Gary Johnson reached into his pocket to make a point about the emancipating wonders of modern technology, and then panicked. “Where is my iPhone? Oh my gosh, where is it?”
We were in the middle of an extraordinary scrum on 4th Street in Cleveland, 100 yards from the entrance to the Republican National Convention, interviewing the Libertarian Party presidential nominee live on Facebook while a crush of curious GOP delegates, cops, and lookie-loos pressed in closer to eavesdrop and take pictures. Johnson would later remark to a Politico reporter that the mob scene was the most attention he had ever received, but at the moment he was distracted and inconsolable. “This is a shocker to me, I gotta tell you,” he said while the feed kept streaming to tens of thousands. “Uh, maybe I left it in the cab? Oh, shit.”
Over the course of two weeks, across reason‘s five wide-ranging interviews with the Libertarian Party presidential ticket from Las Vegas to Cleveland to Philadelphia, the Great iPhone Mishap was the moment people responded to most. And why not? Campaign 2016 has been the weirdest in at least four decades. “Is this the craziest election cycle or what?” Johnson is fond of saying. “You know how crazy it is? It’s so crazy that I’m going to be the next president of the United States.”
Voters have been clamoring for authenticity over the professionalized status quo, for plain speaking over slick speechifying—and if there’s one thing you can say about the former New Mexico governor, he ain’t slick. He’s also not mired in the usual Libertarian polling ghetto of plus or minus 1 percent, which is the party’s electoral high-water mark, achieved by Johnson in 2012 and Ed Clark in 1980.
The five polls selected by the Republican/-Democrat-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates have measured Johnson at 10 percent all summer, giving him at press time a few remaining days to reach the steep threshold of 15 percent for inclusion in this fall’s debates. “There’s no way that you can get elected president without being in that game,” the candidate told us in Cleveland.
Gary Johnson did end up finding his phone. But will he and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, really make a difference in this election and beyond? According to Gallup, historically low numbers of voters now identify as Democrats (29 percent) and Republicans (26 percent), suggesting an unprecedented opportunity for the Libertarian Party to redefine the political spectrum for the 21st century. Johnson and Weld stress that as social liberals and fiscal conservatives, they occupy the broad center of American politics while Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are way, way out there on either fringe. As the only ticket that is consistently anti-war, anti-regulation, pro-abortion, pro-immigration, and pro-trade, Johnson and Weld are pulling voters from both major parties even as their seemingly wishy-washy positions on religious liberty, the Second Amendment, and carbon taxes alienate many hard-core libertarians.
We asked the two ex-governors about everything from their promise to submit a balanced budget within a hundred days of taking office to their picks for the Supreme Court to whether they would honor the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and other treaty obligations. The following is an edited selection from those conversations, presented in chronological order. For video of the interviews, go to reason.com.
July 15, Johnson and Weld at the libertarian confab FreedomFest, interviewed by Nick Gillespie for Reason TV
Gillespie: According to the most recent CBS/New York Times poll, you’re at 12 percent.
Gillespie: Why is that happening, and where does it end?
Johnson: Well, it’s happening because, first and foremost, arguably the two most polarizing figures in American politics today are Trump and Clinton. But secondarily: two Republican governors, two-term, getting re-elected in states that are heavily Democratic. I mean, I think there’s a lot here in the Libertarian ticket.
I think we’re reflective of most Americans, which, speaking with a broad brushstroke, is being fiscally conservative and socially tolerant/liberal/whatever, as long as you don’t force it on me. And a big unoccupied space, too, is nobody is standing up and saying, “Let’s stop dropping bombs. Let’s stop with the military interventions, that they’re having the unintended consequence of making things worse, not better.” There’s no peace candidate.
Gillespie: What is the worst aspect of a potential Trump presidency, and what is the worst aspect of a potential Clinton presidency?
