Count another one in. Gary Johnson, the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, is launching his new Our America PAC, an obvious stepping stone to launching a run for president. Next time around, the “Ron Paul revolution” will have a new candidate, one that will promise sweeping libertarian change and that has executive experience and a persona more marketable than the squeaky-voiced self-proclaimed “defender of the Constitution.”
In many ways, Johnson makes for an obvious Republican presidential candidate. He was reelected as the governor of a swing state that tends to vote Democratic and the press gave him the middle name of “Veto” for his constant rejection of legislation. He slashed government and left office in 2003 with a surplus without raising taxes.
Johnson wouldn’t be a “change” candidate if he didn’t ruffle a few feathers. He openly talks about his pothead past and has defined himself by calling for an end to the war on drugs, a position that speaks to advocates of limited government but alienates social conservatives; he also endorsed Ron Paul during the last presidential election cycle. He opposes the Iraq war and hasn’t given a public position on the war in Afghanistan. He’s even suggested legalizing prostitution. These positions mean he can’t win the Republican nomination, but that doesn’t mean he can’t become a significant force in the race or spark an intellectual battle inside the Republican Party as the libertarian element gains in popularity and coverage.
It would be a big mistake to assume Johnson has limited appeal and can only hope to poll in the single digits. Never underestimate the power of college kids who want pot legalized. I’ve seen political science classes erupt into a furor when the topic is mentioned, with students who previously could have passed for a corpse suddenly becoming passionate policy experts, throwing out statistics and eloquent arguments. Their lungs may contain so much smoke that they get high every time they exhale, but their votes count just as much as anyone else’s.
Johnson has the capability to activate a very enthusiastic portion of the American public with his libertarian message and the fact that he is simply so different. It is this latter point that is key to understanding Ron Paul’s relative success, considering the hostility to most of his positions and lack of name recognition. People get excited by big change, especially the youth. As a college student, I can tell you that the majority of people my age knew the name Ron Paul when they had no clue who Huckabee, Romney, or most of the other candidates were — and they were Democrats, Republicans, Greens (like I said, college students), and independents.