For as long as I’ve followed politics, I’ve been disappointed by politicians. They promise things that cannot be delivered. They speak in truisms and straw men rather than relevant facts. They craft policies to appease powerful interest groups rather than to help the general public. They have an unflappable aura of self-importance and unfaltering confidence in their belief that they know what is best for you. And Republican or Democrat, they are all too willing to act on this belief and legislate you into submission.
So imagine my delight when, about ten months ago, I discovered a little-known former governor from New Mexico named Gary Johnson. (So little-known, in fact, that my older brother, a Republican congressional campaign veteran and policy wonk, hadn’t the slightest clue as to who he was.) Johnson was starting to garner some niche media attention from libertarian news outlets such as Reason and Fox Business, and his background fascinated me. In the 1990s, Johnson transformed his construction start-up into a 1,000+ employee firm before selling it. He proceeded to become governor, and in his eight years vetoed more legislation than governors of all other 49 states combined.
Charismatic but not a showman, Johnson took his brief time in interviews to explain his policy rationales rather than to pander. Throwaway phrases such as “restoring American greatness” and “winning the future” were never uttered…substance was king. When Johnson formally announced his candidacy in April, little in his messaging changed. This, to me, was an overwhelmingly good thing.
For every moment, a man. First, the moment. For America, it is not a very good one. We are thirteen trillion dollars in debt, have 9% unemployment, and have no clue how to pay for an entire generation set to retire soon. Discussions to address deficit reduction have failed, in that they revolve around only slowing the rate of deficit growth (rather than actually cutting the deficit). Feckless politicians refuse to propose meaningful cuts in the budget, as their constituents have grown to believe that government spending is free of charge and full of benefits. The president, while not responsible for the recession, has the majority of corporate executives scared about the next extralegal regulations he will impose on them. Social Security and broader entitlement reform has made less progress than LeBron’s free throw shooting.
Thus, the man. Tough enough to climb Mount Everest on a broken leg, Johnson’s necessary proposals require such toughness to see through. He would drastically reduce the size of government in order to eliminate the deficit and restore individual liberty. He would end the drug war, saving $20 billion. He would means test Social Security, slash Medicaid spending, and eliminate the Affordable Care Act, saving hundreds of billions more. He would stop sending our 20 year old men and women to fight and die in remote countries with only tangential interests at stake, which wold save both thousands of lives and billions of dollars. These and other policy positions are very clearly stated on Johnson’s web site. His record in the public and private sectors make it abundantly clear that he has the competence to see them through.
Furthermore, Johnson’s competitors for the Republican nomination are abysmal. Mitt Romney is the most disingenuous politician in recent memory; he would advocate for an invasion of Mars if it would win him South Carolina. Herman Cain may be a brilliant mathematician, but he is an idiot in regards to public policy. Michele Bachman has no real plan aside from repealing Obamacare. Rick Santorum thinks that all of America’s problems can be solved by banning gay marriage. Rick Perry wants to eliminate federal bureaucracies that he cannot actually name. Newt Gingrich is a sideshow. Ron Paul may be right on a lot of issues, but his past is replete with homophobia and racism. John Huntsman knows Chinese; after watching four debates, I know nothing else about him.
All of the aforementioned candidates try to speak to the merits of frugal, limited government. None (aside from Paul) can do so convincingly, because none have actually governed as they promise they will. Gary Johnson has.
Having studied the presidential nomination process for my undergrad thesis, I know Johnson has an uphill battle ahead of him. As of this writing, he faces many institutional obstacles, both from within (a moribund, tradition-obsessed Republican party) and without (a news media that is loathe to give attention to Republicans who aren’t easy targets for satire). But if the GOP wants to both retake the White House and regain its soul, party strategists and kingmakers should rally behind Johnson quickly.