Gary Johnson is critically flawed, but deserves to debate

In the past several months, I have been accused of being a Hillary Clinton supporter because I didn’t like Donald Trump.

I have been accused of “walking back” my previous aversion to Trump, moving toward some eventuality where I pull the lever for him. Why? Because I haven’t been negative enough about Trump recently, but have been intensely negative about Hillary.

I have been accused of being a Gary Johnson supporter, because I have made clear my distaste for both major party candidates, and because I have always self-identified as a libertarian-minded Republican.

Mind you, I’ve never said who I plan to vote for. These are the infantile rantings of the politically schizophrenic. Those who can’t wrap their brain around the idea that you can say nice things about someone occasionally without wanting to vote for them, and you can say negative things about somebody occasionally without wanting to vote for their opponent.

To be clear, I’m revolted by each and every one of my choices this year. My objections to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are well documented, but I am equally disappointed by Johnson.

Johnson ran for president as a Republican in 2012, and sought to occupy a space that Ron Paul owned four years prior — that of the anti-establishment libertarian. There was only one problem with that strategy. Ron Paul ran again, and Johnson had no base.

So Johnson left the Republican Party and became a Libertarian, ultimately proving inconsequential. He ran a more or less ideological libertarian campaign, and faded into darkness.

This year, he’s back, and again running as a Libertarian. Only the libertarianism Johnson espouses has morphed into a platform that looks a lot more like a moderate, borderline statist Republican’s agenda, which is reinforced by his selection of former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, a former Republican with a centrist, moderate reputation.

Fine. I have always thought the Libertarian Party could stand to be more realistic and practical about policy goals, which is one of the many reasons I never became a member of the party.

But Johnson lost me a long time ago. He has moved so far from the ideology he claims to espouse that it doesn’t look libertarian in any way any longer.

For example, philosophically, there is the idea that a Johnson administration would wish to appoint Supreme Court justices that shared the judicial philosophy of Merrick Garland — one of the most statist, activist government justices alive — and Stephen Breyer.

Gary Johnson. Gina Ferazzi | Los Angeles Times | TNS

Gary Johnson. Gina Ferazzi | Los Angeles Times | TNS

Johnson is also pro-choice. That position is itself hotly debated in libertarian circles, but one thing basically everyone can agree on is whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, federal funding for Planned Parenthood is a nonstarter. So when Johnson told Larry King, “I am opposed to cutting the funding or eliminating funding to Planned Parenthood,” my teeth started grinding.

Johnson has rightly earned scorn for his stance on core libertarian tenets, such as religious liberty and freedom of association, specifically for his belief that it is appropriate to force businesses to accept clients (such as the famous wedding cake for a same-sex couple example) with whom they have deep religious objections. And that is to say nothing of his somewhat confused position advocating for a ban on burqas. Before he walked it back, at least.

The story continues. Johnson supports some version of cap and trade. He seems oddly supportive of restrictive gun policies. He believes the U.S. should continue to remain a participant in the United Nations, something virtually no libertarian ever believes.

Not libertarian in the least.

Then there are the other problems. Gotcha question or not, not knowing what Aleppo is. Being apparently clueless that people got hurt in last weekend’s three attacks. Suggesting he was unsure whether U.S. involvement in World War II was moral.

While I do like a lot about Johnson, it is safe to say I am uninspired about his prospects, effectiveness in the job, and his philosophical approach to governing.

Despite this, the decision by the debate commission to keep him out of the first presidential debate is arbitrary, ridiculous and a disservice to the American republic.

I’ve never been a third party advocate, and I have grave misgivings about Johnson’s campaign and candidacy, obviously. But for a major candidate who is on the ballot in all 50 states and is polling around 10 percent to be left off the stage is an outrage, and we shouldn’t stand for it.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.