When he ran for president on the Libertarian ticket in 2012, 1.2 million Americans voted for Gary Johnson. That’s about 0.99 percent of the total votes cast that year. Today, Johnson is polling nearly ten times higher than that; the Real Clear Politics average has the former New Mexico governor garnering about 9 percent of the vote nationwide in a three-way race with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In some state surveys – like in Utah, where Trump is widely disliked – Johnson is winning as much at 16 percent of the vote.
Johnson’s newfound popularity arguably has less to do with the candidate himself – his platform this election is essentially indistinguishable from the one he ran on in 2012 – than with the overwhelming, even historic, unpopularity of the major-party nominees. But we have some bad news for Americans seeking a Trump-Clinton alternative: Johnson has a poor fiscal track record, only the faintest fidelity to Libertarian ideals and a facile grip on issues both foreign and domestic – helping explain why 99.1 percent of the electorate decided he shouldn’t be president four years ago. No matter where you sit on the ideological spectrum, you’re likely to find something deeply objectionable in Johnson’s views.
Here’s what liberals, conservatives and Johnson’s fellow libertarians should know about the man hoping to scoop up the votes of Never Trump-ers and Never Hillary-ers alike.
If you lean liberal and…
…you believe college should be tuition-free:
Johnson disagrees. “I would not believe that colleges or universities should be free,” he told ProCon.org in June. “They would be too expensive from a federal standpoint. If states want to do that of course, that’s their prerogative. But should they be free? No, they shouldn’t be free.”
…you’re against big money in politics, and specifically Citizens United:
Johnson says corporations should give as much money as they want, as often as they choose, to whomever they please. “I think it [Citizens United] comes under the First Amendment, that they should be able to contribute as much money as they want,” he told The New American in 2012. (He reiterated that sentiment this year.)
…you’re against fracking:
While Johnson admits fracking is an incredibly inefficient and environmentally destructive form of energy extraction, he thinks we ought to be doing more of it. “I have spoken to my former environmental secretary,” he tells ProCon.org, “and what he says regarding fracking is that it’s only 10% effective, that there are environmental concerns, and that he believes that more research needs to be done on fracking. Number one, it could become much more effective, meaning it could have a much higher yield. So it sounds very pragmatic to me, but that would be where I’m at.”
…you’re against the TPP:
Johnson doesn’t really know the specifics of the trade deal, but he supports it nonetheless. “My understanding is that it is more free trade than not. Is it a perfect document? Based upon what I understand it is not, but I could not tell you what the specifics are for why that’s not the case other than that it’s better than nothing given the current state of trade. So I would be in support of TPP.” (All three of his rivals – Clinton, Trump and Jill Stein – are against the deal.)
…you’re against the Keystone XL pipeline:
Speaking of details, when Johnson last publicly discussed the Keystone XL, in 2012, he also didn’t have a firm grasp on those pertaining to the pipeline – a project later spiked by the Obama administration, and which Trump has vowed to revive. Nevertheless, he said he would support it. “I completely support the Keystone Pipeline if it’s not an issue of the government implementing eminent domain to procure right of ways… I really don’t understand where the regulatory hurdles are… I would certainly remove the regulatory hurdles,” he said.
…you think the minimum wage is too low:
Johnson thinks this is a “non-issue” – because, as the Libertarian nominee has wrongly claimed, hardly anyone works for minimum wage. Here’s how he put it on HuffPost Live earlier this year: “Minimum wage, look, I think [everyone is] missing the boat. Why doesn’t he raise it to $75 an hour? Well, of course he can’t raise it to $75 an hour because then prices would go way up and nobody would be able to afford to hire anybody. ‘Oh, I see $75 is too high but $10.10 is just the right number?’ How do you arrive at that? Why not let the marketplace arrive at that? And I just think it’s much to do – minimum wage is much to do about nothing. I mean, nobody works for minimum wage [anyway]… [Just] showing up on time and wearing clean clothes gets you way above the minimum wage.”
