We asked Gary Johnson supporters if he can actually become the next president

Getting to know Libertarian voters

Justin Carissimo
New York
Thursday 02 June 2016 07:53 BST
Gary Johnson at a Reason Magazine photoshoot in 2012.
Gary Johnson at a Reason Magazine photoshoot in 2012. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

I know what you’re thinking: Who the hell is Gary Johnson? Those who aren’t politically woke aren’t really to blame, with the exception of this past weekend’s convention, the Libertarian Party has been completely ignored by the media, and if not for Johnson's sudden rise in national polls, he hardly would've recieved any coverage at all.

Donald Trump has dominated the news cycle due to his inflammatory comments and the ratings he brings legacy media companies, solidifying himself as one of the most unpopular presidential nominees in decades, and his counterpart Hillary Clinton isn’t far behind. Meanwhile, Johnson has cracked double digits in recent national surveys, which seems to be a direct symptom of the lack of alternatives to Trump and Clinton.

The third party dark horse may be a long shot to the presidency, but there’s a growing chorus of folks across the country willing to hedge their bets on the former two-term governor of New Mexico, who earned himself 1.2 million votes when he ran in 2012. Despite what ratings-hungry 24/7 news broadcasts will show you, supporters of the Libertarian Party are well-educated post-secondary students and former Republicans, who are mostly white but aren’t afraid to vote Democrat. So we caught up with a handful of Johnson supporters and asked them the most important question of all — “can he really defeat Trump and Clinton?”

The interviews have been slightly edited for clarity.

Erin Durbin, 19, Provo, Utah
Student at Brigham Young University
I grew up in a family that taught me the importance of politics and being an active citizen, so from a very young age I was very involved and aware of the political process. Both my parents and my grandparents and my whole hometown were a very conservative group of people. Don't get me wrong I have nothing against conservatives but the older I became and the more I started to think for myself, the more I started to see the flaws in their logic.

Why are you supporting Gary Johnson?
For me, he's the only true Libertarian candidate. But something I like about him is that he doesn't act in certain ways because he's a libertarian, he is a Libertarian because he acts certain ways. I personally believe that there is no hope for this country outside of Gary Johnson. He's an honest, morally sound, and intelligent man. And the only politician in my 19 short years that I can say I have agreed with and supported 100 percent.

He lives by the political philosophy "the only laws that there should be are those that protect you from others and others from you.” While he does have morals he also has made it clear that he does not believe it is the government's job to regulate morality, and it takes a very big person to separate their personal beliefs from their political beliefs. For that I also respect him. I think that my generation is starting to realize how corrupt the two party system is.

Can he actually win?
I don't know if I believe that he has a chance to beat Hillary or Trump in this election, but I believe libertarianism is our country's future. I think it is very important to educate this younger generation on the ideals that Gary Johnson stands up for.

Craig Murdock, 44, New Orleans, Louisiana
Criminal defense attorney

Why are you supporting Johnson?
The thing that turns me off about Trump is the lack of any coherent governing philosophy. You have absolutely no idea what you are going to get from him if he's elected. I was completely against the bailouts in 2008 and I remember him supporting them talking about how great they were. He completely turned me off. I thought about voting for the Libertarian Party in 2008 as I loathe John McCain buy they nominated Bob Barr as their presidential candidate. He is a total nut job so I held my nose and voted for McCain. I thought Gary Johnson was a terrific candidate in 2012 and knew Mitt Romney was going to win Louisiana, but I got in the booth and decided to vote for Romney.

Johnson was a two term governor of blue-ish state. He governed as a fiscal conservative and he supports criminal justice reform. These are really my two biggest issues. I have been holding my nose voting Republican for years hoping they might see the folly in their ways.

Can he actually win?
I hope Johnson gets the Libertarian Party nomination, and if he is able to get on a debate stage, I think he will do well. I see no reason he can't pull 10-15 percent of the vote.

Gary Johnson speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015. Gage Skidmore/Flickr (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Eric Gros, 18, Kent, Ohio
Student at Kent State University
I'm a sophomore majoring in political science with a concentration in international affairs and comparative politics. I'm originally from Nevada, but decided to spread my wings and go 2000-plus miles away for college. My plan is to graduate and attend George Washington University for either a masters in international affairs or go to law school. Ideally, one day I would like to become a Senator or House Representative.