Weld: I’ll start with Trump. You know, I don’t think that Mr. Trump has made a great study of the issues. I’m not sure he’s read deeply in history as it might apply to current political decisions. So I see a shallowness in his performance. I mean, there’s just a few words; there’s a lot of sentences that don’t end. And his proposals run right into international agreements and the U.S. Constitution.
Gillespie: Isn’t that what people want? They want to restrict immigration. They want to restrict Syrians or Arabs or Muslims.
Johnson: Having [campaigned] in New Hampshire and having been in the Midwest, what I have recognized is that 30 percent of Republican voters believe the scourge of the Earth is Mexican immigration. It was my voice in 2012 that said, “No, that’s not the case,” but I know that that group exists. When things are bad, you look for a scapegoat. In this case, “They’re taking jobs that U.S. citizens could have!”
Well, no, they’re not. They’re not murderers and rapists. And the notion of rounding up 11 million undocumented workers, how’s that going to work out in New Mexico, where 50 percent of the population is Hispanic? The federal government’s going to start knocking on doors?
Weld: The other thing is the rule of law and the Constitution. We pride ourselves on the rule of law in this country, not only socially and in terms of our government, but also our economy, both domestic and foreign. Mr. Trump has suggested he would slap on a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods, 35 percent tariff on Mexican goods, build a huge wall and make the Mexicans pay for it. Any -number of things that would violate his duties under the Constitution.
Gillespie: You talk about protectionism. Hillary Clinton is talking down the North American Free Trade Agreement; she started doing that in 2008.
Weld: We’re the only free trade ticket out there! We’re the only ones!
Gillespie: Say something negative about Hillary Clinton. You are friendly with her, and you like her as a person, but—
Weld: Oh, I’m old friends with both Clintons, but at election time at the end of the day, there are no friends, OK?
The first thing I would say is the fiscal situation. I think it’s something she truly believes, that she would like to raise the amount of social spending, raise the amount of government spending—called “investment” on the Democratic side of the aisle—and I think that would be bad for the economy, it would hollow out the economy. When President Obama leaves office, the national debt is going to be $20 trillion, doubled since not so long ago. You can’t go on like that. It’s all in the wrong direction.
We’re small-government people. We cut taxes. We shrank government. The Democrats would go the other direction.
Gillespie: The federal government is spending about $4 trillion a year. In the first budget that is signed by a Johnson-Weld administration, how much are you going to spend, and where do you take it from there?
Johnson: Well, we’re going to come out of the chute proposing a balanced budget, which would in fact target a 20 percent reduction.
Weld: It’s not a bad goal, you know. I’ve been around government a long time for my sins, and I think between 10 and 20 percent of most budgets are overspent. People in Washington particularly do not understand there is no such thing as government money; there’s only taxpayers’ money. They think it’s their money.
Johnson: And you can’t do it without addressing military spending. You can’t do it without addressing the entitlements: Medicaid and Medicare, Social Security.
Weld: But you know, we’re not just saying this, we did it! My first year in office, we cut spending in real dollars.
Gillespie: What did you cut?
Weld: I cut everything. What you have to do is zero-base the budget. You assume appropriation is zero when you start the year. That’s what helped both of us.
Our first job in elected politics was governor, so we didn’t know there were sacred cows in the budget. We didn’t even know there were cows! And the same thing would be true in Washington. You cannot do the Washington thing of assuming that anything other than a 5 percent increase is a cut. That’s Washingtonspeak, and what the two-party duopoly has gotten us into. Both parties!
Gillespie: If you’re president and vice president, you’re dealing with Obamacare. Do you repeal Obamacare? What happens?
Johnson: We’re looking to get elected president and vice president, not dictator, not the king. But that said, whatever comes out of Congress is what you ultimately end up supporting or not supporting. So, with regard to Medicaid and Medicare, the only way in my opinion that we reform these two areas is to give these areas from a service standpoint up to the states. That’s how you get it done. Washington one-size-fits-all? I don’t think it’s possible.
