It looks like the Libertarian Party will end the 2016 election cycle will end the way it has ended nearly every other presidential cycle: embarrassed, having failed to get any significant share of the vote, and on its way back to the drawing board.
That prediction was back in July, in my first piece for The Liberty Conservative.
As it turns out, this prediction is coming true. In a campaign that has become known less for spreading the message of small government and more for Nazi cakes, humiliating ignorance on foreign policy, and mentally unhinged rants at reporters, Gary Johnson is about to fail at the only goal even his biggest skeptics expected him to reach: getting 5% of the vote nationally.
According to the latest RealClearPolitics polling average, the Aleppo-challenged governor is polling at only 4.7% in national four-way polls. This is devastating for Johnson, who was flirting with 9.2% support as late as mid-September.
As the trail of tears of negative polling continues for Johnson, it is increasingly likely that he will underperform this quickly falling average and fail to reach the 5% threshold necessary to secure public funding for the Libertarian Party in the 2020 election.
If Johnson fails to get 5% of the vote, his campaign will be a completely embarrassing failure for the party, and they deserve every bit of it for nominating Gary Johnson and Bill Weld.
How did we get here?
The fact that Gary Johnson is not a libertarian is the biggest problem with his candidacy. His ideological inconsistency on issues like freedom of association have made it very difficult for people to distinguish what “small government” means in concrete terms. Even when Johnson is given the opportunity to argue for the abolition of the income tax, he finds a way to bungle it. In a massively uncomfortable answer that could have almost been written by a comedian making a mockery of libertarians, Johnson instead pivots to talking about marijuana and leadership (a moment some have called Gary’s “weedership” moment.)
This isn’t Johnson’s first freakout in the public eye, either.
In an interview with Reason.com that took place around the time Johnson began sliding in the polls, he became unhinged about being asked whether or not he was a “spoiler candidate.”
There is, of course, the moment where he exploded on Guy Benson of Townhall.com for using the phrase “illegal immigrant.”
Behavior like this is not how a minor party gets taken seriously. Despite his flaws, one of the things that Austin Petersen did well was handle the media, even in high profile appearances like the one he did on Glenn Beck’s show. Gary, not so much.
As it becomes clearer that the Libertarian ticket will not, in fact, reach even 5% in the polls, vice presidential nominee Bill Weld has revealed his true motivations this election cycle: get Hillary Clinton, his old friend, elected president of the United States.
In a truly strange press conference delivered on October 26, Weld issued a statement attacking Donald Trump (and staying silent on Clinton) that concluded with the following:
In the final days of this very close race, every citizen must be aware of the power and responsibility of each individual vote. This is not the time to cast a jocular or feel-good vote for a man whom you may have briefly found entertaining. Donald Trump should not, cannot, and must not be elected President of the United States.
This statement was validation for what many Weld critics have believed all along- that he is, in fact, an opportunist using the Libertarian Party for the benefit of the Clinton campaign.
In the days following the announcement that the FBI was re-opening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s illegal email server, Johnson and Weld just couldn’t help themselves. Johnson took to TV to give yet another awkward interview where he described Clinton as the “president elect” and asked a CNN host to make his case for him.
Weld took it a step further. He decried the FBI’s statement as “disgraceful” and said that he was “outraged” by the decision to investigate Clinton’s possible wrongdoing.
Johnson and Weld may have not realized it yet, but by aligning themselves so closely with the Clinton, they cost themselves “big league,” so to speak. Hillary is collapsing in the polls nationally and in battleground states, and the prospect of a Trump presidency is becoming more and more realistic by the day. Even Johnson’s own supporters are growing frustrated with their candidate and are breaking largely for Trump in the final days of the campaign.
The Libertarian Party had an opportunity to present the American voters with a clear choice this cycle: a ticket that was consistently pro-freedom and could articulate those goals and policies.
Instead, they nominated a ticket that apologized for Hillary Clinton at every turn, botched media appearances left and right, and reinforced the stereotype of libertarians as foreign policy ignoramuses who only care about “dude, weed.”
The LP has some work to do for 2020. And, as Gary Johnson flounders, it becomes increasingly likely they will have to do that work without federal funding.