Follow a Facebook post bemoaning the choice before us this November and someone will inevitably offer Gary Johnson as a sensible alternative to the madness. The idea is tempting for those of us who can’t stomach Trump or Clinton. Why compromise your standards? Vote third party! Vote Gary Johnson!
For the first time since I have been eligible, I will not be voting in the presidential race come November; not for Trump, not for Clinton, and not for Johnson. I have been asked why I take such a seemingly purist stance and, since I’ve spent ample time explaining my position on Trump and Clinton, I’d like to turn my attention to Johnson.
My hope in writing isn’t to tell people how to vote—nothing quite that pretentious—but how to think about voting. I live in Oklahoma, one of the most restrictive states in the country for third-party candidates and, as such, I only have Trump, Clinton, or Johnson to choose from. If Oklahoma allowed write-ins I’d scribble former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels’ name down and go home happy. If you happen to live in a state that offers other third-party candidates for president there may be good reasons for supporting them. This post has nothing to say about Darrell Castle, Evan McCullin, or Jill Stein.
So, without further ado, here are my reasons:
1. Johnson is not a good candidate
Despite bearing the libertarian label, there’s plenty of governmental intervention in our daily lives that Johnson seems comfortable with, going so far as to suggest Jewish bakers should be forced to bake Nazis a cake. Johnson has shown a disturbing lack of understanding of foreign affairs, most notably evident during his MSNBC interview in which he asked “What is Aleppo?” Perhaps strangest of all is the video of him creeping out a female reporter by speaking with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.
I could go on, but I hope the point is made clear: Johnson may not be the braggadocious pervert that Donald Trump is or the criminally corrupt elitist that Hillary Clinton is, but he still isn’t a good candidate for president.
2. Like it or not, America is a two-party system and always will be
Every four years we hear the same tireless argument about how most other Western democracies have more than just two parties to choose from and how we should be more like them. The reason we’re usually limited to just two choices and they have many is because most of these countries are run by parliaments, whereas our three-branches structure of government virtually guarantee a two-party system. Why not become like those other nations? First, we should not be so quick to call for such radical change. American government, which has proven to be among the most stable and liberating in world history, has developed alongside our culture and history and we should be wary to call for such radical restructuring without serious consideration. Saying we should scrap the current system and replace it with a system that allows for more than two political parties is like choosing Harvard over Yale because their cafeteria offers a wider selection of breakfast cereal.
It’s understandable why people would cry out for more options because there’s such discontent with the options we have. But I believe more options wouldn’t improve our plight and the quest to elevate a third party is a fool’s errand. Not that it could never be successful—we may one day replace the Republican or Democrat party with another party—but because we wouldn’t succeed in ridding the perceived corruption or complacency from politics. Democrats and Republicans are corrupt because they are people, not because they are Democrats and Republicans. A third party won’t change that sad reality.
A far surer course is to work for reform within the two-party system. Part of what Saving Elephants is all about is saving the Republican party, not springing for a third option. Our nation stands a far greater chance of returning to conservative principles through this long-established party structure than in dismantling the entire apparatus and starting anew. Calls for such fundamental change usually ignore the underlying problem with the character of the country.
3. I’m not a libertarian
It should not be taken for granted that there is a very real danger conservatives will not find a home in the Republican party forever. Conservatism has only been the dominant stated position of Republicans since Goldwater revolutionized the party in 1964. Trump threatens to revolutionize the party once more into some loosely defined populist nationalism. In an era where the Republican party appears to be fracturing, libertarian philosophy could just as easily wrestle control from the modern conservative movement.
Gary Johnson is running as a libertarian in the Libertarian party. I’m trying to keep this post as short as possible, so I’ll not take the time to lay out what I view as the flaws with the libertarian mindset. Suffice it to say for now, I am a conservative and recognize libertarianism as a competing ideology. A vote for Gary Johnson is a vote that will ultimately strengthen the libertarian brand. If you’re an ideological libertarian this makes sense. But if you’re only casting a “protest vote” it may have dangerous unintended consequences.
