Gary Johnson announced the start of his presidential campaign last week. I’m quite late commenting on the story on account of Holy Week and other obligations, but I do have a few things to say. If Ron Paul weren’t intending to run, I could easily see myself supporting Johnson against the rest of the GOP field, but as it seems more likely than not that Paul will be running I don’t quite see the point of Johnson’s campaign.
As I’ve said before, it will help promote libertarian and antiwar right causes to have two candidates in the race instead of just one, but having two candidates running at the same time will just as often reduce the impact of a candidate espousing these views as it will bring greater attention to them. Neither one will win as many delegates with both of them in the race as one would win on his own, and contrary to emerging conventional wisdom Paul has the greater ability to win support among Republican primary voters. Because I don’t expect Johnson to have a serious chance at the nomination, I would be somewhat willing to overlook his socially liberal and pro-immigration views so long as he made criticizing authoritarian and interventionist policies the focus of his candidacy. I don’t think I am very representative of antiwar conservatives on that point. It goes without saying that those other views that Johnson holds makes him significantly less competitive in a Republican primary field than Paul. While I might be willing to give Johnson a pass, large numbers of conservative Ron Paul supporters would never have given Johnson’s candidacy a second thought if he were the only one running. If Paul is also in the race, it’s safe to say that none of us would consider supporting him.
There remains the danger that dueling Paul and Johnson campaigns will bring out the fratricidal element among their respective supporters. Given the genuinely shabby way that many currently pro-Johnson libertarians treated Paul in 2008, I’m not sure that this will be easily avoided. As it happens, I agree with Justin Raimondo’s criticisms of some of Johnson’s foreign policy positions, and he is probably right that Johnson is running to be the candidate for libertarians who don’t want to be identified with Ron Paul. These include people who went out of their way to undermine Paul during the ’08 campaign. One thing that may make such a feud less likely is Johnson’s relationship with Paul. To his credit, Johnson was Paul’s supporter throughout the campaign, and when talk of Johnson’s candidacy started Paul still seemed to be very well-disposed towards Johnson. If both feel compelled to run, I would rather that their supporters spend their time and energy helping both of them against the rest of the field.
One of the reasons that Johnson has given underwhelming or disconcerting answers on some subjects is that he doesn’t seem to have given them as much thought as I would like. When Johnson made his statement about supporting military intervention to prevent a “clear genocide,” it was clear that he hadn’t squared this with his call to slash military spending drastically, nor had he thought about the virtual inevitability of “nation-building” that would follow such an intervention. If he doesn’t will the means, and refuses to accept the responsibilities that go along with intervention, my hope is that he doesn’t really favor such interventions. That said, pleading ignorance is not a very good excuse for an incoherent policy view. In fact, such ignorance ought to be disqualifying.
On Libya, Johnson’s reaction was mostly encouraging, but it wasn’t as forceful or as principled as it should have been. Johnson ends up in the right place, which is something, but in light of Johnson’s own comments about humanitarian intervention it isn’t nearly enough. Johnson has previously opened the door to launching a war of choice in which no American interest is at stake, and he has done so by making a misguided and absurd claim that this is “what we have always been about,” which isn’t significantly different from the insipid notion that the U.S. has to meddle in other nations’ internal affairs because “America is different.”