Could 2016 be the year for New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson?
The 2012 Libertarian Party candidate for president hopes that the frustration many Americans have with the leading Republican and Democratic candidates will provide his party with an opportunity to gain ground this time around, according to The New York Times.
He told the paper in an interview:
“Given the fact that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I think, are two of the most polarizing figures in American politics today, where is the third choice?
I don’t know how you set the dinner table any more favorably for a Libertarian candidate.”
Johnson's star has never been higher, either. While he earned more than a million votes nationwide four years ago, a Monmouth University poll conducted last month found that 11% of voters would support him if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were the Democratic and Republican nominees, respectively.
His support is even stronger among Independents (16%) and voters in traditionally Republican states (15%), suggesting that he would be pulling more from Trump's base than Clinton's.
Johnson's quest is aided by the fact that the Libertarian Party is one of the few third parties that is on the ballot in all 50 states.
As a result, some political strategists have suggested that Republicans might make a last-ditch effort to stop Trump by running a candidate on the Libertarian ticket — a theory which Johnson quickly dismissed, telling the Times:
“I think [the candidate would] get their heads handed to them."
It should be noted that Johnson has yet to officially win his party's nomination, but is widely considered to be the frontrunner in advance of the party's Memorial Day weekend convention, per the Times.
So who is Gary Johnson?
The presumed Libertarian Party standard-bearer was the Republican Governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, where he became known as “Governor No” for vetoing nearly 750 bills while in office. He later went on to serve as the chief executive of a company that develops new marijuana products.
He also proudly bills himself as a classic libertarian — progressive on social issues but conservative on fiscal ones. Johnson hopes that his philosophy will resonate strongly with independents and moderates who feel alienated by both parties.
Nonetheless, any third-party candidate running for president faces an uphill battle. Johnson will not benefit from the media coverage or access to big donors that Republicans and Democrats have, nor will he likely be allowed to participate in the general election debates.
It's a restriction that has scared away even the biggest of self-funders. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided against a third-party bid of his own after internal polling confirmed he wouldn't be able to beat Clinton or Trump. Even current GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump shied away from his own third-party bid in 2000.
Instead, Johnson will likely end up playing more of a spoiler role, at best — much like billionaire Ross Perot did to then-President George H.W. Bush back in 1992. Perot managed to win 19% of the vote that year, pulling away crucial votes from Bush that would have allowed him to win re-election over then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.