Making his rounds on television in a well-cut suit paired with trainers and trying to sell himself as the next President of the United States, Gary Johnson, Presidential Candidate for the Libertarian Party, is one of the few individuals forgiven for making such a faux pas. Appearing on CNN the newly anointed Johnson appears relaxed and displays a natural fortitude for making clear arguments, offering a sharp rebuttal to the suggestion his average poll numbers are low with, ‘I’m not presented as an option on most of them’, which is not surprising given how institutionally embedded the two main parties are.
The Libertarian Party currently occupies the unofficial mantle of ‘third party’ in a country which has been dominated by two political parties for the past 100 years; during which time only one third party candidate has arguably swayed an election, the independent Ross Perot in 1992. However, as a party it has a national level of organisation and political experience that Perot was lacking, therefore the question remains as to whether or not it can influence national debate.
Libertarianism is one of the most prevalent strains of the American political psyche: that the rights of individuals come from our humanity not government, rather amusingly expressed by second-place party candidate Austin Petersen as, ‘A world where gay married couples can defend their marijuana fields with fully automatic machine guns.’ Libertarians have a reputation for principle over politics, however as Petersen demonstrates, there is also a competitive side of the movement as candidates constantly seek to ‘out-freedom’ one another; Johnson was arguably hurt by this in the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary as a liberty-themed personality cult formed around Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who to his credit was extremely consistent, but also advanced arguments such as the legalisation of heroin which were unnecessary and lost on the wider electorate who are not necessarily informed about the philosophy.
This year may well be the dawn of three party politics in the US. Public hostility toward the Republican and Democratic parties is extremely self-evident – Gallup Polls note that approval ratings of the Congress have failed to rise above 20% since the election in 2014 and CBS Polls show that the two presumptive nominees for the Republican and Democratic Parties have the highest unfavourable ratings ever heading into a Presidential Election – both scoring over 50%. However, the Libertarians need to offer more than sound bites to ensure that voters put off by Clinton and Trump don’t just stay at home.
The Libertarian Party has made a promising start, with Johnson a two-term former governor of New Mexico and running mate William Weld a former Massachusetts governor. Such a ticket gives the party credibility and helps shrug off suggestions that its candidates are ‘unelectable’. In terms of campaigning and shaping the debate, Johnson and Weld must clearly project themselves as the best of both parties and should do so by sticking to what the Libertarian Party knows best – the Constitution and civil liberties. Donald Trump has made the first move on Tenth Amendment (State’s Rights) issues with his pledge to abolish the Common Core State Standards Initiative and devolve education to the States, a popular move among conservatives, however there is plenty of ground to gain on other issues including the failed ‘War on Drugs’.
The next step for Johnson must be to secure a place in national televised debates, to do this he needs 15% on five national polls, which would be a major coup as he is frequently excluded as an option. If Clinton secures the Democratic nomination in spite of her mounting legal troubles, then Johnson would have a golden opportunity to woo disillusioned Bernie Sanders’ supporters and establishment Republicans desperate to stick it to Trump.
Johnson has the policies and the credibility to do this, however he is running in an age where rhetoric runs riot over reason; universities substitute censorship for critical thinking and social media has become a megaphone for crying offence. The biggest stumbling block for the party will be voters who falsely equate delegating an issue to the states as rejecting that issue; Senator Ted Cruz was decried for pointing out that the Tenth Amendment reserves the right of individual states to decide, whilst Cruz was obviously attempting to weasel out of answering the question he was still factually correct and the response of the audience demonstrates a significant level of ignorance around the rule of law in the U.S. – an unhealthy attribute for those deciding their next chief law enforcement officer.
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