…you support paid medical and family leave:
“I would be opposed to that,” Johnson told ProCon.org earlier this year.
…you think we should have virtually any reasonable restrictions on the purchase and ownership of guns:
“I don’t believe there should be any restrictions when it comes to firearms. None,” he said to Slate in 2011. When asked by the site iSideWith.com this spring, “Should there be more restrictions on the current process of purchasing a gun?” Johnson said, “No, only for criminals and the mentally ill.” In a June interview with CNN, he elaborated on his thoughts about keeping guns out of the hands of individuals with mental illnesses, proposing a hotline as a possible solution, above policy changes. “We’re not looking to roll back anything, but with regard to keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, with regard to keeping guns out of the hands of potential terrorists, Bill [Weld] talked about establishing a 1,000-person task force to potentially address that – look, a hotline? We should be open to these discussions,” he said.
…you think the Affordable Care Act serves an important purpose, and you’d like to see it preserved:
In 2011, Johnson swore he would repeal Obamacare. “I would do everything I could to repeal President Obama’s health care plan. I think that very simply we can’t afford it,” Johnson said. “The long-term solution to health care is a free market approach to health care. And by the way, health care in this country is about as far removed from free market as it possibly could be.”
If you lean conservative and…
Johnson isn’t. As he told the Daily Caller in 2012, “I leave abortion to the woman. I just fundamentally end there. I absolutely support a woman’s right to choose.”
…you’re worried about ballooning government debt:
Johnson says he’s a fiscal conservative, but, as the National Review points out, when he was elected governor of New Mexico, “Johnson inherited a debt of $1.8 billion and left a debt of $4.6 billion.”
…you think the United States has an immigration problem:
Johnson disagrees, as he told the Texas Tribune earlier this year. “I think we should make it as easy as possible for somebody who wants to come into this country and work to get a work visa. I’m not talking about a green card. The solution is to create a moving line. Don’t put the government in charge of quotas. There will either be jobs or there won’t be jobs,” he said. “Yes, there should be a pathway to citizenship, and there should be an embrace of immigration as something really good. They’re not taking jobs that U.S. citizens want.”
…you’re concerned about resettling Syrian refugees in the United States:
“We need to take our share,” Johnson told Reason late last year. But, again, he was vague on specifics. “I’m not sure what that share should be. I’d like to come up with a formula based on our coalition partners. I wouldn’t say zero, but I don’t know if 65,000 puts us in the category of ‘our fair share.'”
…you don’t believe Planned Parenthood should be eligible for federal funding:
Johnson does, as he explained to Larry King earlier this year. “Look, [Republicans] want to spend more money on military but they want to cut it from social programs, from health care. Look, it’s got to be a balanced approach when it comes to government spending with regard to everything. Am I opposed, I’m opposed to cutting the funding, or eliminating funding, to Planned Parenthood. Look, but Planned Parenthood has to take cuts just along with everybody else or we’re going to find ourselves in a really perilous situation.”
…you worry that legalizing marijuana could cause a slippery slope:
It should surprise no one that Johnson, who stepped away from his role as CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc. before launching his bid for president last year, is in favor of full legalization. “On the recreational side, I have always maintained that legalizing marijuana will lead to overall less substance abuse because it’s so much safer than everything else that’s out there starting with alcohol,” he told CNN recently.
…and you certainly don’t think it would be a good idea to legalize all drugs:
“Would the world be a better place if all drugs were legalized tomorrow? Absolutely. But pragmatically speaking, you’re not going to go from the criminalization of all drugs to the legalization of drugs overnight,” Johnson told the Daily Caller in 2012.
…you’re skeptical of the idea that women should serve in combat:
“Yes, they should,” Johnson says.
…you think the U.S. is justified when it resorts to torture:
Johnson disagrees. “Torture and the practice of detainment without being charged are practices that need to stop,” he said in a Reddit AMA.
