By now, anyone who uses social media or watches TV is familiar with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
But at the first debate on September 26, you may see a fresh face: Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. He needs to poll at 15% to be included in the televised debates, and polled at 12% in a CBS poll released yesterday. With his numbers rising, many voters want to know: just who is Gary Johnson?
Before he was a Libertarian, Gary Johnson was a Republican. He served two terms as the governor of New Mexico. He shares this professional background with running mate Bill Weld. Weld served as Republican governor of Massachusetts. This may explain the pair’s appeal to voters dissatisfied with Clinton and Trump. As conservatives, they forged political success in often liberal states.
Johnson’s views on the issues cut across party lines as well. The Libertarian Party’s tagline is “minimum government, maximum freedom.” Johnson believes his platform aligns with this. A fiscal conservative, he supports abolishing the Department of Education and Internal Revenue Service. On social issues, Johnson is more liberal. He is pro-choice, supports legalizing recreational marijuana and ending harsh penalties for drug use.
His views don’t toe a major party line, but Johnson sees this as part of his appeal.
“The electorate is not polarized. The electorate is a combination, analogous to us going to college and hearing that if we’re not a Democrat in college, we don’t have a heart, and analogous to, ‘If you’re not a Republican in later life you don’t have a brain.’ We’ve all got hearts and brains, and that’s the make-up of the electorate,” Johnson told Morning Consult Thursday.
His views and experience may appeal to disillusioned voters unhappy with Republicans and Democrats. But Gary Johnson still faces a hurdle. As a lesser-known third party candidate, he sees one path to getting the recognition he needs to win.
“Myself and Bill Weld would not be doing this if we didn’t think we could actually win. But there’s no chance without the debate. Meaning, if we’re not in the debate, zero chance,” he said to Morning Consult.
Lead photo by Gage Skidmore for Reason Magazine.