BRADENTON – The Republican Party simply ignored Gary Johnson's candidacy in the 2012 presidential primaries, seeming to think that by at least taking the time to marginalize Ron Paul's support, they'd checked the block for the Libertarian wing of the party. Johnson was allowed in a couple of debates, where he mostly sat around hoping to be given a chance to speak, while mainstream GOP candidates sucked up all the air. But while Congressman Paul decided against an independent or third party run, Johnson dropped out of the race and accepted the Libertarian party's nomination.
The initial reaction was – so what. Johnson hadn't managed to come anywhere near Paul's level of support during the primaries, so a meaningful run under an obscure third party banner wasn't seen as a threat. But as Mitt Romney pulled into a dead heat with the President on the heels of strong support for his performance in their initial debate – the one that Johnson wasn't allowed to participate in – it began to become clear that this might be an extremely close election; one in which every single vote matters.
Now, as Johnson begins to consolidate much of Paul's support, while offering disenfranchised anti-war voters a genuine peace candidate, the GOP establishment is concerned that the former two-term Governor of New Mexico might draw enough votes that may have otherwise gone to their candidate to make a difference. Though Johnson's campaign ran into plenty of state-level GOP interference, they quietly managed to get on the ballot in 48 states – 5 more than Ralph Nader managed in 2000.
Democrats have long blamed Nader for George Bush's victory over Al Gore in that race, though exit polling showed that only 38 percent of Nader voters said they would've voted for Gore had their man not been on the ballot, while 25 percent said they would have voted for Bush, and the rest said they wouldn't have voted were they not able to check the block next to Nader's name. There's also the matter of Pat Buchanan's independent run that same year, which could have been said to have siphoned at least as many votes from Bush as Nader would have for Gore.
This year, it's again unclear how many Johnson supporters would consider a vote for Romney, or how many progressive liberals are behind him for his anti-war position or intent to cut military spending by some 43 percent. But the conventional wisdom remains that Libertarian candidates hurt the chances of Republicans, the same as Green party candidates hurt the chances of Democrats. The fact that there is not a candidate outside of the two-party system that has organized anywhere near the campaign apparatus as Johnson, seems to be what is making Republicans nervous.
The campaign to convince Republicans that they would be throwing their vote away is in full swing, but as one Johnson supporter put it in a recent Libertarian blog post, “Because of the utter lack of differences between Romney and Obama, I must ask why people are being so forceful in demanding we vote for Romney. The only conclusion I can come to is that they are cowards. They are not being brave or courageous, as they may think they are. Rather, they are being motivated entirely by fear.”
Who is Gary Johnson and Why do People Want him to be President?