Gillespie: We’re at a situation now where one of the arguments that even #NeverTrump Republicans will say is, “You’ve got to vote Republican because, you know, we’re down a Supreme Court justice, we’re at a 4-4 standstill, and like everybody is about to die, so this is too important.” What kind of Supreme Court justices would you guys be looking at?
Johnson: Well, I’m going to turn this over to Bill, really being his bailiwick. But really, there are going to be no litmus tests. You’re going to appoint good people, and you’re going to appoint people that look at the -Constitution from the standpoint of original intent. So, how’s that for my input on this? In this partnership arrangement, I’m going to really defer to Bill Weld on this.
Gillespie: So are there names?
Weld: I love justices like John Marshall Harland and Potter Stewart, who are very brilliant.
Gillespie: But that was a thousand years ago.
Weld: Current day I don’t think you have to panic and say it has to be a way lefty or way righty. Steve Breyer has been a good justice; he was appointed by Democrats. Merrick Garland, I think, would have been a very good pick, and he’s nominated by Obama. I mean, everyone sort of agrees on that.
It’s just the two-party hysteria that says, “Just as you can have far-right congressmen in the Republican Party and far-left congressmen, congresswomen in the Democratic Party, therefore the same is true for the Supreme Court.” The opposite is the case. You want people who are tranquil of mind and can analyze the issues and come to a conclusion that makes sense, rooted in the jurisprudence of our country going back hundreds of years.
Gillespie: You mentioned far-right and far-left people in Congress. Who are current members of the Senate and the House that you think you can work with? Because if you guys come in, obviously you’re not going to have a Libertarian Congress, so who are the good guys in the Republican Party and the Democratic Party?
Johnson: I think there is a real opportunity to, not naming names, but just—
Gillespie: Name names! Name names!
Weld: Rob Portman, obviously; Kelly Ayotte; Susan Collins, the best of all; Mark Kirk, on the Republican side. A guy, he’s a challenger, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. Not saying I’m endorsing him, but he’s obviously a person of substantial ability.
Gillespie: But most Republicans, and I think most libertarians, would say Susan Collins is terrible. She votes for more spending, she is not great on the Second Amendment, she’s a wishy-washy kind of country-club conservative. You disagree, though?
Weld: Yeah, I do.
Johnson: I’m going to say they challenge Republicans to be good at what they are supposed to be good at, which is dollars and cents, but they are not good at that at all. And then Democrats, look, come on! Let’s stop dropping bombs. Let’s really take a hard look at our military policy. And mandatory sentencing, ending the Drug War, come on! They should be good at that, and they’re not good at either!
Weld: Let’s talk about Washington if we win. If we get in there, I think it will almost be a relief for members of Congress to have us not being tendentious, not coming in saying, “This is how it’s got to be.” We will hire the best of the Democratic Party, the best of the Republican Party, the best of the Libertarian Party and the best of all of those unaffiliated with any party. So they will hit the congressional barricades, so to speak, without a lot of animus behind them. I almost think that would be appreciated by Congress so they won’t have to think, “What does my party say I’m supposed to do?” They’ll be able to think, “What should I do?” That would be a big change.
Gillespie: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not that much older than you; you guys are all boomers of one stripe or another. But they never talk about the future. They don’t even talk about things like Uber, the sharing economy, unless they are saying it needs to be regulated and shut down. What is your vision of a future America?
Johnson: Well let me start with the present. Has life in America ever been better than it’s been today? No, it hasn’t! We get along better, kids are smarter than ever, the number one law enforcement tool is [pulls out iPhone] this guy right here. When you think about the future and you think about a model of entrepreneurism where the middle man can be eliminated and you, as a provider of goods and services, can make more money, and people that are buying those services pay less.
[My fiancée] Kate and I, we have a home in Santa Fe; I think we can rent that darn thing out part time for an extra 40 grand a year. Well, the city of Santa Fe bans Airbnb. Come on! If that was money in our pockets, we’d be spending that all over Santa Fe. Well, they are protecting the hotel industry.
