Gary Johnson is getting a lot of attention this week. Search engines have reported a huge spike in interest in the Libertarian Party candidate since Donald Trump all but wrapped up the Republican Party nomination this week.
Even though voters disappointed with Trump and Clinton may be looking to Johnson and the Libertarians as a third-party option, history has not been kind to third parties. Can Johnson and the Libertarians pull it off?
Political Parties Have Collapsed Before, and The Republicans May Be Headed Towards Collapse
You’ll remember from elementary school history class that not all presidents have been Democrats or Republicans. We haven’t had a Federalist, Whig, or Democratic-Republican in over 150 years, so it’s obvious that political parties don’t last forever.
And with the Trump nomination all but certain, some observers are already predicting the death of the Republican Party.
— Karl Turner MP (@KarlTurnerMP) March 3, 2016
Molly Ball, writing in The Atlantic, opines that the Trump nomination is the beginning of the end of the Republican Party.
“To the anti-Trump faction, the GOP they cherished for decades as a vehicle for right-of-center ideas seemed to be no more… With Trump’s nomination, the old party establishment went into exile, perhaps never to return. On Twitter, conservative operatives, writers, policy wonks and talk-show hosts gravely lined up to turn in their Republican registrations.”
Similarly, conservative blogger Ben Shapiro of Breitbart wrote that the Republican Party is done.
“If the elites in the Party win – if they manage to oust the conservative base they apparently despise – the GOP becomes a hierarchy without a foundation. If the grassroots win, the GOP becomes an unorganized entity without the funding to run national campaigns.”
Should the Republican Party collapse, as some are predicting, the Libertarian Party is poised to step into the void left by the Republicans.
Johnson Has Been The Top Libertarian Performer, So Far
The Libertarian Party is, by any definition, an upstart party. While the Democrats and Republicans can each trace their roots back over 150 years, the Libertarian Party only dates back to the Nixon Administration. December 11, 1971 to be exact.
The Party’s ideals of “Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom” haven’t exactly resonated with voters: in every election since 1972, the Libertarians have failed to crack double digits at the ballot box.
In fact, in terms of percentage of the popular vote, 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ed Clark took 1.1 percent of the popular vote (and no electoral votes), winning 921,128 votes.
But in terms of raw vote numbers, Johnson’s 2012 showing at the ballot box beat Clark handily, pulling in.99 percent of the popular vote, or 1,275,971 votes.
No other Libertarian Party Candidate has ever gotten more than.5 percent of the popular vote.
In fact, Johnson’s showing in 2012 was the best performance by any third-party candidate since Ross Perot’s 1992 Reform Party campaign.
NOW on C-SPAN3: a look at the 1992 presidential campaign of Independent candidate Ross Perot pic.twitter.com/vSz4LHqxS3
— American History TV (@cspanhistory) April 17, 2016
Gary Johnson 2012 vs. Gary Johnson 2016
While Johnson’s 2012 showing was impressive for a third-party candidate with little name recognition and less money, Gary Johnson’s performance so far has been nothing short of unprecedented.
As recently as March 24, Johnsons was polling at 11 percent in a three-way race against Clinton and Trump, according to The Washington Times.
Should Johnson be able to sustain those numbers and improve upon them, he may even be invited to participate in the presidential debates. According to Breitbart, any candidate who is polling 15 percent or better is allowed. Should Johnson get invited to the debates, he would be the first third-party candidate to do so since Ross Perot in 1992.
— National Review (@NRO) May 6, 2016
However, the principal difference between Gary Johnson’s 2012 campaign and his 2016 campaign is his competition.
In 2012, Johnson ran against a sitting president with enthusiastic popular support (Barack Obama) and a weak candidate who could be counted on to bring out his party’s vote despite the fact that he was all but predestined to lose (Mitt Romney).
In 2016 Johnson, should he get the Libertarian nomination, will be running against two divisive candidates who are hated by their opponents and who are not fully supported by their own bases.
Donald Trump, in addition to possibly heralding the end of the Republican Party, has been dogged by accusations of racism and misogyny, and his campaign has been marred by violence at his rallies.
Hillary Clinton, for her part, has seen younger voters abandoning her in favor of Bernie Sanders, as her own candidacy has been dogged by accusations of criminal wrongdoing and a possible FBI investigation.
— POLITICO (@politico) May 6, 2016
Johnson, on the other hand, though not without his flaws, is a reasoned, well-spoken, successful businessman and politician who is not likely to be haunted by skeletons in his closet. Similarly, there’s enough common ground in his platform to unite Republicans fleeing Trump, Democrats who can’t conscientiously vote for Hillary, and undecided voters who haven’t yet attached themselves to either of the two major parties.
So Can Johnson Pull It Off?
Despite the factors working in Johnson’s favor, the odds are still stacked against him politically. His campaign has nowhere near the money and donors that the two major parties have; he and his party lack the name recognition needed to make headway into the political establishment; and, perhaps most importantly, the major media still continue to act as if there are only two parties.
Nevertheless, with the collapse of the Republican Party likely imminent, with disappointed voters on both sides of the aisle looking for an alternative, Gary Johnson might — just might — be poised to pull off a miracle in 2016 and become the first non-Republican or Democrat to be president since 1850.
[AP Photo/ Richard Shiro]