He launched a strong third-party challenge that threatened to crash the debate stage. But after failing to make the cut, and suffering embarrassing in which he failed to identify the Syrian city of Aleppo or a world leader he admired, Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson’s campaign is struggling in the waning days of the 2016 election.
Ahead of a Friday evening rally in Sacramento to boost sagging support, the former Republican governor of New Mexico sat down with The Bee to make his case to voters in what he said would likely be his final run for office.
While California is expected to break easily for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton next Tuesday, Johnson said he provides an alternative to Clinton and Republican Donald Trump for people “gravitating toward the lesser of two evils.”
“Hold your head high,” he said. “There is a third choice, and I think the third choice is honorable. It’s me.”
Johnson also endorsed Proposition 62, a California ballot measure to repeal the death penalty that is locked in a tight battle in the final days of the election, calling capital punishment a “flawed public policy.”
“Sounds good: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” he said. “But when you find out that there may be up to a 4 percent error rate in the death penalty... I don’t want to put four people to death to punish 96 that are guilty.”
Q: It seems as though, in the last few weeks, voters are gravitating back more toward the two major-party candidates, despite the fact that they’re both, overall, quite unpopular. Why can’t a third-party candidate break out in this election?
A: Hopefully one of the results of this election is pointing out that the presidential debate commission wears no clothes – that the presidential debate commission is made up Democrats and Republicans – and if you’re not in the presidential debates, really you’re kind of a no-show. And yet we are on the ballot in all fifty states. We’re the only third party on the ballot in all fifty states. For the most part, people don’t recognize that. When you’re not considered viable, when you’re not given the attention, you do take on that role.
Q: In the last few days, it seems your running mate, Bill Weld, has started to make that pitch more vocally, vouching for Hillary Clinton and…
A: I don’t think he’s vouching for Hillary Clinton as much as he is saying that he really doesn’t like Donald Trump.
Q: There was a TV interview with him on MSNBC where he sort of vouched for her character as someone he’s known for a long time and basically was trying to stop Donald Trump. Is that a message that you embrace as well?
A: No, not at all. I think if she takes office, I think there will be a drumbeat of impeachment from the day that she is elected, and that if she’s not impeached, it will be there for four straight years.
Q: So would you prefer to see Donald Trump then?
A: I would prefer to see neither one, and that’s why I’m in this.
Q: So you reject, then, your running mate’s message of, you know, between the two of them, to stop Trump?
A: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. But I take nothing away from Bill Weld, and I take nothing away from his opinion. I’m really good friends with Bill and I admire him greatly. But no, I don’t agree with him.
Q: If this is your last run, are there are any regrets you have about how it went?
A: Absolutely none. Absolutely none....To be able to run at a national level, and to provide a voice that’s not being provided – anti-war, smaller government, individual freedom, liberty, ability to choose, legalized marijuana, free markets – that’s quite a difference (from) the others.
Q: Sure, but it looked like there was a moment there that you might break through to the level that you needed to reach the debate stage, and it’s petered out since, perhaps because of a couple of bad campaign moments, like the Aleppo interview.
A: Gaffes are one thing, and integrity and honesty is another thing. And I’ve just been really well-served by being honest and telling the truth. I’ll stick with that until the very end.
Q: It looks like California is about to pass Proposition 64 (to legalize marijuana).
A: I think that’s gonna be a game-changer. I think that’s gonna be the tipping point for the whole country.
Q: As an advocate for legalizing marijuana, what is it that you hope California will do now as a next step to get it right? And is there anything you would advise the state not to do so as not to get it wrong?
A: The issue surrounding marijuana right now in legal states, everything that’s sold in legal states has to be grown, processed, packaged by residents of those states, and that’s not a very good consumer model. Also, taxes and regulation have been over-burdensome so that the black market still thrives. But given the two scenarios: legalize, not legalize? Hey, legalize, let’s move through the problems.
Q: One of the things that has been talked about a lot as a goal for the Libertarian Party this cycle is to get to that five percent nationally.
A: Yeah, yeah, that’s a big threshold.
Q: Is that your big goal, at this point, for next Tuesday?
A: I wouldn’t say big goal. But it is a game-changer, not having to deal with ballot access issues. And then $10 million for the next campaign for the Libertarian nominee. Considering right now that the Libertarian Party raises about a quarter of a million dollars a year, ten million bucks would be a game changer.
Q: But that’s not your primary goal next Tuesday? Your primary goal is still to win?
A: Well, primary goal, yeah, is to win. I mean, the Cubs did take the series, didn’t they?
Q: So you see yourself as the Chicago Cubs of this election?
A: I sure do. I’m glad you picked up on that.