America's Next Top Libertarian
Gary Johnson wants to be the Ron Paul of 2012. Unfortunately for him, so does Ron Paul.
Theoretically, there is nothing preventing Johnson from having a Rudy Moment. I've interviewed Johnson three times about his campaign. He doesn't seem to know how to evade questions, or that this is typically what you're supposed to do with questions. Gay marriage?
"I support gay unions," he says. "I don't think the government should be involved in marriage."
Should states and cities be allowed to declare bankruptcy?
"I've been talking about that now for a couple months. I think that's a great idea that Congress ought to let them do."
Should marijuana be legalized? That's an easy question—Johnson came out for marijuana legalization during his second term in the governor's office.
"Control it. Legalize it. Tax it. When it comes to all the other drugs, treat drug use as a health issue, not a crime issue."
Again, theoretically, there is a path to Republican success in there. Johnson, unlike every other potential Republican candidate, believes that abortion should be legal "until the viability of the fetus." How many Republicans believe that? According to the exit poll of the 2008 New Hampshire primary, 52 percent of Republican voters (independents and Republicans) said abortion should be "always" or "mostly" legal. Johnson isn't much of a churchgoer—22 percent of New Hampshire GOP voters said they "never" went to church. Thirty-eight percent of them favored civil unions. Twenty-eight percent favored a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. And so on. There is a constituency here for someone.
Johnson's struggle will be informing that constituency that he is someone—he exists, he's viable, and would better serve them than Ron Paul. When I saw Johnson in Arlington, he spoke to a fairly crowded room full of young Republicans. He was introduced, glowingly, by Amit Singh, who'd run a Ron Paul-inspired campaign for Congress in 2008 and had switched candidates. Johnson took questions for a half hour. The Second Amendment?
"I don't believe there should be any restrictions when it comes to firearms. None."
Was Citizens United decided correctly?
"Yeah. My issue with campaign finance is 100 percent disclosure. Wear a suit with patches from your big contributors. Depending on the size of the contribution, that's how big the patch should be."
One more question: What would set him apart from the 2012 field?
Johnson didn't quite know what to say.
"Really? After all this?"
Yes, still. There's one other candidate he needs to set himself apart from.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Gary Johnson © Ron Hill Imagery, on behalf of Gov. Johnson.