Donald Trump needs to “do a deal” with Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico and a current Libertarian candidate. Support for Johnson, past CEO of a marijuana marketer, is surging. He won’t win the presidency as a third-party candidate, but if he continues to attract voters unhappy with Trump and Clinton, he could almost certainly decide the race. The Libertarian does not align perfectly with the GOP candidate, but he has more in common with Trump than with Clinton. A Trump-Johnson partnership – either private or public -- would almost certainly win. At the least, they could double-team Hillary Clinton during the debates.
What could Trump offer? A role in his White House, allowing Johnson to focus on issues of importance to him, like shrinking the size of government or legalizing pot. If he seriously wants a seat at the table, this could be his shot. At the moment, there are plenty of empty places left.
The two men are not so far apart on many policies. Both are millionaires whose worldview is informed by the realism of having built major businesses, employed scores of workers and survived government interference. Johnson started a construction company in New Mexico right after college, which became one of the state’s most successful builders. He ultimately sold it in 1999. Trump, of course, is a significant commercial real estate developer.
Johnson first entered politics in 1994 advocating a “common sense business approach” and financing his first run for governor with his own money. He ran on a platform of lower taxes, job creation and law and order. Sound familiar?
Both candidates are socially liberal and are wary of our military entanglements overseas. It’s a start.
Though Trump has embraced GOP orthodoxy opposing abortion, it is clear this is not an important issue to him personally. Johnson’s campaign website says he “believes in the sanctity of the unborn” but recognizes that legal abortion is the law of the land.
While both men support simplifying our tax system and reducing taxes, Johnson goes further, advocating getting rid of the IRS.
Both have tenuous GOP credentials. Johnson was a Republican when he served as governor and in 2011 when he tried to become the party’s standard-bearer; he switched allegiances to run as a Libertarian in 2012 and has remained in that camp since. Trump, too, is a Republican of convenience.
Asked about Trump’s controversial questioning of our NATO commitments, Johnson does not rule out reassessing our long-standing alliances, including NATO.
The two men are most at odds over immigration, which Johnson embraces as positive for the economy. He insists that people entering the country illegally are taking only the jobs that Americans do not want, and notes that the number of undocumented people crossing the border has dropped. Despite his fiery rhetoric, Trump also endorses immigration – but only if it is legal.
Other areas of disagreement include Johnson’s support for the TPP trade pact, which Trump opposes. Also, Johnson is on record wanting to slash military spending, while Trump has vowed to reverse recent declines. At the same time, Johnson has taken a more aggressive posture of late in combatting ISIS, which may require some retooling of his 2012 enthusiasm for military retrenchment.
Where Johnson and Trump are most in sync is in their dislike for Hillary Clinton. Though he once extolled her as a “wonderful public servant,” Johnson has most recently described Clinton as “beholden” and decries her “establishment” credentials as well as her hawkish inclinations. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said that if she is elected, “Nothing's gonna really change, government's gonna have the answer to everything, and that's gonna mean taxes are gonna go up.”
Polls show Johnson now attracting an average of 7.5 percent of a four-way vote (which includes Green Party nominee Jill Stein). More important, he is gathering momentum in critical swing states. According to Quinnipiac, Johnson grabs between 8 percent and 10 percent in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, a number that could determine those contests.
Many voters lining up behind Johnson are likely casting a protest vote, rather than buying into his platform. After all, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul attracted less than one percent of the GOP primary vote in his home state, even as he ran on his father’s famous Libertarian coattails.
Moreover, when Quinnipiac asked voters their view of Johnson, fewer than 3 percent in those critical three states claimed “strongly favorable” opinions; over 70 percent said they had “not heard enough.”
Johnson’s socially liberal positions and his anti-war stance appeals to millennials, including Sanders supporters still angry over the DNC-Clinton efforts to snuff out their hero’s campaign. According to a new poll by Global Strategy Group, 54 percent of Sanders’ millennial holdouts (those unwilling to vote for Hillary) describe themselves as Independents while only 34 percent identify as Democrats and 12 percent as Republicans. Some 93 percent of that group says they have a favorable view of Bernie Sanders, but only 9 percent favor Hillary Clinton (less than Exxon Mobil or Lord Voldemort.)
Asked whom they would vote for if the election were held today, 10 percent of the ‘Anybody But Hillary’ crowd would go for Trump, 19 percent would vote for Johnson while 18 percent prefer Stein. Fully a third would stay home.
This is an opportunity for Trump. These numbers, from polling done in early July, will shift, and often third-party candidates poll better than they perform on election day. (Johnson, for instance, polled at 5 percent but won only 1 percent of the 2012 vote.) The past week may have already thrown some ex-Sanders supporters to Hillary, who benefitted from Trump latest and her convention afterglow. But dislike of the main two candidates remains high, paving the way for a substantial third-party vote.
If Johnson’s polls reach 15 percent, he will be on the debate stage. If he and Donald Trump both thrash Hillary Clinton on her foreign policy failures, her email dishonesty, her addiction to Big Money backers, and her flip-flopping on trade deals, minimum wage and other progressive issues, they could alter the outcome of the election. Time for The Donald to show us his stuff, and do a deal.