Possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson opens up to TheDC

“For eight years,” former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson said with a wide grin on his face, “I was a libertarian governor disguised as a Republican!” Often dubbed the “next Ron Paul,” Johnson wears the libertarian (small “L”) label proudly, though in an interview with The Daily Caller he swore he was still a Republican.

“The Republican Party has treated me very well,” said Johnson on a recent visit to TheDC’s Washington headquarters. The line is probably one he’ll be repeating often, as it is widely speculated Johnson will run for president in 2012 on the Republican Party ticket. His visit, in fact, came just days after a profile of him ran in The New Republic that quoted one Johnson confidant as saying, “There’s no waiting or seeing. It’s a done deal.”

Johnson was clear from the very beginning of the interview, however, that because his organization – Our America — is a 50C(4), he couldn’t comment on a 2012 presidential bid. But hypothetically speaking? Without missing a beat Johnson said that hypothetically, if a libertarian-minded candidate like himself were to announce a presidential bid, it would probably be around February of 2011.

That said, Johnson has a lot of ground to cover if he expects to produce even a semi-serious challenge to possible Republican presidential contenders like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, not to mention President Obama.

Johnson’s political career to date has lasted exactly eight years – two consecutive terms as governor of New Mexico. And that, as Johnson pointed out, says something, considering the fact that New Mexico is a majority Democratic state by a ratio of 2 to 1.

But it wasn’t easy, said Johnson, who talked about how even the Republicans at the state level tried to grow the size of government. “I had to veto roughly 100 bills where the vote [in the State Legislature] was 117-0,” said Johnson, though without a trace of self pity. For Johnson, it rather seems like a badge of honor.

And after taking a hiatus from politics after his second term ended in 2003 to run marathons, bike through mountains, and climb Mt. Everest, 2012 just might be the opportune year for Johnson to take advantage of the GOP resurgence and Tea Party wave. Although when the Tea Party comes up in the conversation, Johnson has both positive and negative things to say.

“There is an awareness today that has never existed before in my lifetime,” said Johnson, when talking about the level of activism that has swept the country the last two years. But the adulation stopped there, as Johnson put his hands up in the air in frustration.

“There’s a disconnect between what they say and reality,” said Johnson emphatically. “When it comes to immigration and defense, they actually support an expansion of government!”

The statement seems surprising coming from a man who will probably depend on Tea Party support — which often overlaps with Ron Paul’s 2008 base — to garner enthusiasm for his candidacy. But then that’s Johnson-style political correctness at its finest. Call it unorthodox, but to Johnson, it’s just common sense.