California Forum

For conservative millennials, Libertarian candidate offers alternative to Trump

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is pro-choice, sharply critical of Donald Trump’s harsh tone on immigration, supports marijuana legalization and gay marriage, and has decried “crony capitalism.”
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is pro-choice, sharply critical of Donald Trump’s harsh tone on immigration, supports marijuana legalization and gay marriage, and has decried “crony capitalism.” The Associated Press

Many of my closest 20-something friends back home in Reno view Hillary Clinton about as favorably as a retired couple views a youngster traipsing through their backyard trying to catch Pokémon on an iPhone.

Reno has been represented by a Republican congressman ever since Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District was carved out in 1983. The state has had a Republican governor since 1999. Suffice it to say many of my friends make up a solidly red district.

A small island in a sea of red, I’m a 22-year-old liberal millennial who has supported Clinton from the beginning of her campaign. While my friends and I disagree on our views of Clinton, there is one candidate on whom we share common ground: Republican Donald Trump must be denied the presidency of the United States.

Trump is a bigoted, impulsive, conspiratorial demagogue who has turned off my most conservative peers. And while I never thought I’d agree with anything Sen. Ted Cruz said, I was struck by his bold pronouncement at the Republican National Convention when he told the crowd: “Vote your conscience.”

Instead of trying to persuade disaffected conservative millennials to vote for the former secretary of state – an exercise in futility – maybe there’s a way to channel their dislike of Clinton with the #NeverTrump movement. Enter Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president.

Johnson is the former Republican governor of New Mexico, where he served two terms. His running mate, Bill Weld, is a former Republican two-term governor of Massachusetts. Johnson is pro-choice, sharply critical of Trump’s harsh tone on immigration, supports marijuana legalization and gay marriage, and has decried “crony capitalism.” But he’s sharply conservative when it comes to the government’s role in the economy, which is where he loses me but lines up nicely with my conservative counterparts.

The case for pitching Johnson to conservative young people seems clear: Millennials are much more liberal on social issues than others in the Republican Party. In that respect, Johnson is a vastly more attractive candidate than Trump, who floated the idea of punishing women who have abortions, as the Republican Party adopted what Log Cabin Republicans have called “the most anti-LGBT platform in the party’s 162-year history.”

Trump and the Republican platform on social issues are out of touch, especially with millennials who are more libertarian than they are conservative, even if they don’t always identify that way. The #NeverTrump movement should not end with the GOP’s nomination of the New York billionaire, because the reasons to keep him out of the White House are felt by many conservative millennials who are the future of the Republican Party.

Most resistance to voting for Johnson among young conservatives is born out of a feeling that he is largely irrelevant. In the 2012 presidential election, he captured less than 1 percent of the vote. But even in that grim outcome one can begin to build the case that a vote for Johnson matters. He received the most votes by a third-party candidate in a presidential election since 2000. He also received more votes than any candidate in the history of the Libertarian Party.

Johnson now polls between 5 and 12 percent. If he achieves 15 percent, he’ll be eligible to participate in presidential debates. Like most third-party candidates, his biggest challenge is name recognition.

Voting for Johnson wouldn’t be an exercise in feel-good politics. It could really matter, especially for young Republicans horrified by the direction Trump has taken their party.

A vote for Johnson is a vote for conservative values, more in tune with young folks. Johnson’s vision of the conservative movement could easily go toe-to-toe with Trump’s vision, especially in a presidential debate.

Johnson also offers millennial conservatives a way to vote their conscience without supporting Trump. And it’s an opportunity for young Republicans to shape the party they would like to grow up with.

Nathaniel Haas is a law student at the USC Gould School of Law and a fellow at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute. Contact him at nathanielhaas2@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielhaas2.

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