I just think there is a closed-mindedness with Democrats and Republicans, you know, protect the status quo. The future is wide open if we just get a libertarian bent on the whole thing.
July 15, Johnson and Weld on stage at FreedomFest, interviewed by Matt Welch
Welch: Gov. Gary Johnson, you are the president. What do you do about a NATO ally [Turkey] apparently having a military coup right now?
Johnson: I just don’t think it’s going to happen, but if it does happen, you know, finding out just exactly what is happening. We need to honor our treaty obligations. Perhaps we have too many treaties right now, but we certainly need to honor our treaty obligations.
Welch: Do you think Turkey should be in NATO, just kind of as a general principle? Or they’re already there, so let’s not rip it up?
Johnson: Well, it’s in place. So moving forward, I would certainly look at that. I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the treaties we have currently that we’re going to have to come to the aid of other countries. Ultimately, do we really want to go to war over these other countries? That’s something that needs to be examined in the future. But taking over as president of the United States, treaty obligations need to be honored.
Welch: Gov. Weld, we saw the horrific, horrific slaughter in Nice yesterday—it boggles the mind to think about someone waking up in the morning thinking, “I’m going to drive a truck through a bunch of strollers,” which is what happened. Are we in a long war against radical Islam, in your estimation? Is that the main foreign policy challenge that the next president and future presidents will face?
Weld: I think the number one foreign policy challenge in the world is nuclear proliferation. That’s the security of the planet. ISIS is certainly right now up there in the top five.
I think of that in two ways: One is the domestic terror in the United States by ISIS, lone wolves and wannabes and copycats. And for them, I proposed a specific set of things to do, including formation of a thousand-person task force, which would specialize in centralizing intelligence about people with ties abroad, and people like [Orlando nightclub shooter Omar] Mateen, who slipped off the list after being interrogated twice by the FBI. That should never have happened in a real-life Justice Department, and part of my background is in that area.
In terms of ISIS abroad and around the world, you know, I’ve heard Gary say, and it’s correct, that intervention can have unintended consequences, e.g., in Syria and Libya, where we decided that regime change would be a good thing. And to the extent we go in there and align ourselves with people we think are rebels and therefore good, and they turn out to be aligned with ISIS, that’s not so cool. If ISIS captured 100 Americans and was beheading them at a rate of one every 20 minutes, I consider that an act of war against the United States, so I’d consider that a fit situation for Special Forces, a surgical strike. But that’s not regime change.
So it’s really a mix of violent reactions when there’s an act of war against the United States, and making sure that we don’t intervene in an area where we’re going to have moral and economic consequences that we don’t foresee.
Welch: Gov. Johnson, you went on CNN in front of a million households—a position that was unimaginable in 2012, to say the least—and when Chris Cuomo asked you to quickly describe Hillary Clinton, you said these three words: “Wonderful public servant.” Then later, after [FBI Director] James Comey had come out about Hillary’s email problems, you said, “Well, I don’t want to throw stones.” But she lied like a half a dozen times about these things! Just lied constantly. You know, you’re running against Hillary Clinton. Is she a “wonderful public servant”?
Johnson: I think that she has served. I’m not going to question her motives. What you’re not going to hear out of Johnson/Weld is, you’re not going to hear stone-throwing.
Welch: Except against Donald Trump! I mean, you’re not shy about saying that Donald Trump has engaged in what you’ve described as racist behavior. That’s a stone! You threw it!
Johnson: Hillary Clinton—is there anyone more establishment than Hillary Clinton? Does Hillary Clinton not have an answer to everything, and does the answer not include government making more decisions in our lives? And as a result of government making more decisions in our lives, of course, that costs more money, so taxes are going to go up. And when taxes go up, that’s money out of your and my pocket that we can be spending on our lives, as opposed to the government.
