Move over Ron Paul, Gary Johnson is in the house tonight. Johnson will be at the Fox News/Google GOP debate tonight, and you might be wondering why you haven’t seen him before (unless you watched the South Carolina Fox debate of second tier GOP candidates). Johnson has been ignored because he doesn’t have the social conservative bona fides to make him a contender; yet, with his fiscally conservative and socially liberal views, he appears to be the great candidate for a national election.
Johnson thinks marijuana is safer than alcohol and tolerance is American, he believes in gay rights, is pro-immigration and pro-choice — all of which make him more of a socially liberal libertarian than Ron Paul. You’re probably wondering how he can call himself a Republican. Give the guy a round of applause for nostalgia, because this is no culture warrior pretending to be about small government.
As two-term Governor of New Mexico, he was known for his low-tax libertarian views and his heavy use of the Veto, earning him the nick name Governor Veto. Johnson raised education spending by 1/3 in his first term, and later pushed for school vouchers, an alarm bell for those who seek to maintain the separation of church and state as the vouchers offered 3,500 to parents to send their children to any private or parochial school. In addition, Johnston opened two privatized state prisons.
Under Johnson, the New Mexico government was almost brought to a stand still due to budgetary disputes. He got rid of 1,200 state employees and he shifted Medicaid to managed care.
Gary scoffs at the “build a fence” border ideas of the jingle crowd, and instead pushes for workable employer verification systems (endorsed by sane members of both parties). Johnson believes in slashing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. While his austerity measures worked in New Mexico during his two terms, it should be noted that times have changed. Austerity measures are not recommended in a recession, and with his push to end the social safety net, he will be a hard sell in fiscally dour times.
It’s also reckless to assume that because a governor managed their state well during good economic times that those ideas will translate on a national level. A governor can always dip into federal money for rescue, without having to own responsibility for that choice (see Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, et al).
At a time when GOP social conservatives masquerade as fiscal conservatives and push the party further and further to the right, Johnson is a breath of fresh air. He was opposed to the war in Iraq but not Afghanistan (though he was against the surge). He has also gone against the Party by publicly denouncing Sarah Palin as a candidate, speaking to Ben Birnbaum of The New Republic in November of 2010,
“Well, at first she strikes you as folksy,” he shoots back. “And then you realize: She might be running for president of the United States! And then, don’t we have the obligation to tell her what a terrible idea that is?” Cupping his hands to his mouth, he brays, “Sarah! We love you! Don’t run!” He also performs a rendition of the “deer-in-the-headlights” interview she did on “The O’Reilly Factor,” about the BP oil spill.
While his statement indicates merely that he possesses common sense and a mind, other Republicans are still busy treating Sarah Palin as if she were a viable candidate for the presidency. Johnson not only admits smoking marijuana in the past, but says he didn’t exhale. He also says he doesn’t go to church, and when asked if he believes in Jesus, says he believes Jesus lived. Johnson says the government should stay out of people’s personal lives. Go figure.
Johnston appears to be all of the alleged Republican fiscal beliefs without the culture war Trojan Horse. As such, he should be the front-runner for the Tea Party, which hangs its hat on being small government constitutional fiscal conservatives, but whose rallies and support reveal a movement of social issue radicals not much interested in real fiscal conservatism if the policy has an R after it. In 2008, Johnson endorsed Ron Paul for President and had Paul not thrown his hat in the 2012 ring, it was suggested at one time that he would have endorsed Johnson.
Tonight, Johnson and Paul will share the stage with the front-runners at the Fox News/Google Republican debate. If Johnson is given much time to speak, it will be fascinating to see how his ideas about liberty are received by the Jesus-judgmental, small government pretenders. If nothing else, Johnson’s candidacy and failure to be the Tea Party favorite goes a long way to the final nail in the coffin of the absurd idea that the Tea Party is a small government movement.
How will Johnson’s relative sanity fare on stage with religious cultists pretending to be a political party? Tune in tonight.