If he runs for president, you can bet that Johnson will have the impressive grassroots network built by Ron Paul from the get-go, along with additional support from college students who supported Obama but want to move onto the next “change” candidate, and again, those who favor drug legalization, especially of marijuana. Only Huckabee with his endorsement of the FairTax has done a similar job of finding a signature issue that will harness the power of a certain group of activists. Furthermore, Republicans who are very conservative on domestic issues and don’t feel convinced by the authenticity and records of people like Romney, Huckabee, Gingrich, or whoever else will find in Johnson a candidate that can pass most conservative litmus tests. It will be interesting to see how many Republicans (and independents, in the case of Johnson’s likely target: New Hampshire) are willing to overlook their differences with Johnson’s foreign policy to support the candidate advocating the smallest government.
Johnson’s unique stances will save his campaign the time and money of trying to create an image. He will automatically garner a mammoth amount of media coverage that normal campaigns would spend millions of dollars on. He’ll have a devoted group of volunteers that another candidate would have to spend many months winning the hearts of. You may not agree with his positions, but no objective watcher of politics could look at Ron Paul’s campaign and not be impressed with what it achieved, and there is reason to expect more from Johnson.
The discussion of Johnson’s and Paul’s campaigns goes beyond 2012, though. Johnson’s entry into the race may start a tradition where each Republican contest for the presidential nomination will include a more libertarian, Paul-like candidate. If this is the case, then that means that internal Republican Party politics are changing and you’ll see a libertarian segment gain more traction. Today’s “conservative” would become “moderate,” and today’s “moderate” would become “left-wing” by comparison. The effects of such a libertarian gain are too far-reaching to be discussed in this article, but it is worth pondering as Johnson prepares for 2012.
Johnson is still a long shot to win the Republican nomination, even if he has assets that give him an advantage that Ron Paul lacked in the last contest. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a decisive factor, politically and intellectually, and it doesn’t mean he won’t have more of a long-term effect than the other failed candidates. Ron Paul has passed the torch to Gary Johnson. How far can he carry it? The next cycle will determine whether the “Ron Paul revolution” was a temporary fad fueled by those wanting to attach themselves to something alternative, or whether it is a force that is here to stay.