America's two major political parties are on the verge of officially selecting the two most unpopular nominees in decades. The Republican Party will nominate a man who only recently and unconcinvingly converted to the party and its tenets. Donald Trump genuinely disgusts many conservative stalwarts, especially church-going, pro-life Christians, and people who identify strongly with movement conservatism.
This should be a banner year for the Libertarian Party. But it won't be.
The Libertarians just nominated Gary Johnson, the refreshingly candid former Republican governor of purple New Mexico, and Bill Weld, the former Republican governor of deep blue Massachusetts. This Libertarian ticket is the most competent, experienced, plausible, and qualified third-party challenge since the 19th century. Unfortunately, it is also the least exciting and principled Libertarian ticket imaginable, almost perfectly calibrated not to pick up the support of disaffected conservatives. On important issues where Libertarians could make a stand that is both liberal in effect and conservative in execution, the Johnson-Weld ticket is just missing.
Consider foreign policy. Hillary Clinton led the effort to intervene in Libya, which led to the rise in ISIS in Libya. Donald Trump supported that intervention, although he would later lie about it and say that he did not. Clinton was one of the leading Democratic supporters of the war in Iraq, which Trump also supported and later lied about. Trump has promised that troops will obey his illegal orders to torture America's enemies and kill their families. You'd think that the Libertarians could make an incredibly strong contrast and at least field a candidate principled in his or her non-interventionism. You'd be wrong.
On foreign entanglements, Johnson is just all over the map. When he ran in 2012, he talked about slashing the military budget by nearly half. At the same time, he said he would continue using drones to assassinate people in countries where the United States has no declared hostilities, like Yemen and Pakistan. Johnson also deprecates the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, which has been pilloried by Trump, and criticize sotto voce by Clinton. He supports the idea of using America's military for humanitarian wars.
Consider the First Amendment. With a Republican candidate like Trump, who has said he has never asked God to forgive him for anything, who seems to care not at all about the religious liberty concerns of Christians, and who proposes religious discrimination against Muslims entering the country, you'd think the Libertarians could run a candidate characterized by his or her liberality when it comes to religious expression, free association when it comes to business, and a robust commitment to the First Amendment and the free exercise of religion. You'd be wrong again.
Johnson has said that it should be illegal for Christian wedding vendors to decline to serve wedding ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs. He has also participated in scare-mongering about the threat of sharia law coming to America. He gave an interview in which he suggested America should, like France, ban the wearing of certain Muslim head-coverings, which he had to retract later.
Or consider guns. Clinton recently tried strenuously to avoid referring to the right to keep and bear arms as a "constitutional right," a fact which she may lament but almost anyone would admit. Trump has a history of supporting bans on "assault weapons," and used to make fun of Republican politicians who "walk the NRA line" on gun control. Only lately has he converted to becoming a "strong" supporter of the Second Amendment. You'd think the Libertarian Party could come up with a ticket that believed that the right to bear arms secures our Republic's freedom. Alas, the Libertarians' veep nominee once supported a battery of gun control rules that would have been among the strictest in the nation, including limiting the number of guns an individual could purchase.
In some cases, a politician's consistently expressed interests, prejudices, and pecaddilloes supersede his occasionally expressed "principles." This seems to be the case for Johnson. Just as Trump seems to only care about his own power, Johnson seems only to care about the liberties he himself would like to exercise: namely, smoking pot and commanding religious people what to do. That's not libertarianism; it is the special pleading of tightwads who want to seem hip.
I'm glad that the Marijuana Business Association has a candidate it can support. I'm still waiting for my own.