Gary Johnson is an unusual politician. Contrarian but constructive, Johnson hopes to move the Republican Party in the direction of being a socially “tolerant” party that emphasizes limited government above all else.
In a lengthy interview with The Daily Caller, Johnson, a popular New Mexico governor from 1995 to 2003, described a range of policy positions that he brings to the Republican presidential primary.
New Hampshire, the early primary state with a large pool of independent and libertarian votes, is where Johnson hopes to break through. He cites the Granite State as the place where candidates can make it onto the national stage overnight.
Johnson’s unique political stances have attracted interest from national figures ranging from gay rights advocate Lt. Dan Choi — with whom he was scheduled to speak on Friday — and pot-smoking country music legend Willie Nelson.
An advocate of fiscal conservatism, Johnson said that he opposes raising the debt ceiling. Many Americans would be hurt immediately by the decision, he said, but it’s far preferable to a future economic calamity caused by the over-printing of money.
The only conceivable way he would support raising the debt ceiling would be along with a balanced budget amendment that would take effect immediately. (RELATED: Gary Johnson has his own plan for balancing budget)
Johnson said that as governor he could have been more supportive of gay rights, an issue that currently distinguishes him from his GOP competition. During that time he remained committed to a campaign pledge not to grant legal recognition to same-sex relationships, but said his thinking has since “evolved.”
This month Johnson targeted the “Marriage Vow” pledge, which was authored by Iowa’s Family Leader organization and signed by fellow presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. He called it offensive, un-American and un-Republican, and described it as a “promise to discriminate.”
The pledge, Johnson said, was an attack on almost every minority group in the country. (He jokingly mentioned that pot smokers were the only ones not condemned by it.) But he won’t take credit for discouraging other candidates from signing it, saying fellow candidates who followed his lead and declined the pledge cited its language, not the underlying principles.
Although libertarian social policy positions have won Johnson loyal supporters, he emphasizes fiscal issues as a major area of strength, promising as president to veto budgets laden with unnecessary spending and to be forthright about it. Johnson also said he favors a flat tax based on consumption.
Gary Johnson’s campaign niche remains a work in progress as he attempts to differentiate himself from fellow libertarian candidate Ron Paul. Johnson credited Paul as a highly influential figure who grew the “liberty movement” within the Republican Party, but dismissed criticism that his presence in the race is a threat to “the Ron Paul vote.”
If he loses the primary, Johnson would not entertain running as a Libertarian Party candidate, he said. But he also wouldn’t support a Republican candidate who would continue what he sees as failed policies, especially those on war. And that’s most of the GOP field, he said.
On immigration, Johnson proposes a system for documenting illegal immigrants that would grant social security numbers and work visas during a grace period. He contends that border enforcement won’t solve the problems of illegal immigration and that legalizing drugs would at least reduce most border violence.
Johnson said that his position on immigration is different from what is generally considered “amnesty” because it wouldn’t include citizenship.
During a conference call earlier in the week, Johnson said he would remain in the presidential race until the end, aiming to pick up support as other candidates drop out.
Asked if he would consider shifting gears and running for New Mexico’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2012, Johnson decisively rejected the idea, saying that the job prioritizes bringing back the bacon. “I would make a terrible senator,” Johnson said.