Although many Americans hadn’t heard of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson before 8 September 2016, a real-time brush with the intricacies of geopolitics (Aleppo in particular) during a subsequently-viral MSNBC segment significantly upped his name recognition.
It was against that backdrop Johnson appeared at a New York City rally on 10 September 2016, opening with a palpably honest mea culpa to hundreds of gathered supporters:
Prior to the rally, snopes.com had the opportunity to speak with the busy politicians — Johnson a former governor of New Mexico, and his running mate, Bill Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts — outside the Times Square’s Marriott Marquis event. Although we expected the candidates to make a group press appearance, individual news outlets were granted a few minutes each to interview Johnson and Weld on their own. Given our unique brand of content, we posed them some questions about popular myths — both about Libertarians in particular and their ticket in general.
In response to those questions, Johnson opined that “some of the baggage the Libertarian Party carries is that it’s ‘survival of the fittest’ [and] a ‘Darwinian party,'” firmly adding that “we’re not in that camp.” He continued by explaining that the 2016 Libertarian ticket didn’t espouse any fully laissez-faire ideas and voiced support for social programs:
We do believe in a health/safety net, for example … we’re for supporting social security, but that [earlier referenced misconception is part of] the baggage the Libertarian Party carries. And you know what? In theory, a lot of that at some [prior] point might actually [have ‘flown’.] But in my lifetime, I don’t think so. We’d like to actually like to hold off [on major fiscal cuts] and push the country in a direction of fiscal solvency … [it’s] where you’ve got to start.
A soft-spoken Weld (in auditory competition with the raucous rally a few meters away) weighed in on the same topic, addressing his least favorite media and public misperceptions about the party and the ticket. Weld spoke of “the other canard that’s out there,” widely holding that Libertarians (and by extension himself and Johnson, likely due to their less-hawkish defense policies) are necessarily isolationists. Weld also countered that their ticket was an outlier in vocal advocacy of free trade, citing support for various economic agreements and noting they are “very much aware that we live in a global economy.” Weld was likely referencing (in part) the campaign’s unique platform on immigration — Johnson frequently jokes about the absurdity of building a border wall on the Mexican border, and the campaign’s web site affirms that:
Gary Johnson and Bill Weld don’t want to build an expensive and useless wall. The only thing a big wall will do is increase the size of the ladders, the depth of the tunnels, and the width of the divisions between us … Candidates who say they want to militarize the border, build fences, and impose punitive measures on good people, ground their position in popular rhetoric, not practical solutions.
Governors Johnson and Weld believe that, instead of appealing to emotions and demonizing immigrants, we should focus on creating a more efficient system of providing work visas, conducting background checks, and incentivizing non-citizens to pay their taxes, obtain proof of employment, and otherwise assimilate with our diverse society.
Making it simpler and more efficient to enter the United States legally will provide greater security than a wall by allowing law enforcement to focus on those who threaten our country, not those who want to be a part of it.
Practical Reform. No Walls. Incentivize Assimilation.
We asked Johnson about myths specific to their campaign that he found to be pervasive on social media and in the news, and he replied:
You know, if there’s a criticism I don’t particularly embrace at all it’s that we’re somehow Republican-lite. And look, we’re running as Libertarians for a reason. We think the Republican party has really lost touch, but we think the Democrat party has lost touch also, and that the vast majority of Americans are fiscally responsible and socially inclusive … and we’re the voice for that mix … which is, like I say, most Americans.
Not long after concluding our interview, the candidates addressed the large crowd in attedance:
An animated Johnson followed his more stoic running mate, who primarily discussed a growing controversy (amid rally-goer chants of “Let Gary Debate”) over Johnson’s to-date exclusion from upcoming televised presidential debates (the first of which Is scheduled for 26 September 2016). Weld highlighted the campaign’s overall optimistic platform and increasing popularity, and he suggested that if the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) didn’t “do the right thing” and open the debates to them, the pair would participate independently via Facebook Live. (As Weld noted, well more than half of Americans in one poll stated they wished to see Johnson on the debate stage despite the Commission’s 15% qualification rule.)
Weld posited that exposure they might garner from debate inclusion could significantly shake up the 2016 race:
You know, the polling shows that about 60 percent of the people in the United States share our combination of views — fiscally responsible, socially inclusive. That’s a very big number … Gary likes to say we’ve got a six lane highway going right up the middle of the electorate, and talk about an addressable market. Once our message is heard and people are focused on us, whether we are inside or outside the debate hall, easier if we are inside but not impossible if we are outside, the point is focus and name recognition and listening …. Once that happens, we think people will not go to one extreme or the other, and we will not be brainwashed by the palaver coming out of Washington D.C. and we will win the election.
Weld then introduced Johnson, and after addressing his Aleppo stumble, the latter addressed his electability and again accepted responsibility for misspeaking:
This is the craziest election ever. It is. It is crazy because even in spite of Aleppo, I think I will be the next president of the United States. I do. And beyond my wildest dreams, beyond my wildest expectations, Bill Weld is my running mate and he is somebody who passionately cares about this country and the direction this country is going, and made an incredible difference as governor of Massachusetts, being a role model for me throughout the whole process.
Brainy Bill and he has called me Honest Gary. These are the names we will try to adopt for ourselves. [Laughter.] Adversity, alright? We all make mistakes, right? Mistakes are part of everyday life. But it is how you deal with mistakes that ultimately determines success … so tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything, and the unforgivable in life is hypocrisy. Saying on thing and doing another … Bill Weld and I are not hypocrites.
Within a minute or two, Johnson was interrupted when one of two displayed U.S. flags fell. An attendee gathered up the flag, and Johnson jokingly suggested a conspiracy was afoot:
Not to laugh, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. It’s how you deal with it … it’s how you deal with it. Sometimes I think there is a conspiracy, I get all wound up on television and then the satellite feed miraculously goes away…
True to his remarks to snopes.com about not being “Republican-lite,” Johnson unambiguously voiced support for abortion (“who but the woman involved [should decide]?”), the Black Lives Matter movement (“we have had our heads in the sand over the discrimination that continues to exist in this country”), ease of immigration (“make it as easy as possible to come into the country”), marriage equality (“believing in marriage equality, whom you might love, whom you might marry”), ending the war on drugs (“legalizing marijuana, bringing an end to the drug war”), and an end to regime change (or solely “attack[ing] back”). He concluded with a final pitch “to serve as good stewards of this Constitutional office”:
Has life in this country ever been better? It has not. Come on. We get along better with people, we communicate better than ever, our kids are smarter than ever. The number one law enforcement tool we all have is in our pockets, it’s in our smartphones. We’re communicating and dealing with issues. Black lives matter. We are dealing with this in a way right now that is more efficient, and he will come to deal with this, we are recognizing it as a country, a great and wonderful place to live.
One day after Gary Johnson’s New York City rally, the ticket picked up its second major newspaper endorsement. Of seven endorsements made thus far by newspapers, Hillary Clinton has received five and Johnson two. The Winston-Salem Journal (in the swing state of North Carolina) joined the Richmond Times-Dispatch in endorsing the Libertarian ticket in 2016. The 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has stopped short of fully endorsing the Johnson/Weld ticket but has supported their appearance in presidential debates.