The presidential candidate with the most executive experience will not be on the debate stage on Monday. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is not being allowed on the stage at Hofstra because he didn’t reach the arbitrary threshold set by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Johnson’s inclusion would have given Americans a third choice, an alternative way of thinking. He isn’t the “perfect libertarian,” but his solutions are much different from Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
Johnson is known for his support of marijuana, and his former position as CEO of Cannabis Sativa, so he’d probably be asked about that. Johnson has an A+ rating from Marijuana Policy Project, compared to Clinton’s B+ and Trump’s C+. Johnson could spin his position to not only discuss marijuana legalization, but also into a conversation on justice reform, as a whole.
“The War on Drugs is an expensive failure. We spend money to police it. We spend money to incarcerate nonviolent offenders,” Johnson’s website states. ”And what do we get in return? A society that kicks our troubled mothers, fathers, and young adults while they’re down, instead of giving them the tools to be healthier and more productive members of society. We can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars by simply changing our approach to drug abuse…”
This discussion would put Trump and Clinton on the defensive. Trump has called himself the “law and order” candidate, while Clinton’s position on marijuana and justice reform has evolved over the last several years. She faced criticism from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on the 1994 Crime Bill during the Democratic debates, and would probably get more of it from Johnson. That is, if the moderators decided to actually focus on the issue instead of “just” marijuana and drugs.
Johnson is also the best candidate to discuss business issues, yes, even better than Trump. Johnson went from being the lone worker of Big J Enterprises to running a $38M company. He’d be able to answer any question sent to Trump on businesses, including the difference between cronyism and free markets. It isn’t exactly known how much Trump got from his father to start his business. The Washington Post chronicled the various statements Trump made on his wealth, and the accepted answer is around $9M. Hillary Clinton has zero experience in business (unless you count The Clinton Foundation), and has spent pretty much her entire life in government. Johnson is the bridge between people who have experience in business and government.
The starkest contrast Johnson would have with Trump and Clinton would be government spending. Both Clinton and Trump want to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure (with Trump promising twice as much as Clinton.) Johnson isn’t interested in increasing the national debt from its $20T. The best part about Johnson is he’d stand there on the debate stage and say, “I’m not only interested in lowering taxes, I also want to make sure government spending goes down.” It’s something neither party has really been interested in talking about because of their failed belief government spending equals jobs. Johnson is also promising to show the backbone other failed presidential candidates or Republican Congresses haven’t shown.
“Governor Johnson has pledged that his first major act as President will be to submit to Congress a truly balanced budget. No gimmicks, no imaginary cuts in the distant future. Real reductions to bring spending in line with revenues, without tax increases,” Johnson’s website proclaims. “No line in the budget will be immune from scrutiny and reduction. And he pledges to veto any legislation that will result in deficit spending, forcing Congress to override his veto in order to spend money we don’t have.”
This is Calvin Coolidge-like policy, which should make fiscal conservatives roar with approval, if they’d be willing to actually listen. Most seem perfectly happy with listening to the grandiose claims of someone interested in power or have just decided to “fall in line” because all the other cool kids are doing it.
He’d also stand out on foreign policy and trade. Johnson has been 100% in favor of Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though there are cronyism concerns on massive trade deals, while Trump and Clinton oppose it. Trump’s stance is pure Bernie Sanders in protecting the American worker, while Clinton’s “opposition” has more to do with making sure democratic socialists don’t abandon her for Trump or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Clinton is promising to keep the U.S. engaged militarily across the globe, while Trump has made bizarre comments about no nation building, but wants to defeat ISIS. Johnson wants a strong military, but isn’t interested in being the new leader of Team America: World Police. Johnson would probably tell debate watchers how he wouldn’t declare war without the approval of Congress, or unilaterally send “advisers” to Iraq to train the Army to fight ISIS.
Johnson isn’t without his faults and inconsistencies. His wobbly position on a carbon tax (even if it was revenue neutral) put off plenty of conservatives and libertarians, as has some of his comments on religious liberty. But this is the problem with living in a soundbite world. Johnson is a little more nuanced in his beliefs, which doesn’t always come across in his words. He also doesn’t always give context to his beliefs, which is key in any debate. Matt Welch at Reason criticized Johnson for seeming more interested in “being nice” during the first CNN Libertarian Town Hall, instead of being forceful on the issues. Johnson also has this weird, aloofness about him which he’d have to get under control before taking the debate stage.
But the key thing Johnson brings to this is an alternate choice between the two major parties. He deserves to be on the debate stage to be the actual “freedom and liberty” candidate versus two candidates who just want more and more control of the lives of Americans. Johnson and running mate Bill Weld are expected to be on TV all over the place before the debate. It’d also be a nice thumb in the eye of the Debate Commission if they could somehow get an ad on during the debate, too. If NBC would be willing to play along, that is.