20 trillion debt under Sanders will double.“
And most of the other candidates offer little but more spending from a government that’s already drowning in debt. “The government is too big and there will be ramifications of a $20 trillion debt,” he says. “It’s not just Democrats, it’s Republicans also. They both seem to spend money. “
Johnson’s views may hit a political sweet spot, since there are now considerably more voters who call themselves Independent than either Democrat or Republican, according to Gallup. And there is clearly a trend toward more tolerance of same-sex marriage and other once-controversial practices.
Still, third-party candidates have never done well in presidential races, with Johnson pulling just 1% of the vote when he ran in 2012. And this year, he may have to contend with billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who’s mulling a run as an Independent and could finance a campaign with a cool billion of his own cash. One way or another, the field seems likely to be crowded in 2016.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.