Long excluded from the Republican presidential debates, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is now seriously considering a third party run for president in 2012.
Johnson, should he decide to run as third party candidate, could act as a spoiler by siphoning away much-needed votes from the GOP nominee. Veteran Republican strategist Roger Stone, a Johnson supporter, told The Daily Caller earlier this month that such an effort would “pose a great danger for the Republicans” if they nominate a candidate like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
In the past, Johnson has said that he has “no intention” of running as anything other than a Republican. Having participated in only two presidential primary debates, he started working with the Republican National Committee last month in an attempt to be included in more, and initially found them receptive to his complaints.
Last week, however, the RNC delivered their final verdict: Johnson, a two-term governor of a key swing state, would not receive any assistance from the party.
“We simply have to have some minimum criteria in order for candidates to participate in these debates,” RNC chief counsel John Phillipe wrote in a letter to Johnson. “Otherwise, the debates would be utter chaos and unhelpful to Republican voters as we select our nominee. The criteria chosen were aimed primarily at ensuring that only candidates exhibiting minimum indicia of viability would be allowed to participate. A candidate can establish that he or she has met this threshold by hitting certain fundraising targets or achieving a minimum level of support in public polling.”
Meeting that “minimum criteria,” his sympathizers point out, has been impossible for Johnson because he has been excluded from major polls for months. It’s a catch-22 for his campaign that Slate’s Dave Weigel, among others, have begun to call “The Gary Johnson rule.”
“The polling thresholds manage to catch [former Utah Governor Jon] Huntsman, and exclude [Johnson], in no small part because a lot of polls don’t ask about him,” Weigel wrote after the RNC’s announced their decision.
“Johnson couldn’t score an invite to one debate because the price of entry was attendance at three TV debates — he’s made it into two … You don’t see a candidate onstage, and you assume there’s something disqualifying about him. You don’t float his name in a poll. You’re a media organization, and you save money by keeping his name out. … It’s all very odd.”
“I’ve clearly been excluded from the process, and that’s a real surprise for me,” Johnson told TheDC. “I feel very naïve.”
Quick to break the tried-and-tested rules of traditional campaigning, Johnson has always been something of an exotic character in the Republican race. He speaks openly of his belief in medical marijuana and admits to using it himself while recovering from a paragliding accident. Unlike virtually every other member of the Republican field in an election largely centered on job creation, Johnson has refused to be called a “job creator” despite New Mexico’s astonishing 11.6 percent job creation rate during his time as governor. And unlike fellow libertarian Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, Johnson approves of humanitarian military intervention in some cases, such as President Obama’s recent decision to send American troops to Africa to help fight the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army.
Faced with either continuing his quixotic run for the Republican nomination, launching a third party effort, or just giving up, Johnson now says he has been receiving overtures from the Libertarian Party, which will be on the ballot in all 50 states next year.
“One thing I would make clear is that, if I did decide [to seek the Libertarian nomination], that’s nothing that’s pre-ordained,” Johnson told TheDC. “That’s something that I would have to go out and work for. And I would do just that, I would go out and work for that.”
Johnson is not the only potential major third-party presidential candidate next year. Both real estate tycoon Donald Trump and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer have refused to rule out independent bids, and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has also been mentioned as a potential contender. But should he secure the Libertarian Party nomination, Johnson, with the help of Stone, might still prove to be a major player in 2012.
“The idea has always been about the message,” Johnson said. “Always. If you’re in the fray and you’re talking about things that need to be talked about, [you try] to make the world a better place, if you will, as a result of talking about the issues, and having others have to address the issues.”