Gary Johnson made a splash last month when he announced his candidacy for the Libertarian presidential nomination, but will he get enough votes to play a spoiler role in 2012?
Prior to Johnson’s announcement, veteran GOP strategist Roger Stone told The Daily Caller that the former New Mexico governor’s candidacy “would pose a great danger” to the Republican nominee by siphoning away fiscally conservative voters.
“It certainly looms out there as a dangerous possibility,” Stone, an enthusiastic backer of Johnson’s candidacy, told TheDC in November. “The Libertarian Party, for example, is on the ballot in all 50 states, and should the Republicans nominate, say, Romney, then a candidate running on a tea party fiscal platform would … pose a great danger for the Republicans.”
Conservative political expert Michael Barone, however, is skeptical of Johnson’s chances of becoming a spoiler in 2012.
“My sense is that he might win one percent or so,” Barone told TheDC. “And not all those votes would have gone otherwise to the Republican nominee. I think Trump or Paul or an AmericansElect nominee could win more votes, with more net disadvantage to Republicans.”
The last a third-party candidate made a discernible impact in the outcome a presidential race was Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000. That year, Nader drew just under three percent of the vote in the closest presidential election in modern political history. If those votes had gone for the Democratic nominee, Al Gore almost certainly would have been elected president, and as a result Nader was blamed by many on the left for sending Republican George W. Bush to the White House.
The Libertarian Party has never played a Nader-esque spoiler role in a presidential election. Then again, they’ve never put forward a candidate like Johnson, who served two terms as the popular governor of a traditionally left-leaning swing state.
If former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins the GOP nomination without being fully embraced by the party’s base, it stands to reason that Johnson could draw enough protest votes from disaffected Republicans to swing the election in President Barack Obama’s favor.
Republican strategist Mary Matalin, however, disagrees with the presumption that Johnson would take all too many votes from the GOP. Like Barone, she sees Johnson attracting much of his support from people who were never going to vote for the Republican nominee anyway.
Matalin points out that while libertarians are generally thought of as a Republican leaning demographic, there has always been a wide gulf between disciples of Ayn Rand and the conservative mainstream.
“True Ayn Rand libertarians, which are sometimes associated with the GOP, are atheists and Reagan-hating, or at least she was,” Matalin told TheDC. “Even casual libertarians are opposed to any constraints on individuals, even when they prove irrefutably to accrue to the common good … I am not ascribing any of these attributes to specific libertarians, only distinguishing the base philosophy from Edmund Burke conservatism.”
“The core of Ron Paul supporters are most definitely not Republicans,” she added.
Like Barone and Matalin, Johnson himself seems doesn’t lend much credence to the idea that his candidacy will benefit Obama and hurt the GOP. Speaking to TheDC last month, he argued that while his small-government message would attract Republicans, his uncompromising defense of abortion rights and same-sex marriage would likely draw support away from the president.
“I might be taking votes away from the fiscal Republicans, the fiscal conservancy side, but maybe they’re going to be offset by others that would historically go on the Democrat side,” he said.