This piece was originally published at GenFKD.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is looking to capitalize on the #NeverTrump movement to lead a legitimate third-party campaign. For conservatives unwilling to switch to Team Hillary, they will find another alternative at least partly on the right of the political spectrum, in the Libertarian Party candidate.
From his personality to his policies, Donald Trump is anything but a typical Republican presidential candidate. And the unorthodoxy of his campaign (and his character) could send frightened and confused Republicans into the arms of another candidate.
Let’s keep in mind, for starters, that fewer than half of those who voted in Republican primaries voted for Trump. He got the most of any candidate, but not a majority.
Political spectrum-wise, Trump is kind of all over the map concerning different policies. He follows the usual Republican Party line when it comes to things like cutting taxes and eliminating governmental bureaus (like the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency), but he’s super protectionist with free trade, and his plan to ban Muslim immigrants has been roundly rejected by both right and left.
Then there’s a huge grey area, involving most social issues, in which we really don’t know where Trump stands, either because he has said little about it or his position has changed so many times we just can’t be sure. (Trump proudly calls this “flexibility.”)
Trump’s tough talk on everything from Muslims to Mexicans to China was enough to get him to the nomination, but not all Republican or Republican-leaning voters are feeling it.
Lack of solid, widespread support for Trump on the right is an opportunity for Johnson. Johnson offers a mixture of policy positions not typically found on the right and left. He’s socially moderate-to-liberal on several issues, including immigration, believing we should welcome people from other countries who want to work. He also supports same-sex marriage, the legalization of marijuana, and affirmative action.
On the other side, his fiscal conservatism goes farther than many Republicans; he wants a smaller military and the abolishment of the IRS. He wants freer trade globally and for more market competition/less governmental involvement in health care.
The idea, whether it’s social or economic policy, is to reduce the influence of government on the lives of citizens. For people who don’t fit comfortably within traditional Republican party lines – or in the unorthodox zig-zag of Trumpublicanism – Johnson could be quite the attractive candidate.
And there’s reason to believe there are a whole lot of such people in the Republican ranks. A survey back in 2015 found that 44 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters consider themselves socially liberal or moderate – a broad category, but generally one that includes support for same-sex marriage and more welcoming immigration policies.
Another survey found that voters on the right are quite divided on immigration and free trade. Its results show that 42 percent want to deport undocumented workers, while 57 percent think some should be able to stay; only a slight majority of 53 percent think free trade agreements are bad.
For social liberals and moderates with faith in free trade, Johnson is the more attractive candidate on the right.
Early polls suggest that this election will be more favorable to Johnson than the 2012 cycle, when he also ran on the Libertarian ticket. Most of the general election polls only feature Clinton and Trump, but those that include Johnson in a three-way match-up have him averaging just under nine percent at the time of this writing.
In polls that include presumptive Green Party nominee Jill Stein, Johnson’s averaging seven percent.
Sure, these polls don’t exactly look promising for a President Johnson in 2017, but there are other goals Johnson is hoping to achieve. The main one is getting on the presidential debate stage. In order to qualify for that, Johnson would need to get to at least 15 percent in five national polls leading up to the debate.
Also significant: If Johnson gets five percent support in the general election, his party will qualify for government campaign funding in the next election. Money means more staff and more media exposure.
The 2016 election season could be huge for Johnson and the Libertarian Party, thanks to the phenomenon of Trump as Republican nominee. With his mixture of liberal and conservative policies, Johnson is offering an alternative that some Republicans are more eager than ever to seek out.
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