Weld: There are a couple of answers I have given in the media appearances that we’ve done that I would like to have back. And they were, “If you guys don’t win, would you vote for Trump or Mrs. Clinton?” And I’ve sort of come pretty close to saying Mrs. Clinton; as a matter of fact, in the CNN one, I think I did. As we’ve gone along, I think Gary and I have gotten more and more in the frame of mind that not only are we in this because we think we have a chance to win, but we can see the path now. So the next time I get that question, I’m going to be smart enough and disciplined enough to give the answer that Gary has always given, which is, “Look, I don’t know. There’s going to be a Libertarian on the ballot, and I’m voting Libertarian,” and I’m not going to lose any sleep over that.
That’s a very tactful way of me saying, maybe Gary would like to have back those three little words, “wonderful public servant.”
Johnson: [Laughs.] Thank you!
Welch: Gov. Weld, you joined the Libertarian Party something like 10 days before the convention. Your selection was hotly contested. You won on the second ballot.
Weld: 50.02 percent of the vote!
Welch: I was at a debate earlier today about Trump with the 2008 vice presidential Libertarian Party nominee, Wayne Allyn Root, who is now one of Donald Trump’s most vociferous backers. How can Libertarians feel confident that in 2020 you’re not going to be out here stumping for, you know, President Kanye West?
Weld: Oh, I meant what I said at the convention that my first reaction to not carrying the Republican Party’s social policies around on my back, as I have been for 25 years was, “Free! Free at last!” And you know, here I am at FreedomFest, and our topic is, “Can Freedom Win in 2016?” and I devoutly hope that freedom can win, and that we will be the spear points for that happening. So I think I’ve had a little bit of a conversion.
Welch: Can you name names on a couple of federal agencies that you would abolish?
Johnson: Well, let me just give the Department of Education as an example, and it’s an example of so many federal agencies. Look, New Mexico gives the federal government 13 cents to the Department of Education. Back comes 11 cents because it goes through the bureaucratic wash and dry cycle. How do you like that? Well, that happens in every single state. And then they give you back 11 cents, but they tell you what you have to do to receive the 11 cents, which actually costs you 15 cents, so there’s another four cents that the state spends. How about just leaving it with the state in the first place?
Weld: But that’s before you even reach the question of what they do with that money in Washington. The agency you just mentioned: Think what they do. I mean, if it didn’t exist, would it be necessary to invent it? I hardly think so, and that’s not even a very hard bar to pass.
Another thing that would be interesting in the first hundred days would be a discussion of the military, the ultimate sacred cow.
Johnson: The Pentagon itself says that 20 percent of U.S. bases could be eliminated. Well, that hasn’t happened. Why? Because of congressmen and -women that protect those bases in those states. Well, in our initial hundred-day budget, you’ll see a template for that also.
Welch: Get in your crystal ball just a little bit here: What happens to the Republican Party this year, or two years from now? And therefore, what role does the Libertarian Party take? Are we going to be a three-party system? Is the Republican Party going to go the way of the dodo bird?
Weld: I think the Republican Party is going to split in two, as has happened twice before. You simply cannot reconcile Donald Trump’s call for a closed economy, anti-free trade, nobody has to compete with anybody, you know, change our entire approach to the international economy-you can’t reconcile that with the historical position of the Republican Party as the bastion of free trade. So, I think that split is coming, and that’s even before you reach his anti-immigrant fervor, the violence at his rallies, his conspiracy theories that seem to surround him. All of which characterize the Know Nothing Party, which was half of the Whig Party, the antecedent of the Republicans that split in half in the 1850s.
I see that split coming, and I think Gary’s and my party, the Libertarian Party, is going to wind up being the keeper of the flame of the very best traditions of the Republican Party historically. But we won’t have to wait four years to go elect Abraham Lincoln, which is what the other half of the Whig Party did in 1860, because we would have done the trick in 2016 with our homegrown Honest Gary right here!
Welch: What level is failure? Is it just not winning? If you don’t win—if you get, like, 28 percent of the vote but Hillary gets 29, did you fail?
