In New Mexico, Gary Johnson enjoyed strong electoral success. As a Republican candidate running for Governor against a Democratic incumbent in 1994, he won with just under 50 percent of the vote. This number would increase by about five percent in the re-election cycle. His popularity would lead him to run for President as a Republican, before dropping out of the two-party system to join the Libertarian Party.
Third parties do not enjoy much of any success at the federal level in the United States. If anyone outside of the two-party system does manage to succeed outside of the machine, they typically do so as an Independent.
Prior to Johnson running, the Libertarian Party was barely a blip on the radar. Although the largest of the third parties, they weren’t anywhere near a viable threat. But a two-term Republican Governor brought credibility and experience to the table, giving Libertarians a potential boost. They thought this was their big chance.
In the end, Johnson failed to hit a hopeful target of five percent of the general election vote during both candidacies. He got 0.99 percent in 2012 and jumped to 3.3 percent four years later. It represented a jump of about three million votes during a year when both major party candidates were widely unpopular.
It appears as though Johnson doesn’t believe third time is a charm, revealing on FOX Business program, “Cavuto: Coast to Coast” that he will not be running for President again.
In some ways, this is not surprising. His vote jump from 2012 to 2016 is quite impressive for a third party candidate, but his campaign could have done so much more. He once again failed to reach the debate stage and catch fire enough to become a viable threat to either major party candidate.
A lot of the shortcomings have to do with the campaign itself. It could be argued that Johnson had the vote jump because of a lack of popular candidate. Running against the beloved Barack Obama versus the ghoulish Hillary Clinton are two entirely different ballgames. The same can be said for Mitt Romney, who is a much less controversial figure than Donald Trump.
Thus, Johnson’s 2016 success had less to do with him or his campaign and more to do with being at the right place at the right time.
The fact of the matter is that the 2016 candidacy was terrible. With all eyes on the Libertarian Party as an alternate to the poor choices of Republicans and Democrats, party leadership and their presidential ticket failed to actually sell libertarian principles. Instead of speaking about freedom and liberty, it was all about the wickedness of Donald Trump and their ticket just being an alternate.
Not being the other guy is not a very persuasive argument. The same is true of being the anti-candidate. This was largely why Senator Rand Paul, despite his popularity, failed in the Republican presidential primary. Libertarian principles were abandoned and ideas were forfeited in favor of cheap political campaigns and slogans.
People have been voting Democrat and Republican long enough and many want other options. If the Libertarian Party wants to be that third option, it’s time to hit the reset button across the board and start fresh. In the post-Johnson era, Libertarians would be wise to start with a foundation of libertarian principles.