Why are you supporting Johnson?
My support of Johnson began when I realized that my ideals didn't match either of the major parties. I looked into it, took an online quiz, and realized that minor parties are a significant part of American politics and that there is more than just one extreme or the other. I like Gary Johnson, and I like that he has experience leading, having been the governor of New Mexico for two terms. I'm voting for him because I believe that Hillary and Donald will do nothing but wreck this country in the view of the foreign eye, or economically. I believe that he will handle some things better than others. I am a little skeptical about his views on education.

However, his views on how to handle the business sector, the social sector, and the foreign sector are all very appealing to me. I am throwing my support behind him mainly because I agree with him the most out of any of the candidates, and he is the front-runner in the Libertarian party, as well as the Libertarian candidate with the most political experience. He will lead us away from the establishment, but in a positive direction unlike Trump.

Can he actually win?
I think the likelihood of him winning is very slim. He can only do it if the stigma of voting third party is dropped. Issues that he is stronger on and that he can take on better than Clinton and Trump include his social policies, his cuts to the huge budgets of the military and Medicare/Medicaid, and the reformation of social security.

Gabe Smith, 40, Brandon, Mississippi
Emergency medical technician

Why are you supporting Johnson?
I want to vote for Johnson because I believe in the meaning of his ideas and positions. He wants people to vote for him who agree with him on most things. We don't agree on every position but I agree with him more than any other candidate. I believe the person has the right to do what they want to do for themselves as long as it doesn't harm somebody else. I believe in smaller government. I believe in a fair tax. I believe you should marry who you want to. I believe that marijuana should be legal. While I don't believe in abortion, what right do I have to tell a woman what she can do with her body?

Can he actually win?
If Johnson can get on the debate stage, he stands a chance of gaining momentum. I believe he can pull close to 20 percent or more of the vote. The key to beating Clinton and Trump though will be the possibility of winning a couple of smaller states that prevents an electoral majority. It goes to the house. The Democrats won't have enough votes for Clinton. The GOP doesn't want Trump. You have your compromise candidate. If he becomes president, and after four years of liberty and freedom, we don't like that, then vote him out.

Gary Johnson points in 2011. Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal/Associated Press (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal/Getty)

Sarah Drozda, 21, Buffalo, New York
Student at the University at Buffalo

Why are you supporting Johnson?
First off, Johnson is not my favorite libertarian candidate, Austin Peterson is, but Johnson won the Libertarian nomination, so I will vote for him. I'm a registered Republican, but I do not feel confident voting for Trump. I think that he has flip flopped between parties too much, and I don't trust him as commander in chief. He's said racist, misogynist, and rude things, and I don't think that a leader should ever act like that, especially if they might be president someday.

The thing that sticks out to me most about Johnson is that he's very liberty based, of course being a libertarian, and that he won't have the government in our business in everything we do. I think the government now is at a constant overreach, and I don't want to be told what I can and cannot do. We need a president who will stick to the Constitution, and for me, Trump and Clinton don't care if we have a Constitution. Trump has said countless times he would limit freedom of speech, and Clinton is okay with getting rid of the second amendment. As a single woman who lives on her own, I don't think I could defend myself if someone were to come into my house unless I have a gun, and Johnson will protect my right to bear arms.

Can he actually win?
I don't know. While I think a lot of people support him and the numbers are there, there's this mentality going around that voting for a third party is a wasted vote. We'll never elect a third party president until we stop voting for the two major parties just because we see them as the only important ones. It's a constant cycle that needs to be broken out of.

Kelsa Pellettiere, 21, Hammond, Louisiana
Student at Southeastern Louisiana University
I’m a former member of the Louisiana National Guard, I joined in high school and went to basic between my junior and senior years, and went to advanced individual training after graduation. I served as the president of Young Americans for Liberty for two years during my undergraduate days.

Why are you supporting Johnson?
My support for Johnson is largely reactionary to Ron Paul, my first choice, dropping out of the race. Most people asked me why I wouldn’t support Ted Cruz. Honestly, I hate Cruz and think he is a high-handed, evangelical bigot. I am a firm believer in not letting your religious association dictate your politics.

I view Johnson as a practical libertarian candidate. There are too many people within the libertarian community who want someone who yells and screams because they like contrary candidates. Second, I have many friends involved in the libertarian movement and have heard too many alleged accounts of Austin Peterson acting creepy toward women. While I have not met him or experienced this first hand, I trust the judgment of these women who have said they experienced this.

