Gary Johnson emerged last week as an alternative to the two major party’s nominees — Donald Trump, and either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders — when he won the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president.
Not since Ross Perot’s 1992 run has the electorate been more ready for a third-party candidate, which gives candidates like Johnson an opening. Back in March, when Trump was becoming more and more inevitable, a CNN poll showed that 35 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents would prefer a third-party candidate.
Many Democrats are likewise disenchanted with Clinton. As the New York Post reported in May, some 63,000 Sanders supporters have signed a petition stating that they will never vote for Clinton, and in an exit poll following the West Virginia Democratic primary, 75 percent said they would not vote for her in November if she won the nomination.
And at least initially, Gary Johnson has made a dent: A June 3 Rasmussen Reports poll gave Johnson 8 percent, to 38 for Clinton and 37 for Trump. In his Fox News interview (more on that in a moment), Johnson also cited an Investor’s Business Daily poll which gave him 11 percent. So for people to give Gary Johnson that high of a rating when most people outside of New Mexico (where he served as governor from 1995 to 2003 as a Republican) don’t know who he is, shows tremendous dissatisfaction with the major parties likely nominees.
So, enter Gary Johnson, right? Not so fast.
Last night, Johnson appeared on Fox News’ Special Report, where he was interviewed by host Bret Baier and three panelists.
For the most part, the interview went well, except for when he admitted that he smoked marijuana at least “five weeks” earlier, but that he “would not” if elected president.
Johnson Fails The Libertarian Test
But towards the end of the interview, Tucker Carlson asked him a question that he called “The Libertarian test.”
“You’ve said as a Libertarian that you believe people can make personal decisions without interference from the state, and that’s why you support gay marriage,” Carlson said. “And yet, there are many, many, millions of people in this country whose religion either allows or commands them to take more than one spouse under polygamy. That’s a felony. If you marry the mothers of your various children, you get charged with a felony.”
“Are you for legalizing polygamy?”
Johnson was stumped by the question. He called the legality of polygamy “a state’s issue.”
Carlson interjected, “On principle, why would that be a tough call for you?”
Johnson stuttered in reply, “It ends up obfuscating the goal, which is small government,” adding that people should be able to make their own choices.
“Do you feel that way about gay marriage?” Carlson asked. “Would you be comfortable with the state banning gay marriage?”
“I would not,” Johnson responded.
“Then why are you comfortable with the state banning polygamy?” Carlson inquired.
Johnson paused, clearly flustered, then gave a stuttering response.
“I think that is something that would ultimately, potentially, uh, derail, uh, it is a personal choice, Tucker. It is a personal choice. For a state to do that, a state can have at it.”
Baier then mercifully ended the segment, saving Johnson from further embarrassment.
The Problem with Gary Johnson’s Answer
What exactly did Gary Johnson say? It was not clear. Either way, Johnson was not prepared, and he should have been for such a simple question: Is polygamy an acceptable exercise of religion, or is it not? And if not, why not?
Surely, some will dismiss Carlson’s query on polygamy as a “gotcha” question. And certainly it was. But many “gotcha” questions are legitimate, as Carlson’s was, because it went to the very heart of why many people are hesitant about libertarianism: Under their political philosophy, how far should one’s liberties extend before society breaks down into anarchy? Which societal mores are acceptable, and which are not? And why?
This is a very basic question about the philosophy of a political party of whom Gary Johnson is now the standard-bearer, and he was clearly not prepared for it, as he should have been. Unless he can answer such a question clearly, concisely, and confidently (and he did none of these), then he will never be a viable presidential candidate.
What do you think? How should Gary Johnson have handled that question about his political beliefs?
[Photo by John Raoux/AP Images]