The Republican Establishment doesn’t like Gary Johnson. That’s no secret. And, while GOP presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul complain about a lack of airtime in the debates, Johnson is excluded outright. In fact, the pattern of exclusion has been so obvious -- and, intentional -- that political writer Dave Weigel dubbed it the “Gary Johnson Rule.”
It’s not that Johnson lacks the credentials for office. As a two-term governor and business owner, he has more executive experience than many of the other candidates. He also has a record on cutting spending that rivals even Paul’s reputation for being a fiscal hawk -- Johnson vetoed 750 bills during his time in office. He also left New Mexico with a balanced budget, and the highest approval rating from constituents than any other 2012 GOP presidential candidate.
People like Johnson. The Republican Establishment does not. Perhaps they don’t like his Goldwater-like platform, or maybe they just don’t like people from New Mexcio. Whatever the reason, Johnson has been pushed to the side and ignored.
In October, after being excluded from a series of debates (he has been allowed to participate in just two), Johnson petitioned the Republican National Committee (RNC) for assistance. Last week, the RNC contacted Johnson, saying they “have to have some minimum criteria in order for candidates to participate in these debates...otherwise, the debates would be utter chaos and unhelpful to Republican voters as we select [their] nominee” -- essentially admitting either they lack the creativity to host 10 candidates on stage, or the RNC thinks Republican voters are too stupid to have a few more choices on stage.
Unfortunately for the GOP, it appears the neglect is pushing Johnson towards a possible third-party bid with the Libertarian Party.
The Daily Caller reports that Johnson has considered such an option. “One thing I would make clear is that, if I did decide [to seek the Libertarian nomination], that’s nothing that’s pre-ordained,” Johnson said. “That’s something that I would have to go out and work for. And I would do just that, I would go out and work for that.”
Political strategist Roger Stone told the Daily Caller that a third-party run such as Johnson’s could be disastrous for Republicans in 2012, especially if they nominate a candidate unappealing to the party’s conservative base. “The Libertarian Party, for example, is on the ballot in all 50 states, and should the Republicans nominate, say, Romney, then a candidate running on a tea party fiscal platform would…pose a great danger,” Stone said.
But, could anybody blame Johnson? All he wanted was a fair chance to earn the support of Republican voters, and the Republican Establishment stood in his way at every turn. Should he seek other alternatives to get his message out, the consequences would be squarely on the shoulders of those that pushed him in that direction.
Johnson's conservative economic views, and liberal views on social issues, give him mass appeal, even across party lines. This could be particularly devastating against a milquetoast Republican in the general. Johnson may not pick up the support of values voters, but his track record on spending, and limited government take on the role of government, could attract many grassroots activists and Tea Partiers disgusted with the GOP’s continuous failure to get serious about eliminating debt.
There is only so much that conservatives can take, and already Republicans seem to have forgotten the lessons of 2010.
Maybe Johnson is the wake-up call the Republican Establishment needs to shake things up. While Barry Goldwater failed to win the general election in 1964, his candidacy gave birth to today’s conservative movement. Johnson may be in the same position to force the hand of the Republican Establishment, which has largely been given a free pass to run roughshod over the limited government principles that once defined the party.
The only hope for the GOP at this point is to either nominate a conservative candidate who will appease the increasingly incensed (and, justifiably so) grassroots, or convince Johnson to ignore the insults of the past few months and go away quietly. Whatever the GOP (and Johnson) decides to do, it was the Republican Establishment that tied their own noose. What’s left now is whether they’ll swing from it.
Editor's Note: Andrew Davis is a volunteer for the Gary Johnson 2012 presidential campaign, and is the former Director of Communications for the national Libertarian Party. He also served as the Deputy Press Secretary for the Bob Barr 2008 presidential campaign.