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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
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Gary Johnson: The US presidential candidate you've probably never heard of

The Libertarian wants to eliminate income tax and abolish the Internal Revenue Service.

Campaign 2016 Johnson Rick Bowmer Gary Johnson Rick Bowmer

THE US POLITICAL headlines have been dominated by the two major parties since last summer.

The Republicans have just finished their party convention in Cleveland, and next week it’s the turn of the Democrats – as thousands of party delegates and supporters descend on Philadelphia for the official coronation of Hillary Clinton.

But as the race for the White House continues, there’s growing interest in a third candidate running this November.

Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, was announced in May as the Libertarian nominee for president.

And while there’s often little interest in third party candidates when it comes to America’s four-yearly battle for political supremacy – pundits reckon the divisiveness of the two main contenders could be a boon for Johnson, who is the only alternative candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.

So who is he?

As a Libertarian, Johnson advocates eliminating income tax and abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, the agency responsible for tax collection.

A self-made businessman who worked as New Mexico governor to lower taxes and reduce bureaucracy – he also pushed for the legalisation of marijuana in the state.

Campaign 2016 Libertarian John Raoux John Raoux

The Libertarians – whose central goal was described by one delegate at their nominating convention as “minimum government, maximum freedom” – hope to tap into widespread discontent with the major-party choices.

Johnson was also the Libertarian candidate in 2012, garnering 1.2 million votes – the party’s best showing ever. Bill Weld, a former of Massachusetts, is his vice presidential running mate. 

In an interview with AFP, Johnson described Trump and Clinton as “the two most polarising figures in American politics today”.

He added:

I’m more liberal than Hillary on social issues, and I’m more conservative on fiscal issues than Ted Cruz was.

That, Johnson said, made him “the best of both worlds”.

What are his chances? 

The Libertarians’ convention this year drew far closer media attention than usual, and Johnson told the group that “millions of people are going to be trying to understand what it is to be a Libertarian”.

Party officials say that web searches for the party quintupled after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee.

Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee in 2012, has already said he may vote for the Libertarians this autumn – and last weekend the Johnson-Weld ticket also picked up support from the Bush family, with former presidential contender Jeb Bush saying he was considering backing the ticket.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert / YouTube

While Johnson and Weld face an uphill struggle in their battle to break the two-party system, recent polls have shown they at least have a chance of making an appearance in the marquee debates towards the end of the campaign.

To qualify, Johnson needs to reach more than 15% support in the polls. Recent surveys have shown him approaching that mark – with one last weekend putting support for the Libertarian at 13%.

As CNN’s Jennifer Agiesta notes:

Typically, support for third party candidates fades as the major party tickets are set heading into their conventions. But Johnson’s support outpaces that of a typical third party candidate and may prove to have more staying power.

Actually getting onto the ballot is the biggest hurdle third party candidates face, generally. However (as Johnson himself regularly stresses, whenever he encounters a reporter or a TV camera) the Libertarians are the only party aside from the Democrats and the GOP to be eligible in all fifty states.

The party’s hoping to build significantly on its success four years ago come November. According to its website: 

Even in 2012 the Libertarian Party received more votes than all of the other third parties combined. That election did not provide one tenth of the opportunity that has been gifted to us this time around. This time there is a real chance to break the two party stranglehold on politics in this country.

The Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, is only on the ballot in 23 states as of this week – and the Libertarians are making a pitch (a slightly opportunistic pitch, at that) to her supporters to back them, in the hope of finally breaking the two party hold on the presidency.

A repeat of 1992? 

Businessman Ross Perot’s tilt for the White House is the most successful third party campaign in recent history.

PA-8667666 Associated Press Ross Perot looks on as George HW Bush and Bill Clinton debate in 1992. Associated Press

The billionaire managed to claim 19% of the popular vote without the backing of a major party. As Politico notes, that performance has only been bested twice in history – both times by former presidents.

Given that we’re in the middle of one of the most unpredictable election campaigns ever, it’s not difficult to see the Libertarians capitalising on the unpopularity of both Trump and Clinton, and putting in a similarly successful showing.

Includes AFP reporting. 

Read: Fianna Fáil is now Ireland’s most popular party >

Read: Donald Trump has picked this man as his choice for Vice President >

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