Third Party Rising: Can Libertarians Handle Being Relevant?

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011 file photo, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson speaks at a news conference during which he announced he is leaving the Republican Party in favor of seeking a presidential nomination as a Libertarian, at the State Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M. Something's going on in America this election year: a renaissance of an ideal as old as the nation itself - that live-and-let-live, get-out-of-my-business, individualism vs. paternalism dogma that is the hallmark of libertarianism. But what looms are far larger questions about whether an America fed up with government bans and government bailouts - with government, period - is seeing a return to its libertarian roots. (AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Eddie Moore, File)

We live in strange times. Historically, third-party presidential campaigns offer little more than distraction and entertainment, proving relevant only in the closest of races. This year could be different. With the #NeverTrump movement standing by their conviction to oppose Donald Trump regardless of whether he becomes the Republican nominee, an opening has presented itself for the Libertarian Party to gain unprecedented support and attention. From the New York Times:


Johnson, who garnered more than 1 million votes as the Libertarian Party’s nominee in 2012, attracted attention last month after a national Monmouth University poll included him in a hypothetical general election matchup with Clinton and Trump. He drew the support of 11 percent of voters, raising the possibility that if his numbers continue to pick up, he could be eligible to participate in the presidential debates this fall.

Few would suggest that Johnson has a real shot at being elected. But if he maintains or even builds upon the support suggested in that poll, his candidacy and his party would have to be taken more seriously than ever before.

The question becomes: Can they handle it? Can Gary Johnson and libertarians contend with the spotlight? It’s one thing when you only have to appeal to the slim minority of voters who typically consider a third-party candidate. It’s quite another to craft a platform and messaging that appeals beyond a niche ideological echo chamber. If Johnson gets the opportunity to debate, and the media attention that would surely follow, he will have a unique opportunity to affect the national policy discussion. Or, he might end up reminding the electorate why they never took third parties seriously before. Much could rest on Johnson’s shoulders.


Watch PJTV’s interview with Johnson on the next page.


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