Don’t tell Roger Stone that Libertarian hopeful Gary Johnson can’t make a difference in November.
“For the first time, the Libertarians actually have a credible candidate,” Stone told The Daily Caller. “Gary Johnson’s a two-term governor of New Mexico with a real record. He’s got executive experience. He’s not a wacky right-wing congressman from Georgia.”
The veteran political strategist, as controversial as he is renowned, is currently assisting Johnson in a volunteer capacity. He told The Daily Caller that Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is “likely” to win the GOP nomination. But he also said Romney is the “weakest” candidate in the Republican field “because politics is about maximizing and galvanizing the base.”
“The counter argument is he’s the most moderate and therefore can win votes in the center,” Stone said of the former Massachusetts governor. “Yes, that may be true, but anything he wins in the center I think he loses on the right. I think he is most susceptible to a challenge on the right.”
Stone said Ron Paul’s ability to attract large amounts of support in the primaries is “very significant,” and believes the Texas congressman’s backers are unlikely to fall in line behind a comparatively moderate candidate like Romney.
“I just don’t see those votes going to Romney, who’s got ‘establishment’ written all over him,” Stone said.
Johnson, Stone said, is well positioned to fill the vacuum on the right that would result from a Romney candidacy. And although Stone made his name as a GOP strategist, Stone said he could not bring himself to support a “big government Republican” like Romney.
“I think [Romney] is reading cue cards to sound like a conservative,” Stone said. “His polling and his consultants have told him to sound like a conservative. And he mouths the words, but I don’t think it’s in his heart. … And I think he’s going to be nominated, but I don’t find anything genuine about him.” (RELATED: Full coverage of Gary Johnson)
While he’s not ready to make predictions on how well Johnson could do as a Libertarian candidate in the general election, he concedes that victory is extremely unlikely while also noting that a candidate’s success can be measured in many different ways.
Should Johnson win just five percent of the vote next November, Stone said, the Libertarian Party would be eligible for federal matching funds in 2016. That alone, he argued, would put the struggling party on the map.
The key for Johnson, Stone said, is qualifying for the presidential debates.
Should that happen, there’s a chance the former New Mexico governor could build a coalition of disaffected progressives and conservatives that would siphon away support from both major parties as the only pro-gay marriage, pro-limited government and anti-war candidate on the ballot. He would also be the only candidate on the ballot to call for an end to the increasingly unpopular prohibition of marijuana.
“The general election is not an organizational exercise — it’s a mass media exercise,” Stone said.
Stone noted that Johnson still needs to win the Libertarian nomination at the party’s convention next May and is taking nothing for granted. And even if he does get the nod, that does not mean he would spoil Romney’s chances in November.
“I would say it would be marginally more damaging to Romney, but we don’t know how the campaign plays out,” Stone said. “That’s why I think Johnson’s interesting as a candidate — he does have appeal on the left and the right.”