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America’s Next Top Libertarian

April 20, 2011Posted in Blog

On Slate, Dave Wiegel writes:

On Thursday, on the steps of New Hampshire’s state capitol, Gary Johnson will announce that he’s running for president. It’s a pretty safe bet that you’re not aware of this. Only 14 percent of Republicans have the faintest idea of who he is. Half of them don’t like him. The original Tea Party candidate starts his presidential campaign pretty close to zero.

Why would a former governor with an impeccable small-government record get next to no attention? Two words: Ron Paul.

When Johnson first emerged as a potential candidate in December, he was billed as the “next Ron Paul.” In the first article about Johnson’s 501(c)(4), Our America, Politico’s Jonathan Martin speculated that “Johnson may better positioned to ride the populist wave than the longtime Texas GOP congressman,” because anger against the political establishment had metastasized since 2008, and Johnson is “telegenic, is media savvy and, equally important, has twice been easily elected to statewide office.”

All true. Before Ron Paul ran for president in 2007, Johnson was the Great Libertarian Hope. His come-to-Jesus moment on marijuana made him a national figure. Libertarians in the GOP hoped he’d run for their nomination; the Libertarian Party hoped he’d bolt and join their team. But Johnson was dismissive, ruling out a future in politics. “I have effectively pulled the pin on my political career with my stance on drugs,” he said in a 2001 interview with Reason magazine. After he left the governor’s mansion, he used the substantial earnings from the sale of his company to travel the world, climb Mount Everest, and ski. When I interviewed Johnson in 2007 (as a reporter for Reason), he asked to be described as a “businessman-slash-adventurer.”

So the Great Libertarian Hope job went to the only applicant: Ron Paul. He was imperfect. The more cosmopolitan members of the movement frowned on Paul’s abortion stance (life begins at conception), his immigration stance (he ran spine-tingling commercials about Mexicans climbing over the border), and his views on international trade. But Paul tapped into an anti-war, anti-state, pro-gold sentiment that few people knew existed. He raised $35 million. He came fourth in the delegate hunt.

Johnson studied the Ron Paul campaign. He hired Paul’s finance director, Jonathan Bydlak. He ran third in CPAC’s straw poll because some Paul supporters made him their first choice, to prop him up. In an interview earlier this year, conducted outside a restaurant in Arlington, Va.—Johnson thought we could save money if we didn’t grab a table—he explained that he wanted to expand the GOP’s base and do what Paul couldn’t quite do last time.

“I just would point out also that he ended up getting 9 percent of the vote, and I’m trying to be astute as to why that was the case,” said Johnson. “I mean, why wasn’t that a higher number? Because the idea would be—speaking hypothetically—the idea would be to win. And he didn’t win. So I try to understand that as well as I possibly can.”

Also covered on The Daily Paul.

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