The Delusional Gary Johnson

I will write about the ideological problems with supporting Gary Johnson’s run with the Libertarian Party elsewhere. Here, I concern myself with an easy question: does supporting Johnson’s LP run make strategic sense even on the basic level of partisan politics?

If you think Johnson has a serious chance of becoming president on the LP ticket, you are simply delusional. Any rational person can convince himself that is the case merely by answering the following questions.

1. How many current members of Congress won on the LP ticket?

2. How many members of Congress has the LP elected, ever?

3. How many governors has the LP elected, ever?

4. How many Libertarians currently serve in any state legislature?

5. How many LP presidential candidates have won more than one percent of the popular vote?

6. How many electoral votes has an LP presidential candidate received, ever?

Here are the answers:

1. Zero.
2. Zero.
3. Zero.
4. Zero.
5. One. In 1980, Ed Clark won 1.1 percent of the popular vote.
6. One. In 1972 John Hospers got a single electoral vote.

Ah, but some readers are thinking, Gary Johnson actually was a real politician; he served for eight years as governor of New Mexico. I agree that raises the possibility of him earning more votes as an LP candidate than previous candidates have earned. But he could earn many times the previous totals and still lose very badly.

I was active in the Colorado LP for several years. I served on the state LP board. I attended national LP conventions. I even ran as a candidate once. My experience suggests there are two types of LP candidates for mid- to high-level positions. Realistic ones whose reasons for running do not include winning, and delusional ones who think that this time, by golly, they’re going to take it all the way. A couple candidates I knew spent ridiculous amounts of their own money running. And guess what. They still got blown out of the water come election day. You have a far better chance earning your first million through Amway than you do winning a major election as a Libertarian candidate.

Ah, but others are thinking, even if Johnson doesn’t win, voting for him will lodge a protest. As I will argue elsewhere, lodging a protest vote that promotes the LP is incredibly counterproductive from the standpoint of advancing a rights-protecting government. But let’s table that matter for the moment and just talk electoral tactics.

If you want to register a protest vote, an undervote is nearly as effective as a third-party vote. I simply did not vote in the last presidential election, and I may do the same in 2012, depending on the GOP nominee. (I absolutely will not vote for Paul, Gingrich, Santorum, Perry, or Bachmann.) If a vote for the LP candidate were merely a protest vote (which, I emphasize, is not the case), then the strategic advantage of voting LP versus voting for nobody (or a write-in) would be negligible.

And actually spending any time or money promoting Johnson’s campaign, given all the alternate ways one could spend time and money, would be at best practically worthless.

But of course one’s broader political strategies must account for ideology. It’s not like anybody who might support Johnson might instead support an overt Communist as a “protest vote.” Clearly promoting the right ideas is the paramount strategic concern. I grant that, if you think that supporting Johnson as an LP candidate would advance the right ideas, then supporting him might offer some minuscule strategic advantage. At this point, I encourage readers merely to contemplate the possibility that supporting Johnson as a Libertarian would instead promote very bad ideas, a case I intend to make elsewhere.

Update: See the next post in the series, “Paul-Johnson 2012: The Libertarians’ Best-Case Scenario.”

1 thought on “The Delusional Gary Johnson”

  1. Comment by Stephen Bailey December 30, 2011 10:43 AM

    Shocking that you could vote for the man that brought fully socialized medicine to the US and refuses to disavow his past actions, the man who has flip-flopped more times than a quarter flipped in the air in a game of heads or tails, a man who supported creating a carbon tax/exchange compact in the northeast, the man who has openly stated support for a VAT.

    Ari, I am NOT arguing against any point you’ve made. Only the obvious ones you haven’t. Tou will be much better off not voting again in 2012.

    Comment by Prometheus December 30, 2011 11:25 AM

    You are right that no Candidate has ever won running on the LP ticket and you are probably right that voting in favor of the LP ticket would do more harm, because it encourages their lunacy. I am having a hard time understanding your comment “If you want to register a protest vote, an undervote is nearly as effective as a third-party vote.”

    An undervote means leaving the Presidential line blank? How is that more effective as a protest vote?

    David McBride

    Comment by Ari December 30, 2011 11:29 AM

    David, Thanks for your comments. Notice that I did not say that an undervote is “more effective as a protest vote.” I said it is “nearly as effective.” The reason I say this is that, while both third-party votes and undervotes are reported, usually the former are more heavily reported. However, if a group emerged expressly to promote “none of the above,” and pushed to publicize the undervote, that might be just as noticeable as voting third-party. But in any case, let us acknowledge that lodging a “protest vote” of any variety will make the election of Obama more likely. -Ari

    Comment by TJWelch January 20, 2012 7:18 PM

    In the meantime, Johnson is still on the Republican primary ballot (at least in my state), and I plan to vote for him as a Republican, “protest” though it may be.

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