Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul told The Daily Caller in June that if he doesn’t run again for president in 2012, there’s someone else with similar libertarian-leaning views he could see himself supporting: former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
“I thought that was terrific,” Johnson said in a phone interview with The Daily Caller. “You know, I’m a Ron Paul fan. I endorsed Ron Paul in his run for president, so I did see that, and I was flattered by it.”
But that’s all the former governor would say about any sort of presidential ambitions, invoking his often-repeated reason that because he’s chairman of a 501(c)(4) organization — whose primary focus by law cannot be political campaigning — he can’t discuss his political future. “I can’t be talking about political office,” he said.
Yet 2012 is obviously at least somewhat on his mind as Johnson mentions that former Republican Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who ran for the GOP nomination in 2008, operated under an independent expenditure organization — and not a PAC — before announcing his run.
In December, Johnson’s organization went online with OurAmericaInitiative.com and he’s been on the road ever since. “I’ve been to 23 states, I’ve spoken to hundreds of groups, I’ve been on the radio 200 times,” he said. Slate once called Johnson “the most interesting Republican you’ve never heard of,” noting his libertarian views like legalizing marijuana.
He says he supports “the notion of gay rights,” even though he thinks “the notion of bankruptcy and getting our fiscal house in order is really the issue” of the day.
So while he’s out on the road, Johnson said he’s putting a voice to how “we’re borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar, the fact that spending is out of control and taxes are going up across the board.” If that’s not dealt with, he says, “the country implodes. If they are, we move forward as a country viably.”
When it comes to looking at issues, Johnson says he’s very methodical. “For me everything is a cost-benefit analysis. Everything. What are we spending and what are we getting for what we’re spending. So regardless of the issue, that would be the analysis that I would take.”
Here’s one example: “I do advocate the legalization of marijuana. It has a basis in cost-benefit. The fact that — with regard to all drugs — we’re arresting 1.8 million people a year in this country. But half of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts and the prison are drug related, and what are we getting for that?”
And here’s another: “When we talk about the war, believing we should not be in either Iraq or Afghanistan, we’re building roads, schools, bridges, highways, hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan and we’re borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar to do that. I just think this is crazy.”
Johnson continued: “Don’t we have those same needs? And at the end of the day, when it comes to both of these conflicts, a whole lot more men and servicemen will end up losing their lives on top of all the money we’re going to continue to spend in these areas — and we’re bankrupt.”
Of course, in the prism of 2012, Johnson just isn’t that well known, and politics guru Stu Rothenberg told Slate that, “His chances are zero. I’d say that they are less than zero, if there was such a thing. I’d expect his impact to be nonexistent.”
But while Johnson won’t speak directly about 2012, others say GOP primary voters will be more open to listening to a libertarian-minded candidate.
“I think things have shifted because of the financial crisis as well as the bogging down of our foreign policy,” Paul said in June. “So the American people are looking for some different answers.”
If Johnson decides to take a shot at the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, this is the void he would almost certainly seek to fill.
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