Is Johnson Really a Choice?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

As I put it to a relative who, like me, usually votes Republican, but can't vote for Trump, there is a nonzero chance that Libertarian Gary Johnson could end up in the White House. Despite my opposition both to third parties as an instrument of political change and to Libertarianism, I have myself considered voting for Johnson.

I have reservations about doing so because a President Johnson would be no bonanza for those of us who want to make a principled case for individual rights. Just as an example, consider the following, from a recent editorial of Johnson's, regarding what should simply be called "cronyism":

[Clinton] is the very status quo. Americans want that changed. She talks about progressivism, but lines her bank accounts with speaking fees from banks and special interests. That's what crony capitalism is all about. Americans recognize pay-to-play when they see it, and they are really, really weary of it.

Having been governor of New Mexico, I know that legislation gets passed to benefit those who have money and influence. Then they buy more money and influence. That's one reason why, as governor, I vetoed more than 750 bills and thousands of line items.

I did it to keep crony capitalism away from government.
Where to begin on this one point? There is nothing inherently wrong with someone being paid a speaker's fee. And is "progressivism" a good thing? Why a bank paid such a fee is highly relevant here, and represents an opportunity to really get to the essence of what's wrong with cronyism: It is due to the government improperly regulating the economy. That is not capitalism, and anyone who attaches the name "capitalism" to this is doing the cause of limited government a big disservice. As I have elaborated long ago, a businessman may hire a speaker (or bribe a politician) as a means of protecting oneself from meddling. This is an understandable, but usually mistaken tactic. Or a businessman might, like an Ayn Rand villain, actually be more in favor of the government doling out favors than in competing with others to offer his customers real value. Rather than attacking speaker's fees, we should be asking why so many people think it is right for the government to run everything.

In terms of short-term damage, a President Johnson does seem likely to be far less harmful than the two major candidates, but Johnson's big downside is how he might set back the long-term fight for freedom, by claiming to espouse clear principles when, in fact, he doesn't.

-- CAV


SN said...

Johnson may have better than a non-zero chance of being president, but they're pretty slim, requiring some specific scenarios to play out. For the record, you've laid out two scenarios:

1. Trump drops out; the GOP chooses Johnson to replace him; and Johnson wins as the GOP nominee

2. Johnson gets a tiny number of electoral votes, neither Trump nor Hillary get 50% of the electoral votes (say 49.9%, 49.9% and Johnson with 0.2%); the choice goes to the house where they have to select from the top 3, and they choose Johnson. 

Even if one of these happened, part of the context would be that Johnson would sell himself as being close to the GOP way of thinking. He would not really be the libertarian candidate, he'd just be a GOP guy and voting for him would not be seen as much different from voting for a GOP candidate who was "fiscally conservative and socially liberal". Truth be told, that already Johnson's position. He's already running like  GOP candidate rather than a Libertarian one.

Though libertarians are viewed as an "extreme" or "fringe", President Johnson will be viewed more centrist than either Trump or Hillary. I don't think he will hurt the long-term ideological argument for freedom any more than if he were running as the GOP candidate in the first place.

Gus Van Horn said...


You have a point, although Johnson's lack of a negative effect will depend on him seriously back-pedeling from or deemphasizing his conversion to Libertarianism. After seeing that video, I am concerned.


Steve D said...

'Johnson may have better than a non-zero chance of being president, but they're pretty slim, requiring some specific scenarios to play out.'

I think you could almost say the same thing about Trump. Absent specific scenarios such as Clinton keeling over with a stroke, or a major war (and I am not sure even then), I think Trump's chances are pretty close to zero.

'Johnson's big downside is how he might set back the long-term fight for freedom, by claiming to espouse clear principles when, in fact, he doesn't.'

Well, most conservatives are essentially in the same place as libertarians in this respect. Both don't have clear principles, just a mix mash of ideas they like to call principles. The one thing in my opinion which makes Johnson palatable (the same thing which made Cruz palatable) is his claim to adhere to the constitution. It might slow down the race to tyranny. So though Cruz and Johnson have opposite opinions on abortion and gay marriage (for example), they would both (in theory) devolve the decision to the states (based on their statements)- allowing a way out for those on the correct side of the issue. If he respects the constitution, at least he wouldn't run ramp-shad over our rights like Clinton and Trump are sure to do.

Finally, if Johnson gets enough support to hold the Republican house and/or senate, that might be the best outcome - so long as none of his L buddies get elected as congressmen.

Also, I am not sure how much long-term fight for freedom would be left if Trump gets in (which I admit, he very likely won't).

On the other hand, I can't see Hillary being worse than Obama for freedom - probably a microscopically bit better actually.

Gus Van Horn said...


The main problem Johnson presents over a generic conservative is that he has affiliated with the Libertarians, who pay lip service to the need for a principled defense of individual rights, and yet do not even value liberty. At least, had he remained a Republican, he wouldn't so much be posing as having principles. (In part, this would be due to everyone recognizing that party as an ideologically diverse coalition.) Should he become President, he will to some degree create confusion about several important issues that we can ill afford in the future, such as "non-interventionism", which is the idea that the government should not run the economy misapplied to foreign policy.


Paul Hsieh said...

A vote for Johnson under the banner of the LP would definitely be a problem, because there are legitimate concerns about the philosophical defense (or lack thereof) for genuine liberty offered by Libertarians. It is true that supporting Libertarians will undermine a proper defense of liberty.

That said, a vote for GJ could also be viewed as "buying time", while still working to make a proper philosophical case for liberty and individual rights. In the current context, I view that as the "least of three evils". Ayn Rand once described her position as an "anti-Nixonite for Nixon". One might be able to make a similar case to day for "anti-Libertarians for the LP candidate". And she articulated clearly why she took that stance.

But one shouldn't vote LP thinking that it was a support for a truly pro-liberty position.

Gus Van Horn said...


Your position is similar to mine, although I had not thought of "anti-Libertarians for the LP candidate". That could have the advantage of getting that issue out early on.

Fortunately, in that respect anyway, the best chances of Johnson becoming President lie in his essentially becoming the Republican substitute for Trump. That won't completely get rid of the problem, but it might lessen it.