In this autumn of our electoral discontent, hope springs, as it so often does in the American republic, from unexpected precincts. Much of the country is distressed by the presidential candidates offered by the two conventional political parties. And for good reason. Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton meets the fundamental moral and professional standards we have every right to expect of an American president. Fortunately, there is a reasonable — and formidable — alternative.
Gary Johnson is a former, two-term governor of New Mexico and a man who built from scratch a construction company that eventually employed more than 1,000 people before he sold it in 1999. He possesses substantial executive experience in both the private and the public sectors.
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More important, he’s a man of good integrity, apparently normal ego and sound ideas. Sadly, in the 2016 presidential contest, those essential qualities make him an anomaly — though they are the foundations for solid leadership and trustworthy character. (At 63, he is also the youngest candidate by more than half a decade — and is polling well among truly young voters.)
As the nominee of the Libertarian Party, Johnson is expected to be on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. He is, in every respect, a legitimate and reasonable contender for the presidency — but only if the voters give him a fair hearing. And that can happen only if he is allowed to participate in the presidential debates that begin on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. If the Commission on Presidential Debates wants to perform a real service to its country, it will invite Gary Johnson onto the big stage.
The Times-Dispatch editorial board began to explore the possibility of endorsing Johnson and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, several weeks ago, as scandal continued to engulf the Democratic nominee while the Republican candidate’s statements and behavior daily piled distress upon puzzlement.
Johnson’s clear and consistent support for limited government, free enterprise, social tolerance and individual freedom appeals to our own philosophical leanings. An examination of his policy positions revealed that they often match our longstanding editorial creed. (Nearby, you’ll find an analysis of how the candidates fare when judged by the standards of that creed, as well as a look at the history of editorial endorsements by The Times-Dispatch.)
But our final decision to endorse the Johnson/Weld ticket, and to do so with great confidence and enthusiasm, came only after Johnson met with the editorial board last Monday morning. We found him to be knowledgeable but unscripted, reasonable and good-humored, self-assured but free from arrogance, willing and able to address every question, consistent in his beliefs without being dogmatic, even-tempered, curious — and in all respects optimistically, realistically presidential.
We have over the years interviewed hundreds of politicians — local, state, and national — and there’s no doubt that Johnson belongs in the major leagues, and on the debate stage this fall. He is a skilled and experienced leader, an able communicator, an intelligent man.
In his meeting with us last week, Johnson explained why he and his running mate offer a sensible appeal to the voters.
“I think we’re reflecting what 60 percent of Americans believe right now, broadly speaking — that being, fiscally conservative, smaller government, combined with being socially inclusive — and combined with a skepticism on our foreign policy, which doesn’t seem to be making things better.”
At its core, he added, libertarian philosophy “always comes down on the side of personal choice, as long as those choices don’t harm others.” It also builds from “a belief in smaller government. Government doesn’t have the answers. Government taxes too much. Neither Bill Weld nor I raised taxes one cent — neither of us over both of our terms, not one penny.” Weld and Johnson both faced Democratic state legislatures while in office, he added, so the opportunity to cut taxes “didn’t arise.”
Johnson is not afraid to take stands that run counter to current trends in public opinion. He’s the only presidential candidate who backs the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “We do support free trade. We think, ultimately, that’s the way the world comes together.”
He said the federal government should hand control of Medicaid — and eventually Medicare — to the states, as the only way to curtail runaway costs. “Let the states have at it ... because there would be fabulous success.” He calls for a balanced federal budget and promises to propose one soon after taking office, even if its initial effect is more aspirational than practical.
He advocates significant cuts in defense spending — and in the rest of the federal budget. “We should have an impenetrable national defense,” Johnson said, and we should strike back with overwhelming force whenever attacked. But he does not believe in nation-building.
Electing Trump or Clinton will make the country’s partisan divide even worse, Johnson said. But with a third party in the White House, Republicans and Democrats would have to compromise if they hope to accomplish anything. “We’ll be a couple of guys in the big middle, hiring a bipartisan administration, ... calling out both sides to come to the table.”
These are unsettling times. Americans across the political spectrum worry that our once-great institutions no longer work in the interests of the people — and sometimes don’t work at all. Why not take this chance to reject the binary choice between Clinton and Trump that was created by our two-party system? We strongly urge the debate commission to invite Johnson onto the stage to give voters an opportunity to hear his positions, to evaluate his temperament, and, perhaps most important, to compare him with the candidates nominated by the two traditional parties.
We are confident that, if given the opportunity to make his case, Gary Johnson will persuade millions of Americans that he is the most capable and ethical candidate running this year. We endorse him and look forward to a rejuvenating surprise in November — a new birth of freedom.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch will endorse a candidate for president on Sunday, Sept. 4.