With each passing day it looks more and more evident that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be the Democrat and Republican nominees for president – leaving a bevy of voters disenchanted with their major party options.
That’s good news for third parties.
Exit polling has illustrated just how unfavorable the two front runners are, even among their own parties. One recent exit poll of Republican voters showed that 30 percent of Florida voters would “seriously consider” a third party if their general election options were Trump and Clinton. Those numbers are even higher in Illinois (40 percent), Missouri (42 percent), North Carolina (39 percent) and Ohio (41 percent).
There’s even been talk, among the Republican establishment, of running a conservative third party candidate to undermine a Trump White House bid.
But if fiscal conservatism is what Republicans feel is lacking in Trump, they need not create a new independent option. Instead, they should look at the Libertarian Party. Whoever gets the Libertarian nod will certainly have the free market credentials that the Republican Party claims to embrace.
Let’s assume former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson gets the Libertarian nomination, as he did in 2012. Republicans, especially those who put economics on the front burner, and want a third party option, will certainly have to take a gander at his campaign.
In 2002, Johnson’s final year as governor of New Mexico, he received a “B” rating on the fiscal report card from the CATO Institute. Only Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush received an “A” rating in 2002. To put Johnson’s score into perspective, he did better on his rating than candidates the GOP establishment has supported in the past, such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who received a “C” in 2000 and 2002.
The same report goes on to note that Johnson was among the top four governors in terms of proposing or enacting income tax cuts during their tenures. Tax cuts are an issue that helped George H.W. Bush (read my lips) rise to prominence in past Republican primaries, and could help Johnson in his third party run.
To accommodate those tax cuts Johnson actually slashed spending, something Washington hasn’t done in an eternity. Johnson’s average annual recommended change in real per capita general fund spending was the fourth best in the nation at -2.9 percent. Only Bush, Owens and Georgia’s Roy Barnes were more restrained on spending than Johnson.
One of Johnson’s favorite bragging points is that he possibly vetoed more bills than the other 49 governors combined. He went as far as vetoing three different budgets in 2002.
The CATO report reads, “There are some notable Republican exceptions (to frivolous spending), including Bill Owens (Colorado) and Kenny Guinn (Nevada), who held down taxes and spending while their states’ economies boomed. Gary Johnson held off a big-spending legislature with three budget vetoes in 2002.”
The former New Mexico governor and entrepreneur is also a longtime supporter of free trade, something that many Republicans find lacking in Trump, as he calls for tariffs on imported goods and forcing businesses to make their products in America.
Keep in mind, Johnson’s impressive fiscal conservativism achieved with a Democratic state legislature, one that wasn’t exactly hell-bent on cutting government. As the CATO report points out, “That explains why Gary Johnson’s grade is not even higher in this report card.” Both Bush and Owens were working with Republican legislatures in 2002.
If Johnson were elected president he would have a Republican majority in the house and senate. With a congress like that, Johnson could push actual government-cutting legislation, while Trump would look to spend billions of dollars building, “a great, great wall on our southern border.”
Certainly Johnson won’t appeal to Republicans who put foreign policy, immigration or social issues first. However, those who dream of FA Hayek, Milton Friedman and Adam Smith-type economics will find Johnson’s free trade cred tantalizing.
The #NeverTrump crowd should look past partisanship and follow Johnson’s slogan of “Make America Sane Again.”