Could Gary Johnson change the presidential race?

Written 21 May 2016

Gary Johnson is set to become the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party. Hopes of a “Libertarian moment” were dashed when Donald Trump annihilated Rand Paul and the rest of the GOP field. But there is a chance that that hope could be revived with the rise of Johnson. A recent Fox News poll showed Johnson garnering 10% of the vote — this is with limited name recognition and coverage. This is similar to the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race where the Libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis, was able to win 7% of the vote with very minimal campaign spending and name recognition.

That may change soon, however. The Koch brothers are apparently getting ready to back the Johnson campaign, and Johnson’s new running mate, William Weld, was a former GOP governor in Massachusetts who has access to the same donor circles that Mitt Romney did (also former GOP governor from MA). Donors who are looking for an alternative to Trump may just support Gary Johnson. And along with new donor funds, Johnson is also begin to gain media attention, with Fox, CNN, and MSNBC covering him recently, along with major publications and conservative talk show hosts.

I suspect that a lot of the conservatives who backed Ted Cruz may now back Johnson. Johnson offers the same “small government”, “abolish the IRS” sort of talk, yet he takes it even further. Much of the anti-establishment may also go to Johnson, perhaps pulling in even some Sanders supporters. Therefore, with more name recognition, Johnson could garner a significant percentage of the vote from those who are dissatisfied with Trump, but are also dissatisfied with current party politics.

A lot of the states with hardcore conservatives west of the Mississippi could go to Johnson, including many with large Hispanic populations (he was the governor of New Mexico). These states mostly voted for Ted Cruz, and conservative Hispanics with disdain for Trump may rally toward Johnson. Johnson could also win states like Washington and Colorado because of his stance on marijuana which is very liberal. Many states which I previously projected to go for Trump will have its conservative votes split, most notably Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.

If a scenario like this were to occur, not only would it give Hillary Clinton a victory, but it would also dismantle the conservative movement. The Republican Party would effectively become the authoritarian wing of the conservative movement, whereas the Libertarian Party would become the libertarian wing (for lack of a better word). Such a scenario would give the Democratic Party effective control over all houses of government until the conservative movement reunites or the liberal movement becomes split itself — likely along progressive and moderate lines.

Note that I think that this is still very unlikely, but Johnson is probably going to get 8% of the vote either way. That may be enough to deny Trump the victory. Nevertheless, I am still not going to revise my May 18 projection, as the situation of fear which is possible will still be enough to give Trump the victory. And when there is fear in an electorate, it tends to vote for authoritarian.