Gary Johnson To Leave GOP Race, Run For Libertarian Party Nomination

Gary Johnson is jumping ship.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson’s Presidential campaign has never managed to catch fire. Partly, to be honest, it’s due to the campaign itself, which has not exactly been the model of efficiency, and to the candidate who never seemed to ignite any sparks in the two debates he was allowed to participate in. However, Johnson has legitimate arguments when he complains about the marginalization he’s received from the Republican Party and the media, especially when he ends up getting barred from debates because of his poll standing despite the fact that his name is rarely, if ever, included in national or statewide polls. So, Johnson is packing up his New Hampshire tent and heading to the Libertarian Party:

Gary Johnson will quit the Republican primaries and seek the Libertarian Party nomination instead, POLITICO has learned.

The former two-term New Mexico governor, whose campaign for the GOP nomination never caught fire, will make the announcement at a press conference in Santa Fe on Dec. 28. Johnson state directors will be informed of his plans on a campaign conference call Tuesday night, a Johnson campaign source told POLITICO.

The move has been expected for weeks — Johnson had run a New Hampshire-centric effort that never got him past a blip in the polls. He appeared at only two nationally televised debates, and only one in which other major candidates took part.

Johnson expressed deep disillusionment with the process as his libertarian message failed to catch fire and he received almost no attention for his bid. He soon began flirting with the Libertarians when it became clear that he was gaining no traction in GOP primaries.

“I’m still in the race,” Johnson told POLITICO last month. “I’m registered in New Hampshire and the intention would be, hope against hope that I would be able to be heard. But there is not much hope.”

Johnson didn’t immediately return a phone call Tuesday.

Johnson has announced the Dec. 28 event on his Facebook page. Campaign spokesman Joe Hunter said only that it would be “a significant announcement.”

Calling news of the switch “the worst kept secret,” Libertarian Party Chairman Mark Hinkle said the Santa Fe event will include a press conference at which Johnson will switch his voter registration to Libertarian.

Johnson’s campaign has been talking to Libertarian officials for months, Hinkle said.

“It looks like it’s definitely going to come to fruition here,” he said.

Hinkle noted that Johnson remained a dues-paying member of the Libertarian Party while serving as the Republican governor of New Mexico.

Johnson may have had a better chance had Ron Paul stayed out of the race, which is something that many libertarian Republicans had anticipated as recently as a year ago. Given Paul’s age, nobody really thought he’d be up for another national campaign, especially since he really wasn’t an enthusiastic campaigner four years ago. Johnson, it seemed, would be the logical successor. That didn’t happen, though, and Johnson was mostly crowded out, despite the fact that he is arguably a much better representative for libertarian Republicans than Paul himself:

 While Johnson does not match my ideal profile of a candidate, I do think that his influence is more positive than negative, and that he is a less embarrassing standard bearer for the libertarian wing of the Republican Party than Ron Paul.

I have spoken with staff who migrated from the Ron Paul campaign to Gary Johnson’s camp. One thing I have been told is that they are frustrated that many libertarians in the Ron Paul camp equat being a libertarian with supporting the Paul clan. Many supporters of Ron Paul find that they can only support Ron Paul and Rand Paul, and that all the other candidates are not worthy of their attention. This past week, the FrumForum mailbox has been getting angry emails about how we’ve recently attacked Ron Paul. We’ve critiqued other libertarians before, but when you attack a person’s political savior, they take it a bit more personally.

When Kevin D. Williamson reported on the Ron Paul campaign in Iowa, he captured what this feeling was like:

[This] much they [Ron Paul fans] are certain of: The United States of America is an “empire,” the Federal Reserve is the capitol citadel of wickedness in the modern world, and Ron Paul — Doctor Paul — is “the one man in America who is willing to tell the truth,” “the one man who truly cannot be bought,” “the one man for the people,” and, in the Paul campaign’s own fevered imagination, “the one who will stop the spending, save the dollar, create jobs, bring peace — the one who will restore liberty. Ron Paul: The one who can beat Obama — and restore America now.”

Gary Johnson does not have followers like this and he shouldn’t.

This cult of Ron Paul is something that has existed since his last Presidential campaign in 2008. At that time, one supporter wrote this:

In my view, the “Ron Paul question” constitutes a litmus test for libertarians. Simply put, the “Ron Paul question” consists of determining whether or not a person supports Dr. Paul. If so, as I see matters, he passes this test and can be constituted a libertarian; if not, his credentials are to that extent suspect.

There was a tremendous amount of pushback to this claim, but it’s an attitude that Paul’s supporters at the time, and today, seem to have bought hook, line, and sinker. That kind of blind obedience and loyalty is disturbing when it is directed any politician, even more so when it comes from people who claim to believe in individual liberty. And this is the attitude from which many Paul supporters come when presented with the Johnson candidacy. So, the interesting question is whether, when it’s clear that Ron Paul will not be the nominee of the Republican Party, after a process that is likely to be far more brutal to him than 2008, those supporters will see Johnson as an option in November.

I don’t expect Gary Johnson to do much better than any other Libertarian Party nominee, of course. The fact that he’s a successful two-term Governor really won’t matter to a media still focused on the two-party system, but at least there might be someone decent to vote for in November.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. MBunge says:

    Good for Johnson. More Libertarians should just face the fact that the GOP and conservatism in general has only adopted libertarian-sounding rhetoric for political cover and don’t mean any of it.

    I would suggest that you think about what it means that the “much better representative for libertarian Republicans than Paul himself” has so conclusively failed to catch on with the public.


  2. mantis says:

    Gary Johnson is the type of libertarian that makes me think there is hope for libertarians. Then I remember most are not really like him.

  3. Rob in CT says:

    Good for both Johnson and the Libertarian Party, I think (I add the caveat b/c I don’t think I know all there is to know about Johnson, and thus I could be overlooking something bad).

    I may even throw him a vote, since I’m in CT and all.

  4. I’ll rooting for Ron Paul in the GOP primaries, but when reality does its thing, I’ll hoping to see Gary Johnson on the LP ticket. I just hope he stays the hell away from that used car salesman, Wayne Allen Root.

  5. David M says:

    It’s too bad he could never get any traction in the GOP primary, on some issues he seems a little more sane than the other candidates. Would have been interesting to hear some different positions in the debates.