At its national convention in Las Vegas over the weekend, the Libertarian Party chose its standard bearers for the upcoming presidential election. The selection of former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson as its presidential nominee, and former California Superior Court Judge Jim Gray as its vice presidential nominee, brings strength and credibility to the party. Whether the Libertarian Party’s rank and file will unite behind these candidates so as to maximize the appeal of the ticket — something the party faithful have not done in the recent past — remains an open question.
During his two terms as governor from 1995 to 2003, Johnson earned a reputation as a strong fiscal conservative, a state chief executive not afraid to wield the veto pen to rein in spending by the legislature. He was and remains a strong supporter of the Second Amendment — not surprising as a Westerner, but a strong card to play in the upcoming election. Johnson is a successful businessman, something that will enable him to go toe-to-toe on many issues with the presumptive Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Rounding out the Libertarian ticket is Jim Gray, a former superior court judge in Orange County, California. A highly respected jurist, one who is outspoken in his criticism of the so-called “war on drugs,” Gray brings a significant degree of gravitas to the effort.
Johnson’s primary campaign showed organizational savvy and discipline in winning the party’s nod on the first ballot. For Johnson — who at times has been criticized for a lack of organizational discipline — remaining focused and organized for the next six months will be a challenge to which he must rise if he and his running mate are to have a significant impact in November. This will not be as easy as it might first appear, considering the fundamental nature of Libertarian Party activists, who chafe at being organized and frequently demand a purity of allegiance to the party’s philosophy that is not always compatible with winning over voters in the real world.
Still, the ticket is a strong one, especially in the current political climate in which tea party and other activists are demanding candidates who are genuinely committed to shrinking the size, scope, cost and power of government — the agenda at the heart of the Libertarian Party since its formation in 1971.
As always, a key to just how much of an impact the Libertarian Party will have in the presidential sweepstakes will be whether its candidates are permitted to participate in the presidential and vice-presidential debates. Despite the oft-repeated notion that our political system is an “open” one, the fact is that both major political parties work hard to maintain a monopoly on access to the electoral levers of power. One of the ways in which this is accomplished is by setting the bar for participation in the presidential and vice-presidential debates so high that it becomes nearly impossible for a third-party candidate to qualify.
The last third-party candidate to crash the establishment and secure the 15% average poll standing required to participate in the presidential debates was Ross Perot in 1992. Considering that Perot’s participation was a major reason George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton that year, the GOP is unlikely to help Johnson secure a spot on the debate stage.
If in fact the Libertarian Party candidates somehow work their way into the presidential and vice-presidential debates this year, the election will generate an even higher degree of interest and voter participation than it already promises to deliver. Even in the absence of such an event, however, the Johnson-Gray ticket brings a degree of substance and a new perspective that all voters and media pundits should not only welcome, but embrace.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 2008. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.