On paper, Gary Johnson looks very good as a presidential candidate. He was a two-term governor of New Mexico—at a time when it was a strong Democratic majority—and boasts strong conservative credentials, having shrunk government and lowered taxes while leaving the state with a budget surplus.
It’s not just on paper where Johnson looks good. In a field of Republican candidates who boast about their commitment to fitness, Johnson is a tri-athlete, having competed in multiple events. Temperamentally, he has shown a willingness to argue a point without personalizing a disagreement.
Where Johnson does not look so good is in the polls. Despite the aforementioned and the fact that he was the first candidate to start his campaign. Johnson has been polling in the 1-2 percent range.
His campaign wasn’t helped when CNN excluded him from the first debate that included all the major candidates on June 20. A decision that brought the network howls of protest from some quarters. Johnson responded to the snub creatively, by answering all the questions that were asked via YouTube.
But if his struggles in the polls are shaking his confidence it did not show in an interview with Patch between campaign stops. “If I didn’t think I could do the job I wouldn’t be doing this and I say that based on my resume,” Johnson said.
The issue for which Johnson has received the most attention is drug policy. He thinks the drug war has been a failure, a belief that his tenure as governor of a border state only confirmed, and is in favor of legalization.
“We’ve criminalized a behavior that 100 million people engage in. And in the wrong set of circumstances they could all be sent to jail for that behavior,” Johnson said. The problem, Johnson believes, lies in enforcement. “We are enforcing drug laws, but they’re terribly discriminatory.”
Johnson's time leading New Mexico also convinced him that the immigration and drug issues are intertwined. “The violence on the border is all drug-related,” he said.
Johnson’s opinions on drug and immigration policy fit with a man who endorsed the Libertarian Ron Paul in 2008. Except now he’s competing with the long-time Texas Congressman for votes. That said, he’s not too concerned about fracturing the Libertarian vote. “I’m not worried about splitting eight percent (the number at which Paul is presently polling). We need to get to 40 percent. If we start splitting that, then we’ll have to make a decision.”
Johnson owned a construction company before becoming a governor and after he was elected, he demonstrated he was beholden to no special interests, vetoing more bills than the 49 governors combined during his tenure. He maintains his independent streak when discussing Obamacare, which he would overturn because he doesn’t think the country can afford it. But he doesn’t let fellow Republicans off the hook either regarding health care reform, pointing out that, during the term of the second President Bush, a Republican-controlled Congress passed a prescription drug benefit.
“I thought when Republicans had the Congress and the Presidency they would get this country on sound financial footing,” Johnson said. “Well they didn’t. They blew it.”
It’s that type of tough talk that led one pundit to say of Johnson, “He was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party.”
Johnson’s other beliefs would seem to match those of what are typically known as Tea Party Republicans.
Generally, Johnson believes that “the federal government is a negative when it comes to policy in this country,” a statement that would be music to a constitutional conservative’s ears.
Johnson would have let the banks go under when they bottomed out in the fall of 2008 and then allowed their assets to be sold off. He admits that there would have been a steep downturn, but that would have been an example of short-term pain for long-term gain.
“There would have been a fire sale (for all those assets),” Johnson said. “But buyers would have picked them up and rebuilt the economy. Had that happened, our economy would be trending upward now.”
Johnson believes in abolishing the corporate income tax and instituting what he calls a “Fair Tax.” Such a move would eliminate the need for the Internal Revenue Service in his view.
Johnson would also like to see the Department of Education eradicated, saying that it provides mandates for schools without the necessary funding to achieve the mandate. Furthermore, he thinks the product of classroom education could use some competition and would benefit from state control. “Can you imagine the best practices we would have with 50 examples instead of one?” he wondered.
With respect to foreign affairs, Johnson advocates getting out of our various conflicts immediately and concurred with the remarks last month of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates -- that the US has been shouldering the load for too long as a member of NATO. Johnson was in favor of defeating terrorist groups in Afghanistan after they attacked the US on September 11, 2001. But he feels that goal was accomplished and the country over-reached in trying to nation-build in Afghanistan.
A complete rundown of Johnson’s take on all the issues can be found here.
Johnson’s next stop in South Carolina is scheduled for August. He has spent the bulk of his time campaigning in New Hampshire, which is likely to continue. In the meantime, he’ll ignore the polls and keep spreading his message, looking for the same kind of breakthrough as Bill Clinton and John McCain, past major party nominees who found themselves in a position similar to the one in which Johnson now finds himself.
Note: This is the latest in a series of candidate profiles written by Patch sites in South Carolina.