Alex Massie

The Man Who Won’t Be President (But Is Worth Backing Anyway)

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Behold: the latest stirrings of the ongoing Gary Johnson boomlet. The former governor of New Mexico (1994-2002) will probably announce his Presidential candidacy early next year. Hence this Daily Caller piece and an article in the New Republic. No-one, alas, expects Johnson's candidacy to fare brilliantly, though theoretically he should be the candidate the Tea Party backs and he already enjoys Ron Paul's blessing.

Paul's success - in fundraising if not traditional campaigning - surprised almost all Beltway journalists back in 2007. In retrospect, however, that's where you find the genesis of at least some parts of the Tea Party movement. Truth be told, Paul, with his goldbuggery, his hostility to a mythical North American Union, his oddball, if at times endearingly goofy, TV manner was not a great pitchman for his brand of conservative-libertarianism. Johnson, by contrast, is a showman.

Unlike Paul, Johnson also believes in the free movement of goods and people so he's the kind of libertarian who appeals to the Cato-Reason crowd more than to the Lew Rockwell peeps or many of the cultural conservatives who've rallied to the Tea Party banner.

Nevertheless, if Johnson can raise enough money and enough momentum to be taken even semi-seriously he will challenge the Tea Party to honour their rhetoric on fiscal matters at least. This is the candidate, after all, who wants to slash federal spending by 40%. Across the board. Including defence and entitlements. So his candidacy will be a test of their seriousness as well as his.

Of course he can't win. As Daniel Larison says, any candidate that unites Daniel and Matt Welch has no chance of persuading the average Republican:

[A]ll of the reasons why I would want to support him (e.g., his views on civil liberties, foreign policy, the drug war, etc.) are the reasons why he would be persona non grata for much of the GOP. Like Ron Paul’s run in 2008, a Johnson campaign would be refreshingly oriented toward ideas and policy, and it would show many of the leading candidates to be hypocrites and frauds when it comes to protecting constitutional liberties, balancing budgets, and reducing spending.

New York Times

Washington Post

and

It's fair to say that he hasn't bothered focus-grouping his beliefs. As Benjamin Birnbaum demonstrates:

There are certain shibboleths in presidential politics that even the most forthright candidates feel obliged to repeat, certain topics they feel compelled to avoid. Yet talk to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the unorthodox 2012 GOP hopeful, and those rules go out the window. Ask about church, and he says he doesn’t go. “Do you believe in Jesus?” I ask. “I believe he lived,” he replies with a smile. Ask about shifts in position, and he owns up to one. “I changed my mind on the death penalty,” he tells me. “Naïvely, I really didn’t think the government made mistakes.” Ask about his voting history, and he volunteers (without regrets) that he cast his first presidential ballot for George McGovern (“because of the war”). Ask about his longstanding support for marijuana legalization, and he recalls the joy of his pot-smoking days. “I never exhaled,” he says. (An avid athlete, Johnson forswore marijuana and alcohol decades ago when he realized they were hurting his ski times and rock-climbing ability.)

In many ways, he’s the anti-Romney. Consider each man’s treatment of Sarah Palin. In July, after aides were quoted ridiculing her, @MittRomney took to Twitter for some 140-character brownnosing: “TIME says unnamed advisors disparaged @SarahPalinUSA. Anonymous numbskulls. She’s proven her smarts; they’ve disproven theirs.”

What does Johnson make of Palin? On a drive through the foothills of New Hampshire, I ask him. Riding shotgun, he turns the question around on me. “Um, I guess some people think she’s folksy,” I say from the backseat. “Well, at first she strikes you as folksy,” he shoots back. “And then you realize: She might be running for president of the United States! And then, don’t we have the obligation to tell her what a terrible idea that is?” Cupping his hands to his mouth, he brays, “Sarah! We love you! Don’t run!”

He has a record, he has convictions, he has a refreshing openess and a willingness to tell it as he sees it. Obviously he doesn't stand a chance.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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