The popular two-term Republican Governor turned two-time failed Libertarian presidential candidate recently revealed that the third time is not a charm. In a Fox Business interview, he stated that he would not be running for office again in the next election. While many libertarians may breathe a sigh of relief after his poor showing in the last election cycle, he made another statement that is interesting.
The two-time Libertarian Party candidate for President of the United States stated that everything does boil down to the parties. Essentially, because he couldn’t break through, Johnson thinks that it’s impossible for a third party candidacy to succeed.
One thing that Johnson may be correct about is the system being stacked against his favor. Especially at the federal level, election law is built to fortify the two-party duopoly. If you’re not a Democrat or a Republican, you’ll receive no help while running for office. It is slanted against them.
But are these impediments impossible to overcome? It’s not impossible, just improbable.
The time still remains right for a third party candidate to mount a strong challenge, as it was in the last cycle. In 2016, both major parties fielded wildly unpopular candidates and that translated into a three million vote gain for Johnson’s second presidential election attempt. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both seen as untrustworthy and dangerous for different reasons.
In terms of libertarianism, the time was right in 2016 and might be even better in 2020. Democrats are growing increasingly skeptical of the federal government in the Trump era. The so-called Resistance movement shows the left being more defiant of big government powers. Republicans are being unusually defiant of their own party’s President, with many openly opposing President Donald Trump.
Why did the Libertarian Party fail in 2016, and will they fail in 2020 as well?
The 2016 campaign was a poor showing. Johnson showed himself to be even weaker on libertarianism than most could imagine and having an establishment running mate in Bill Weld didn’t help matters. The former Massachusetts Governor was quite a big fan of Hillary Clinton, often defending her on the campaign trail and even going as far as calling her a good public servant. Most libertarians know Clinton to be anything but a good public servant.
While libertarians commonly expressed reservations and outright opposition to Trump, Weld positioned himself more as a Never Trump Republican or a closet Democrat, often refusing to criticize the left. Johnson sided with his running mate and the campaign looked like an extension of the Clinton campaign down the stretch. Weld, who Johnson once called the original libertarian, was sinking the ticket fast.
This isn’t libertarian, and the Libertarian Party still has yet to admit it. If they continue to live in denial, they will fail miserably again. Any other third party with ambitions beyond failure would be wise to pay attention to the lessons of the Johnson campaigns. The time is right for a third party campaign to be successful. The time is also right for a successful showing of libertarian principles. The problem here is in delivery and commitment to said beliefs.
The Libertarian Party will only win if they present a credible, consistent libertarian message. The Libertarian Party, and evidently Gary Johnson too, has yet to figure this part out.