Johnson: I think that together we can really do this. And that right now, with the polarization of the two major parties, the polarization of the two major candidates, there is a six-lane highway right down the middle.
Weld: Assuming that we get into the presidential debates, my definition is: Failure is not winning the whole shooting match.
July 20, Gary Johnson, just outside the Republican National Convention, interviewed on Facebook Live by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch
Welch: We’re in a part of the country where both of you are doing pretty well in polling, the Rust Belt writ large. What does a Libertarian have to offer a formerly great industrial town in the United States of America?
Johnson:Well, I think this gets back to the Uber economy, and that nobody is talking about entrepreneurism and the fact that you can create your own job. You can create jobs for others, and government does stand in the way of someone being able to stake it out on their own. That could be an easier process, and you can count on Weld and Johnson to do that as president and vice president of the United States.
Welch: Talk strategy for a second. Is there any other part of your campaign strategy besides, “Let’s get in the debates”?
Johnson: Well, “Let’s get in the debates” draws attention to what we’re saying, and that’s what’s really important, is just to dive into the 65 percent of Americans who don’t even know who we are.
Welch: Bill Weld describes an incredible sense of liberation once he got rid of the Republican Party shackles and became a Libertarian; he didn’t have to think about the social baggage any more. This might sound like a weird question, so it probably is: Do you feel like you’ve become different as a person, more kind of personally liberated or just plain weird, once you stopped being a Republican and you started being a Libertarian?
Johnson: Yes. I thought it was really interesting in 2011 when I registered as a Libertarian for the first time, always being a libertarian in philosophy, serving as governor of New Mexico as a Republican. But I did find that to be very liberating. And interestingly, Bill Weld had the same comment after he did it.
Welch: I think that gives some people the impression that you feel more cozy talking to and cozying up with the left than the right. Like, you’ve gotten out of jail, so you want to talk about how bad the conditions were in jail.
Johnson: Well, all of us in this country are left and right both. The old adage that if you weren’t a Democrat in college, you didn’t have a heart, and if in later life you weren’t a Republican, you didn’t have a brain. Well, I think we’ve all got hearts and brains.
Gillespie: Talk a bit about the Second Amendment. How important or not important is that to your vision of limited government?
Johnson: Well, the Constitution of the United States, that is what’s important. And of course I do support the Second Amendment unabashedly.
Welch: Does the Libertarian Party become the second party in this country?
Johnson: The opportunity exists. We’ll see whether or not that happens, but the only way that can be possible would be to get in the presidential debates, and I think that’s a really good possibility at this point. So we’ll see.
July 27, William Weld, at the Democratic National Convention, interviewed on Facebook Live by Nick Gillespie
Gillespie: How does the Libertarian foreign policy that you and Gary Johnson espouse differ from what the Republicans and Democrats are offering?
Weld: One difference is that the presumption is non-interventionist when it comes to spilling American blood on foreign soil, or sending boots on the ground overseas. That’s not to say we don’t believe in a strong defense: We think that it’s important to maintain military supremacy, both in the air and at sea, in order to show the world that they shouldn’t mess with the United States. That doesn’t mean we want to fight four simultaneous land wars, you know? But if we have that edge in air and naval, you don’t have to do that. You can have an expeditionary force able to respond on short notice if necessary.
Gillespie: What do you do with a situation that’s in immediate stress in the Middle East? Do you quickly move to pull out or stabilize, or what do you do? Because part of the problem with foreign policy is that you’re never starting from Year One. You’re always kind of in the thick of something when you take office.
Weld: I think a couple of mistakes have been made. Going for regime change in Syria and in Libya, I think, has not worked out well. The question has arisen recently, “What about the 8,400 troops in Afghanistan?” People say, well, we have to leave them there or there will be a bloodbath. So, how long do they have to stay there? Indefinitely? Maybe you have to make some arrangements to give some people asylum in the United States so that people who have backed us there will not all be slaughtered. I don’t see that every American troop -stationed abroad has to stay there indefinitely.
