Gary Johnson Dropped the Fucking Ball

photo by: Gage Skidmore


By: Alex Kack

In 2016 America trudged through the election season with it's two least liked, least popular, presidential candidates in history vying to be slightly less hated than the other. When the dust settled on November 8th, 2016 America decided it did in fact hate Hillary Clinton enough to give the nuclear codes to an ill tempered molester, who at the age of 70 had still not mastered the art of properly tying a necktie.

A lot's been said about Hillary Clinton's failure to beat Trump. There's no need to go back in to that, instead I want to talk about the other unmitigated fuck up of 2016, Gary Johnson.

Gary Johnson was the Libertarian nominee for President. He served two fairly successful terms as a Republican governor in a blue state, he convinced another popular blue state Republican governor to be his running mate, and by all measures he was in the best position any third party candidate had been in since Theodore Roosevelt decided to start his own party out of pure spite.

He received more press coverage than past third party candidates, with GQ even positing that he was “the sanest man running for President”, he raised a surprising amount of money and his poll numbers even made it into the low double digits, the first time a third party candidate had done so since Ross Perot two decades prior.

And then everything basically fell to hell.

Things that initially seemed quirky, even likable, like wearing sneakers with his suits, quickly started to look bizarre as he made one gaffe after another on the campaign trail. (one of 2016's most memorable moment's will probably remain when Johnson asked a reporter “what's Aleppo?”)

Johnson's campaign failed in basically every way it needed to succeed. While he looked to do well in several western and southwestern states, he chose Utah as the place to base his campaign headquarters, which you may remember is the same place that odd bald guy was also running a third party campaign. And that bald guy did really, really well there.

Evan McMullin won just over 20% of the vote in Utah, which is more than Johnson carried anywhere. Beyond McMullin's strength, Utah never made sense for Johnson to focus in on, voters in Utah may have found Trump distasteful but a candidate who advocated legal weed, gay marriage and a woman's right to choose was always going to be a hard sell in a place where 60% of the people believe all of those things are worthy of damnation.

Then there was the wasted opportunities to capitalize on the #NeverTrump sentiment. Heading into the general election a number of prominent Republican's including Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush publicly floated Johnson's name as someone they may be voting for in lieu of Trump. Anyone else would have done whatever necessary to turn those casual mentions into actual endorsements, Johnson however failed to do so. Losing not only publicity but a stepping stone towards building credibility with traditional conservatives he desperately needed to win over. Which leads me to my next point.....

It was never exactly clear who Johnson's campaign was trying to appeal to. Even within the Libertarian Party his nomination this year was divisive. Supporters of Johnson's primary opponents John McAfee and Austin Peterson became alienated by what they perceived as Johnson's moderation on a number of issues, leading to a series of incidents and on stage acts of protest at this years Libertarian National Convention. 

After securing his party's nomination, Johnson should have focused in entirely on trying to win over Republican's who were uneasy with their party's nominee, he instead tried to appeal to everyone hoping he could pull voters from both major parties, failing to take into account how deeply afraid liberals and moderates of all stripes were of a Trump presidency. With out a large enough bull horn to cast that wide of a net, Johnson wound up looking like nothing more then another third party protest vote. A free market Ralph Nader.

Another barrier to Johnson's campaign was established long before he even declared his candidacy. The barrier point to entering the presidential debates is set needlessly high, requiring candidates to poll above 15% multiple times to be invited to participate. Johnson railed about the injustice of being locked out of the debates several times on the campaign trail, and he was right each time he brought it up, it was incredibly unfair.

It was also a waste of time to focus on for a campaign that claimed it wanted to win and had far bigger foundational problems to fix. A campaign of Johnson's size was going to live or die on the ground, Johnson's chose to die.

The Libertarian Party isn't known for being incredibly organized at the national level much less the local one, which meant that Johnson's campaign would need to coordinate it's field operations, nationwide, on it's own. That's a massive, unenviable undertaking, it also was the most important thing his campaign could have done.

Money was an obvious issue. Johnson's campaign had raised an impressive sum for a third party candidacy but still less then the average senatorial run. Still his supporters had the passion campaigns usually capitalize on by turning them into robust volunteer efforts, so why didn't Johnson's?

From looking at his website and social media feeds it was never exactly clear how some one could get involved with the campaign in any meaningful way other than donating funds.

One supporter I spoke to in Arizona last year described signing up to volunteer multiple times through out 2016 and never getting a call back, he wound up focusing his energies on local campaigns instead. Other Johnson supporters I spoke to gave me similar stories of wasted enthusiasm and energy.

This was never going to be easy, and it should be noted that Johnson still far, far better than any third party candidate had years, but it wasn't enough to change the perception of third parties, it wasn't enough to win.

The man who raised public interest by climbing the tallest mountain in the world and running marathons finally found a challenge that caused him to run out of steam.


Alex Kack is the editor and founder of the 'Bull Moose Review' as well as 'Spooky News'. He is a political advocate, writer and comedian currently based in Washington D.C. where he lives with his girlfriend and their excessive number of pets. Follow him on Twitter here: @Alex_Kack He's on Tumblr here: alexkack.tumblr.com


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