Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson has recently been making waves. From tethering himself to memes to making a whistle stop tour on various media, the libertarians’ nominee for president of the United States has attempted to break through the 15 percent threshold. Fifteen percent, the polling necessary to be included in the presidential debates, is make-or-break for a third-party candidate. The Commission on Public Debates, or CPD for short, is the nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that sponsors and produces the debates. Johnson has not been able to reach past 10 percent, a fearful prospect for the campaign considering the two weeks until the first debate. Without the debate, it’s hard to see Johnson in the White House. Exposure is everything for third-party candidates.
Johnson has to find over 7 million voters (representative of that five percent of registered voters) quickly, or the race is over. Where can he find them? Plenty of places, but getting them to choose is the hard part. Imagine calling 7 million people or knocking on 7 million doors. Think of the effort it takes to convince one person of anything, let alone politics, and multiply it. Many are already entrenched in their views, and Johnson’s latest gaffe isn’t helping.
Last week on MSNBC, Gary Johnson, on the aforementioned whistle stop tour, lost his chance to gather a significant portion of the Republican base. When asked a question about Aleppo, a city in Syria and a center of the Syrian refugee crisis, Johnson answered with another: “What is Aleppo?”
An ABC News/Washington Post poll from Sept. 5 to Sept. 8 cites “Terrorism and National Security” as the single most important issue for 19 percent of Americans. To any of these Americans doing a summary Google in November, Johnson lost their vote.
To understand what the Republican base is, or what it used to be, we must look to Reagan. Reagan was the first to realign the Republicans upon three pillars of issues: business, religion and national security. Despite watching for the better part of a year as these three factions tore each other apart, they still exist, albeit disunited. Johnson, who has been struggling to find more and more voters, can write off a significant portion of these voters thanks to his Aleppo comment.
With Donald Trump keeping his head down and Hillary Clinton currently sick with pneumonia, it may be possible for Gary Johnson to capture voters while those two stay quiet. However, voters are less and less likely to switch their viewpoints as time goes on. Polling shows that the relative position of the candidates has largely unchanged since the beginning of the summer. Anything could happen this cycle, but for Johnson, the clock is quickly running out.
Johnson still has an important role to play. Remember the three pillars. Johnson is still capturing a large amount of voters from the two major parties, and he is most likely hurting Trump more than Clinton. Johnson gives business conservatives a suitable outlet without running to Clinton. William “Bill” Weld, Johnson’s running mate, served as Mitt Romney’s New York state campaign chairman in 2008 and publicly endorsed Romney in 2012. That’s in addition to Weld’s being the Republican governor of Massachusetts for much of the early and mid-1990s.
Johnson can decide the election. Some would argue that the 1992 election was decided when Ross Perot captured votes from the incumbent George H. W. Bush, and many older Democrats still froth with rage at the mention of Ralph Nader, who could’ve given a couple hundred votes to Gore. These votes matter to candidates and parties. Parties can and will incorporate these marginalized voters in order to win more elections.
Despite Gary Johnson’s numerical issues, he still has an important role to play. His voice speaks for millions.