As the Libertarian Party nominee for president, Governor Gary Johnson is now tasked with peeling off voters from two historically unpopular candidates in the major parties. The question is, however, how quickly he can consolidate his own base.
Perhaps due to the possibility of having a substantial impact on the electoral outcome, the nominating process for the LP was particularly contentious. Candidate Austin Petersen continually leveled the charge that successful libertarians should be nominated instead of supposed failed Republicans like Governor Johnson. Candidate John McAfee went so far as to say he’d leave the party if Johnson secured the nomination.
Despite all the intense rhetoric, Governor Johnson ultimately secured the nomination by a wide margin on the second ballot. Upon his defeat, Petersen seemed to make an attempt of reconciliation with Johnson, handing him a replica of one George Washington’s flintlock pistol.
“You have my sword, and my gun,” Petersen remarked, as reported by the Washington Post. That, however, is where the pleasantries ended.
Petersen then went on to trash Johnson’s handpicked VP choice, former Massachusetts governor, William Weld. While Weld was certainly a controversial pick, it must have been confusing to Governor Johnson that he seemed to be getting a backhanded endorsement.
Certainly from the Governor’s perspective, turning the other cheek seemed to just invite a second slap in the face. This led to a move that infuriated some in the libertarian base, as Governor Johnson proceeded to toss the replica pistol in the trash on his way out. While Governor Johnson seemed to express some regret at the publicity of the move later on, he still seemed to harbor some resentment of Petersen’s actions. This could be an issue as Johnson tries to mobilize the libertarian voting block.
It’s not hard to see how Governor Johnson’s callous disposal of the pistol could upset some in the base. On the other hand, it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to see what upset Johnson in the first place. What’s certain is that this distraction is something Johnson’s campaign can hardly afford.
Governor Johnson isn’t alone in his problems consolidating his base. Some GOP party leaders are advocating open revolt against Donald Trump, while Hillary Clinton continues having trouble herding supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders into her camp. The distinct disadvantage inherent with his third-party candidacy, however, is the lack of familiarity Johnson has with the public at large. The ability to breach the ranks of mainstream party-regulars will be moot if Johnson’s natural libertarian constituency refuses to rally behind him.
If Governor Johnson wants to find a way into the debates, let alone the White House, he’ll have to transcend petty political bickering. Until that happens, he’ll continue to struggle transforming his campaign into a widespread political movement.