4. He’s almost certainly not going to win
While a vote for Johnson could strengthen the Libertarian party, it almost certainly won’t elect Johnson. If you truly believe he’s the only candidate fit for the job, then his viability shouldn’t matter. Nevertheless, it isn’t helpful to perpetrate the myth that Johnson stands a chance of winning this election if Americans in mass inexplicably and simultaneously do something they’ve never done before and abandon the leading parties for a distant third option. Technically speaking, yes, Johnson could win if enough people vote for him. Just as you could win the lottery by buying a ticket or get struck by lightning by standing outside. I fear that so many people want there to be an alternative to Trump and Clinton that they’ve deceived themselves into thinking Johnson could somehow pull off something historically unprecedented, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary.
A more complex version to the Johnson could win argument is the idea that if he succeeds in winning a single state he may succeed in depriving both Trump and Clinton of the 270 electoral votes necessary to become president and throw the election to the House of Representatives where he’d be favored to win. The problem with this argument—besides the fact it’s very rare for no one to win the 270 electoral votes needed—is that Johnson would almost certainly not be the House’s choice as president. Unlike the American population, the House is historically comprised almost exclusively of either Republicans or Democrats. Regardless of who controls the House, why would either party inexplicably abandon their nominee in favor of a third-party? Why would a group of Republican representatives who stuck by Trump from his nomination to election day suddenly change their hearts and minds?
5. Voting isn’t a sacred duty and sometimes not voting is the right thing to do
Take it from someone who’s been involved in countless elections by walking neighborhoods, knocking doors, making phone calls, donating time, treasurer, and talent to campaigns, and even running for office myself, I can assure you that voting isn’t a duty. Our duty is to engage in the political process and voting is only one of the many ways that can be accomplished.
I usually do vote. But there are times I choose not to. If I don’t feel confident I understand an issue or the candidates well enough to make an informed decision I don’t want to be so foolish as to believe it’s better to cast an uninformed vote than to not vote at all. If I strongly believe that all of the candidates for a particular office are unfit to serve and I don’t see that one is clearly preferable over the other, I choose not to vote. In our system we vote for someone or something. Voting means we’re placing our sacred trust and confidence in someone or something. Not voting simply means we either don’t believe we have the ability to make an informed decision or that there is no one worth voting for.
I strongly suspect what’s driving much of Johnson’s support, and even some of Trump and Clinton’s supporters, isn’t so much confidence in his ability to be a good president but a misguided notion that we aren’t a good citizen unless we dutifully vote for someone on election day and he’s the least terrible of the three. In other words, we’re acting out of a sense of guilt from a perceived obligation. This guilt is entirely unnecessary.
6. I have good reason to hope, and so should you
Predicting the coming apocalypse is a great American pastime. We feel good when we convince someone how bad things are going to be. Alternatively, some of us prefer the frequently stated reminder that “God is in control.” Indeed, He is. But I suspect what’s lurking behind that statement is the idea that we’re finished as a nation but that God is going to personally intervene and protect His chosen (namely, the people saying God is in control.)
But I want neither an unhealthy trust in manmade government nor a conspiratorial delusion about how bad things are going to turn out. One has only to look to the last presidential race, or the one before that, or the one before that ad nauseam to learn that the idea that somehow, someway THIS election is the last hope we have before we plunge headlong over the proverbial cliff is a theme of every election. Perhaps someday we really will encounter a problem so great that we never recover. But I doubt very seriously the most reliable people to predict such woes are the very people who always predict such woes, and have always been wrong. When you’re sick you want your doctor to tell you how bad it may get, not a hypochondriac.
We shouldn’t be so arrogant as to believe the future of our country is dependent on a single decision we make on election day. Rather, it’s based on the tens of thousands of decisions we make on a daily basis that form the fabric of who we are. The fate of our nation depends on the nation’s character, which is comprised of each individual’s character. We’re never just one vote away from losing the country. If that were ever the case the country would already be lost.
I don’t mean things always turn out well or that freedom is any further than one generation from being lost. But when I vote it’s never to “save the country”. I vote because I genuinely feel the individuals I’m voting for will do a respectable job. I don’t vote out of fear or coercion or concern of what terrible things might happen if the “other side” gets in office. Many have predicted this is the most important election because this is the difference between saving the America we know or watching it die forever. But the plight of a nation is defined by its culture, not by the precious few who are elected to the highest office.
The road ahead may be difficult, even excruciating. But a people that’s endured two world wars, a civil war, the Cold War, and the War on Terror can—if they so choose—win the war for the nation’s soul.