Libertarian Party Misses Chance To Attract ‘Never Trump’ Conservatives

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Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Last night’s CNN Libertarian town hall with former GOP governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld provided more evidence that conservatives are homeless in 2016. I’m with Johnson on a number of issues — including trade and immigration — but his support of abortion is a deal-breaker. (An aside: Why didn’t Rand Paul run for the LP nomination?)

Look, I get the strategy that Johnson wants to peel off disaffected Bernie Sanders voters on the Left, but wouldn’t two former Republican governors also be wise to try to collect some conservative voters who simply can’t pull the lever for Donald Trump? Seriously, I think Johnson could have been at least the protest vote for a lot of conservatives.

Having failed to provide an alternative for wayward conservative voters, Johnson now joins Trump and Hillary Clinton on the list of presidential candidates who have praised Planned Parenthood. Ironically, pro-lifers are left without a choice. (Or you can vote for Constitution Party candidate Darrell Castle.)

It strikes me as utterly plausible that a credible Libertarian candidate this cycle could have positioned himself to appeal to both sides of the ideological spectrum. You could craft an overarching message that resonates with Bernie fans and Never Trumpers — and then target specific messages to different groups. For example, Johnson could use mail, phones, web outreach, etc. to talk to Bernie voters about his support for marijuana legalization and a humble foreign policy, and talk to conservative voters about free trade and what might be considered the libertarian concept of defending the fundamental right to life. These issues aren’t mutually exclusive; this wouldn’t amount to misleading people. But you would be stressing a different message to a different audience.

Maybe the problem is simply with Johnson as the nominee. Someone like Rand Paul would have obviously been better-suited to appeal to the Right, but finding someone who could thread the needle and capitalize on the opportunity to steal voters from both sides requires precision. My guess is that Johnson will get a lot of votes (for a third party candidate), but he’s still leaving a lot of potential votes on the table. It’s possible to do well but still be guilty of missing a huge opportunity.

Frankly, I’m confused by his strategy. I’m a supporter of decriminalizing marijuana, but Johnson strikes me as a walking example of why regular usage is a bad idea. I don’t want to confuse causation with correlation, but — despite an impressive resume and a reputation for being an accomplished athlete — Johnson still comes off as incredibly goofy.

His political judgment might also be impaired.