Gillespie: Last night among the various speeches that were given, various people like Amy Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota, talked about how, you know, Nigerian girls are being captured and kidnapped into sexual slavery, implying that the U.S. has to police every horrifying crime.
These are not happy events. But do you guys differ from that? Is it up to the United States military to fix everything that’s wrong in the world?
Weld: I think the consensus in the United States after the Vietnam War was that General Eisenhower was probably right in warning against a land war in Asia. You can’t plunge into every land war in Asia and Africa, everywhere in the world. There’s just too much going on in those countries and people not getting along. I think trying to help them economically is not a bad idea, because it’s often the conditions of privation and starvation that lead to the most horrible genocidal activity.
But no, you can’t stop all of that. If you took the entire U.S. budget, you couldn’t stop that.
Gillespie: What you just described describes what virtually all Americans think. Or maybe not all, but a majority of Americans. Why is that point of view represented in neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party?
Weld: I think it’s arrogance in Washington. People think that they know better, and they are accustomed to running the show, so they’re going to run the whole world with an iron hand. I just don’t think it’s well-thought-through from the point of view of the United States.
Gillespie: It does seem that in every other part of our lives, we have an immense and ridiculous amount of choices and individualization and personalization going on. So we have-as you well know, Governor-10 -different flavors of Astroglide personal lubricant. We have dozens of types of Pop-Tarts; you can get anything you want. And yet we’re stuck with two main choices in politics. Something’s got to give.
Weld: Yeah, like I say, it’s a monopoly that’s outlived its usefulness.
Gillespie: And what is your personal favorite flavor of Astroglide lubricant?
Gillespie: Strawberry, OK. Well, they grow those nice in Massachusetts, right? Talk about your own stomping grounds in the Northeast. How are you doing there, and do you think people in Maine and New Hampshire and Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, maybe even New York share your take on things?
Weld: Well, I think our view is the majority view in the country as a whole. So, if we get in the debates and really sell our case, make our point, there’s nowhere we wouldn’t do well. Having said that, starting from ground zero, I think the first three New England states you mentioned—Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire—would probably be fruitful starting out for us because there are more wide-open spaces, live free or die, personal liberty than the other three slightly more urban states. But if we get in the debates, I wouldn’t concede anything.
July 28, Gary Johnson, at the Democratic National Convention, interviewed on Facebook Live by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch
Welch: President Obama last night had a great line about how “Americans don’t look to be ruled.” Which is great if he had governed that way, and if Democrats would govern that way. Can you talk a little bit about the difference between—as Drew Carey put it at his fundraiser for you in L.A.—the kind of “daddy-state” Republicanism of Donald Trump and the “mommy-state” liberalism of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?
Johnson: Well, I never had issue with what Barack Obama says. I’ve always said that it really is music; it’s wonderful to listen to. It’s just that the reality doesn’t match up with the rhetoric. And Hillary Clinton—I think at the end of the day, that it is a “mommy state.”
Welch: I hear a lot of complaints among conservatives who don’t like Trump and consider themselves to be semi-libertarian that you’re not trying to woo them enough, that you’re not nodding in their direction. What’s your response to that?
Johnson: If either Clinton or Trump is elected, the polarity between Democrats and Republicans is going to get even greater. Neither side is going to get along with one another. What if you elected a couple of Libertarians, former Republican governors that served in heavily blue states that are going to appoint both Republicans and Democrats, all with libertarian leanings? Which of those scenarios has the best chance of actually succeeding? I’d think looking at that objectively, you could make the case for those two former governors.
Gillespie: A lot of times with social conservatives, the real sticking point is abortion. You believe in a woman’s right to choice, to have an abortion, but you consider yourself a moderate on that issue. Explain your position.