Can he actually win?
No, because Clinton is leading and any self-respecting, smart human would throw their vote behind her over Trump. I would if I could, but I can’t for reasons I've already mentioned. Sanders won’t get the nomination, and I am adamantly opposed to socialism. However, he is the closest thing to an anti-war candidate up on the main stage outside of Johnson (except Sanders won’t end the drone program—he already said that they would make it better in order to kill less civilians, but not end it).

Johnson is reasonable, practical, and I believe he will be a great executive. While I don’t expect him to win, I am avidly encouraging my friends and family to vote for him, because in the South, too many people seem to think that Trump is a better alternative than Clinton, and that is just not the case. I'm hopeful that Johnson getting media attention and the Libertarian Party having active debates will encourage others to realize there are better options than just sticking with the lesser of two evils from the Republican and Democratic parties.

Gary Johnson speaks to press in Washington DC in May 2016. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

Will Alisberg, 27, New York City
Sales operations specialist

I help run the Feel The Johnson Facebook page but it's mostly the other gentleman who started the account.

Why are you supporting Johnson?
While I was in college, working on a Congressional campaign, I had a friend arrested for smoking pot. I Google searched “Republicans who were pro-marijuana rights,” and found Johnson as my clear choice. I liked his Facebook page and was thrilled when he announced his run in 2012. The most important issues to me were his economic ideas, not handicapping businesses with over-regulation and taxes, but I wondered why that had to correlate to the GOP's zeal for marijuana prohibition.

I was outraged when the GOP didn't include him on their ballot to keep his social viewpoints off of the stage. Through his lawsuit against the commission on presidential debates, I learned that Republicans and Democrats work together for the right to say “vote for me, the other candidate would be a disaster and there's obviously no room for a third choice.” I'd take Johnson over anybody, and this year, I'd take almost anybody over the current options.

Can he actually win?
I think he resonates in a few states, maybe New Mexico or a state like Nevada, whose state laws are more libertarian (prostitution, gambling, etc) and stops any candidate from getting to 270 electoral votes sending the election to the House. Two wildly popular governors who are fiscally sane without the GOP social baggage are more appealing than Trump in that case. If momentum really takes off, he unites the country, and he wins in a blowout, because it all comes down to momentum. If he gets going, I think he can be unstoppable. I'm not expecting a win by a long stretch, but if he gets into the debates anything is possible.

Luis Segarra, 46, West Hartford, Connecticut
Student at Liberty University 

I'm your run-of-the-mill (or what used to be) Republican: for the free market, belief in a muscular but thoughtful foreign policy; outside of abortion (I’m pro-life), I’m moderate on social policy (I have a gay son who I’m very proud of). I’m also middle-of-the-road on the immigration issue. Until recently. I was a minister, and I’m taking a sabbatical while working on a master’s degree in counseling and psychology as I look forward to being a marriage and family therapist. I’m happily married with two kids, and I live in a leafy suburb about two hours from New York City.

Why are you supporting Johnson?
I was for Marco Rubio for many reasons, and I had never liked a candidate more than him in my life. I’m sure my feelings towards Rubio were akin to how many in Democratic Party felt towards then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008. So this is not me leaving the Republican Party, but that many in the party left me with their incomprehensible backing of Donald Trump. His misogyny, stirring up anti-immigrant sentiments, simplistic worldview and his lack of decency are among the countless reasons why I shudder to see him in the White House. I have been kidding around with my friends that he is so crass and classless, it’ll be interesting to see him play the “pull my finger” trick on Angela Merkel.

I find the Republican Party being held down by nativists that think by being very mad we can turn our country back to 1950. It is in need of a reform movement that will meet the actual challenges people are facing today in 2016. In the meantime, the Democratic Party is currently not an option. I have recently voted for Democrats at the state and local level so I'm not a person who reflexively votes against the Democratic Party. But neither party is an option for me this cycle. Which leads me to Johnson, I remember him when he was governor of New Mexico, he was a small government, lower tax guy. He is moderate on social issues and he puts a forward-looking face on conservatism.

Can he actually win?
Who knows? This political season has been one where all the laws of political gravity have been broken. With two highly unpopular candidates heading up the two major parties, Johnson has six months to gather momentum and go up to 30 percent. Having said that, I realize that he has the longest of odds against him. But by voting for him, at least I can sleep with myself at night knowing I won’t have to tell my grandchildren I voted for this crackpot. Aging baby boomers today may not be desperate, but they are afraid when they see the world they knew growing up in is changing — and this fear has led them to losing their minds and to think Trump is the man that can fix what ails our country.

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