Second, I don’t agree with Antle that while you may have to settle for a major-party nominee, third-party votes should be pure. The issue for me with Johnson isn’t that he’d be “settling” but that I disagree very profoundly with one of the centerpieces of his campaign, namely his economic agenda, which I reject completely. If he were merely wrong, or conventional, or didn’t have much to say on the budget or monetary policy, then a protest vote would clearly reflect a set of issues on which I think he’s making important points. But the gold standard and radical austerity are not peripheral to Johnson’s message; they are as central as anything else.
There’s no question that this is a major part of Johnson’s message. What I found a little strange about Noah’s original statement was that he was treating Johnson’s economic agenda as if it were something that an imaginary Johnson administration would be able to get through Congress. It is hard to imagine most of Johnson’s economic agenda being implemented even in the extremely unlikely event that he won the election. Noah contemplated supporting Johnson “as a protest against the two-party consensus that civil liberties and restraints on Executive power are quaint anachronisms” (I misread the original argument and was wrong about what Noah was protesting), but decided not to because of Johnson’s economic agenda.
Noah says later that he tries to vote “for the person, among the choices offered, whom I actually would want to be President,” but then opts against the candidate whose views on executive power and civil liberties are far closer to his because of the candidate’s domestic policy agenda that has no chance of being passed. Whoever wins the presidential election will have far more influence over how or whether the federal government respects civil liberties and how executive power is exercised than he does on monetary and fiscal policies, so it seems to me that someone concerned about infringements on civil liberties and the abuses of executive overreach would want to vote for the candidate strongly opposed to both. These are the areas where a president would have the most influence and could do the most good or the least harm, and these are also clearly areas where neither major party candidate shares Noah’s views. If it’s important to protest the major party candidates’ disdain for civil liberties and limits on the executive, I suppose I don’t see the point in holding other parts of the civil libertarian candidate’s agenda against him when those other parts would never be put into practice.
Noah is right that third-party voting often has no meaningful effect, and the minor parties’ focus on presidential elections as an opportunity to draw attention to their respective causes has pretty clearly been a failure for many decades. It’s not surprising that Noah has an aversion to voting for a third party candidate. Most people do for these and other reasons. The real value of third-party voting is in having the option to declare that the major party candidates are unacceptable and don’t deserve to be supported.