Johnson: Well, the law of the land is Casey v. Planned Parenthood, and I hate to state my own views on abortion, but they happen to mirror the law of the land exactly. A woman has the right to an abortion up to viability of the fetus, and the Supreme Court of the United States has defined viability of the fetus as the ability to sustain the life of the fetus outside of the womb, even if by artificial means. I am not looking to change the law of the land, but I think in that context, women absolutely have the right.
Gillespie: What about public funding for abortions? Do you believe in that, or is that not important to you?
Johnson: Well, I do believe in that. I do believe from a Libertarian standpoint that we ought to be able to pick and choose with regard to our funding for war, and that if we were able to do that, I think public policy would be a lot more in line with public view. But that’s not possible, so Republicans talk about smaller government, and guess what they offer up? Abolishing Planned Parenthood. Well, come on, that doesn’t work. Bill Weld and myself, we’re pledging to submit a balanced budget within the first 100 days. A balanced budget would be a 20 percent reduction in all of federal spending. That would be a 20 percent reduction in Planned Parenthood along with everything else.
Gillespie: Do you worry about government getting in the way of technology?
Johnson:Yes, I do! The Libertarian position on the internet—which is unique to all other politics—is Libertarians don’t want to touch the internet. Leave it like it is, which I view as equal opportunity for everybody. Anybody can stake out a course on the internet.
Gillespie: Yesterday, in an interview with Bill Weld, he said that you would pardon Edward Snowden. Are you sticking by that?
Johnson: Yes, I do. When Edward Snowden came out and made these revelations, initially my belief was that, “Oh my gosh! There are going to be people put in harm’s way. Maybe someone does get hurt.” Seeing the movie Citizenfour and recognizing how Edward Snowden went about this, releasing the information to higher powers that would judiciously release this information, I do view Edward Snowden in the hero category.
Welch: When you were in Cleveland for the Republican Convention, you walked around and talked to a lot of people, including when we were talking with you, and had some pretty positive responses from delegates. Can you characterize your interactions with delegates there, and have you walked around enough here to actually interact with some Democrats?
Johnson: I haven’t walked around here at all. But in Cleveland, at least 500 people came up to me to say that they were going to vote for me and Bill Weld. A dozen of those had on full Trump regalia, and not one negative comment. Not even negative inflection like, “What are you doing here?” Not even that.
Gillespie: A lot of people ask this question: “Do you think you take more support from Democrats or Republicans?” Years ago, it used to always be, well, you know, Libertarians will siphon off Republican votes and it’ll lead Democrats to win. But a couple years ago, when Robert Sarvis was running for office in Virginia, polls showed him taking more votes from the Democrat at the time, Terry McAuliffe, in a gubernatorial race. And recent polls show you seeming to take more support from Hillary. What do you think explains that?
Johnson: I think it’s really 50/50, and yeah, you’re right about more support currently, but not by much. I do think that the two-party system is broken, that nothing is being spoiled here with my run for president.
Gillespie: Well, the two-party duopoly is, though, right?
Johnson: Well, it’s a party that needs spoiling, really. This is not representative of most Americans.
Neither Trump or Clinton want to address the entitlements. Neither Trump or Clinton want to address Social Security. It’s a fiscal cliff out there, and if we’re going to continue to put our heads in the sand over it, there will be a day of reckoning. It’s going to be ugly. It’s going to be inflation. And that’s going to be really ugly. That’s going to be a head-jerk.
Gillespie: So what do you do? Because one of the main things that both you and Gov. Weld are pitching to millennials, to younger people, is, “Look, you’re in a situation, you’re in a system that’s not going to be there when you need it to retire. You’re paying into a system for health care for wealthy old people that is busting the bank, and everything will be gone by the time you get there.” What do you do to address that in a way that speaks to young people specifically, but also doesn’t scare the Depends off of older people?
Johnson: That there will be a safety net. That government will be the provider of last resort, and that I think it is desirable on the parts of all, and that it does need to be around. But right now there have to be some structural adjustments. Spending has to be decreased.