Many conservatives today find themselves in a position where there is no candidate that reflects their values on the ballot in November. Many #NeverTrump Conservatives moved from Rubio to Cruz, then maybe to Austin Petersen, and now have no options left. Full disclosure, I am a libertarian more than a conservative. However, I am nominally a Republican and my views are more in the mold of Petersen and Rand Paul than other libertarians. So take what I say with a grain of sand, but if you are a conservative, please take the time to consider it. This is a two part post. I hope part 1 will convince you why, hypothetically, you could consider Johnson. I hope part 2 will convince you to cast your vote for him.
Johnson’s Flawed Campaign Strategy
Governor Johnson is not a natural choice for conservatives for a number of reasons. I believe that those reasons are largely related to tone and rhetoric more than anything else. When Johnson talks, he seems to express a disdain for conservatives that he doesn’t have for liberals. In an interview with Dave Rubin last February, Johnson said that he agrees with “half of everything Rand Paul” says, yet he jumps at every opportunity to mention that he agrees with Bernie Sanders 73% of time.
Courting Bernie voters is a terrible campaign strategy. Johnson is basically going all in on the assumption that most Sandernistas are such for cultural reasons (i.e. – trust fund college liberals who only care about social issues and not being a “bigot”). As long as he doesn’t sound like a “hateful conservative,” a lot of them will go over to him. That’s the idea anyway, but its seriously flawed for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that all Bernie talks about are economic issues. No matter what issue you bring up, he will bring it back to economic inequality and a rigged system. People going to rally’s and eating this up are not going to support Johnson. Try as he might to only talk about Trump, immigration, weed, and LGBT stuff; once the Bernie people hear that Johnson wants to abolish the IRS and implement the Fair Tax, they will want nothing to do with him. Now that Jill Stein is gaining a big following, Johnson has been dropping in the polls when both are included. I was excited and hopeful before the CNN Town Hall on Wednesday night, believing Gary might have gotten the message and would be switching gears. Unfortunately, it was a big let down. Just the same stuff: Trump is evil, Obama and Hillary are great. Liberals mean well but have really bad ideas, conservatives are just plain horrible people who hate everyone. They’re still going for a far left demographic, even at the expense of actual libertarian stances on social issues. How is government-promoted cultural liberalism any better than what the religious right of the 1990’s was doing?
I don’t know what he’s thinking, but obviously he’s not going after conservatives. Despite the fact that they are the most likely group to consider a libertarian, he’s decided to chase the Bernie people like a crack addict chases that first high. So let me do the work for him.
The truth is, you won’t like Johnson on everything. I am a libertarian, and I don’t like him much as a candidate. However, when we filter out the rhetoric and look at his record as governor and current stated policy positions, we find someone who is much easier to support than you probably thought.
I think the biggest thing that usually comes up is abortion. I know this is blasphemy to both my faith and my party, but this honestly isn’t a huge issue for me. I am pro-life, but I have a hard time believing that Roe v Wade would not have been challenged already if anyone had standing to do so. Over the long run, Roe v. Wade effectively overturns itself actually. More on that another day. This is a pretty big issue for a lot of people, and Gary is pro-choice up until viability.
Why should conservatives vote for him if this issue is usually a deal breaker?
His belief that the right to an abortion ends at viability is a sincere one, and as Governor of New Mexico, he signed a bill banning late-term abortion. He also would eliminate funding for planned parenthood, albeit more due to a general principle of limiting the role of government. Think about all the abortion issues we discuss these days. They’re all about either funding or late-term abortions. Johnson is on our side in both of these areas. Although most discussion of abortion amongst everyday citizens is about the overarching principles, that is a hypothetical debate, not a realistic one. If we achieve enough victories in the pragmatic areas that we can make that hypothetical debate a reality, surely we would be on to a new president by then. Regardless, we would be better off just for having won those victories.
This is the other issue most conservatives will have. Personally, I agree with Johnson on this, if not his rhetoric. He has been vague on specifics, but based on the plan he laid out in 2012, it’s not nearly as bad as his rhetoric, which mostly consists of bashing conservatives and “xenophobes.” (I know. I also made a promise to myself that I would never vote for someone who uses the word ‘xenophobe.’ But hear me out). He supports a two-year grace period for illegal immigrants to get work visas. If they demonstrate the ability to support their families, they can bring them over too. He would then streamline and simplify the process for immigrants to come legally. After this is done, there would be a one-strike-you’re-out policy. If you come here illegally, you’re gone and you’re not coming back. There would also be stricter enforcement of immigration laws on employers who make illegal immigration possible by providing them jobs.
If you’re anti-immigration in general, there’s probably not much to like here. I can understand that position, although I don’t hold it myself. If you are simply anti-illegal immigration, this may not be everything you want to hear, but it’s hardly the quintessential left-wing amnesty.
This is the big hang up for me. As a libertarian, I don’t generally like the term “religious freedom.” I think it implies that religion should be the only thing that allows someone to exercise their freedom of association. Religious freedom is certainly encompassed by freedom of association, but even genuinely awful people should also be allowed to choose who they do business with. You would expect the Libertarian nominee to hold the same view, but on the contrary, Gary Johnson has expressly stated that the government has a role in forbidding discrimination.
There’s not much I can say to defend this. I guess we could all agree with him in his example of a utility company. He basically makes the argument that this opens the door to private utility companies denying someone electricity based on their sexual orientation. I think that’s a little different. If you are going to be granted a monopoly by the government, as utility companies are, that privilege can come with additional stipulations. I would say non-discrimination should be one of them. Gary is simply on the wrong side of this one. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter that much because…
The 10th Amendment
One of the best things about Gary Johnson is that he is a 10th amendment guy. His Constitution-talk is nowhere near what you get from conservatives or right-leaning libertarians, but he has been pretty solid. Here is a statement he made in an op-ed for the 10th Amendment Center:
In August 2010, Johnson wrote an op-ed for the Tenth Amendment Center in the wake of Arizona‘s efforts at immigration reform, arguing that states’ rights should be protected. He wrote, “Every state is different, and is presented with its own challenges and opportunities related to immigration – and countless other issues. Rather than trying, as the Obama administration is doing, to stop Arizona from implementing its own approach, we should be encouraging the states to be the policy laboratories they were intended to be in our federal system.”
Well first of all, where the heck is this Gary Johnson? Why isn’t he out on the campaign trail right now? Regardless, he has remained pretty consistent on the 10th amendment, even though he doesn’t talk about it as much. This means that no matter Johnson’s views on abortion, religious freedom, bathroom laws, etc; as President he won’t impose that on any state. So while Gary has never explicitly said he supports the Court overturning Roe v. Wade, that stance is implied as it would be necessary if abortion were to be up to the states. As long as Gary stands strong on the 10th amendment, and I have no reason to doubt he will, most of the issues don’t matter except for immigration.
I don’t want to focus exclusively on how to deal with the things we don’t like about Johnson. I think the many good things about him deserve much more attention. His unfortunate political strategy, and the focus on liberal cultural issues that comes from it, masks some of the really great things he accomplished in New Mexico and could accomplish as president. I don’t think I changed any conservative minds with this post, but I believe I will when I share the real Gary Johnson and what his vision is for America.