…the transgender bathroom issue is important to you:
Earlier this year, Johnson said if he were governor of North Carolina when lawmakers there passed a controversial bill that would force trans individuals to use the bathroom of their “sex at birth,” he would have vetoed it. “In my veto message I would have said this is an issue that has existed forever and for those involved they have been dealing with it and I’d just like to leave it to them to continue to deal with it. North Carolina of course is taking the wrath of the country, as deserved I think, for having signed that legislation.”
…you don’t believe that climate change is happening, or that it’s manmade:
Johnson believes both, but that doesn’t mean he wants to see the government intervening to stop it. “I accept the fact that there is global warming and I accept the fact that it’s man caused. That said, I am opposed to cap and trade. I’m a free market guy when it comes to the clean environment the number-one factor when it comes to the clean environment is a good economy.”
…you’re a Glenn Beck fan:
Beck has said he will “probably” vote for Gary Johnson this year, but that didn’t win him any points with the former governor. Johnson is not fond of the conservative pundit, and he hasn’t been for a while. “I have not watched Glenn Beck. I don’t watch him,” Johnson told Salon in 2010. It was only after a sustained lobbying campaign that Johnson finally sat down for an interview with the radio host earlier this month.
If you lean libertarian and…
…you think the government has no business telling a person what clothes they can or cannot wear:
If he were elected president, Johnson told Reason earlier this year, he would sign a law banning burqas. “Under sharia law women are not afforded the same rights as men,” Johnson said, by way of explanation. “Honor killings are allowed for under sharia law and so is deceiving non-Muslims.” (He was later forced to walk back this stance.)
…you think the government should not force businesses to provide goods or services to anyone:
At the Libertarian debate in April, when Johnson was asked whether a Jewish baker should be forced to bake a cake for a Nazi family, he answered in the affirmative. His position rubbed a lot of Libertarians the wrong way, including his rival for the nomination, Austin Petersen, who said Johnson’s position “betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the free market; you have to allow the marketplace to work. The government cannot stamp out bigotry. The government is not supposed to make us into better people, that’s not what the United States was founded on.”
…you don’t think the government should micromanage things like food labeling:
Johnson believes genetically modified food ought to be labeled. “I have celiac disease, so I need food labeled. I think food should be labeled, and that would include GMOs in food,” he said in a Reddit AMA.
…you don’t think the government should decide when or where a person can smoke a cigarette:
Johnson has evolved on whether the government should be able to issue sweeping declarations like “No Smoking” in restaurants: “I was opposed to the government mandating that restaurants not allow people to smoke, believing it becomes the customer’s choice whether they go in or not,” Johnson told the Wall Street Journal in 2010. “But then, I thought, ‘What about the employees? Aren’t they hostage to a smoking environment, even if they don’t smoke?'”
If you’re a reasonable human being, of any political persuasion:
Johnson has said in the past, despite overwhelming scientific consensus, that vaccines should not be mandatory – a view that any reasonable person, regardless of political affiliation, would agree is a threat to public health.
He also lacks basic knowledge about the world. In an early September appearance on Morning Joe, Johnson did not to know what Aleppo – as in, the city in northwest Syria – was. He similarly stumbled later in the month, when he was asked repeatedly by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to name a world leader he respects; the Libertarian nominee forgot the name of former Mexican President Vicente Fox and then spun his wheels for many awkward moments before his running mate, Bill Weld, finally jumped in to name a single leader who is both living and currently in office. (Weld went with Angela Merkel.)
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) September 28, 2016
Update, August 23rd: This article has been updated to include additional context about Johnson’s public statements regarding gun restrictions.
Update, August 25th: Since this story was published, Johnson said his position on vaccinations has evolved. Vermont Public Radio reports that Johnson said Wednesday, of his past remarks about vaccines, “You know, since I’ve said that … I’ve come to find out that without mandatory vaccines, the vaccines that would in fact be issued would not be effective.” He added, “this is a local issue. If it ends up to be a federal issue, I would come down on the side of science and I would probably require that vaccine.”
Update, September 29th: This article has been updated to include references to Johnson’s two “Aleppo moments.”