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August, 3rd 2016

A (not-so-brief) response to Matt Lewis, and others, re: Johnson-Weld

– Liz Mair

This morning, Matt Lewis and I were on CNN together (along with Kellyanne Conway and Errol Lewis) discussing the Republicans for Johnson-Weld effort I am involved with—as well as the presidential race, in general. I wanted to follow up on that appearance with some food for thought regarding several points made, mainly by Matt but also by others, during that segment, since the trend of Republicans (and others) taking a look at Johnson-Weld is on the uptick—as is the trend of Republicans pledging to vote for Clinton, apparently.

Matt takes the position that he cannot support the Johnson-Weld ticket (or the Clinton-Kaine ticket, or the Trump-Pence ticket), and that’s fair enough. I actually think that as a commentator who gets unfairly beaten up for supposedly being a water-carrier for “neanderthal,” arch-conservative Republicans, and an elitist liberal RINO all at the same time—all unfairly and inaccurately, in my opinion—there’s a logic to Matt not voting at all in 2016. At a minimum, this will ensure that in 2017, when someone claims Matt voted for Hillary, or for Trump, it will be a matter of public record that he did not (since he didn’t vote). But I still hope Matt, and folks who share his views, will reconsider and take a second, third, fourth or fifth look at Gary Johnson. 

I get that this isn’t the easy ask it may appear to be on spec. For starters, Matt is pro-life. Gary Johnson is not. And for as much as pro-choice Republicans wish that single thing weren’t a big sticking point for pro-lifers, the truth is that it is.

It bears remembering that for pro-life people, abortion literally is a life-and-death issue.

However, it also bears mentioning that in a contest with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Johnson remains the most pro-life candidate of the three, unless you really, truly believe Donald Trump’s pro-life “conversion” story, which no one who does not also believe in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus finds credible.

At a minimum, Johnson opposes late-term abortions, including partial birth abortions. Hillary Clinton does not. Donald Trump does not. That makes Johnson the least extreme of the three, and the most palatable, a fact that does not change simply because of Bill Weld’s presence on the ticket, either; while the idea behind the two governors ticket is obviously to add extra heft and governing experience, the fact is, Gary Johnson is the presidential candidate, not Bill Weld—so whatever Weld has said or may say about abortion, or about judges for that matter (Weld seems to have a preference for judges with Massachusetts ties—that’s Massachusetts politicians for you), his views really are subordinate and subsidiary to those of Johnson. And declining to vote doesn’t help stop abortion—whether some or all of it.

As alluded to, another, and related issue some conservatives have with Johnson-Weld is judges. For a lot of voters unhappy with their other options, Johnson himself looks like something of a question mark on this topic, while Weld’s recent comments raise eyebrows—even if they should be seen more as a Massachusetts parochial thing than a “who we really think is qualified” thing. But think about it this way: Johnson certainly does not seem to be planning to nominate a bunch of Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, or people to her left, to the court—which Hillary Clinton would do. He is also exceedingly unlikely to apply as a litmus test to judges that they be consistently deferential to the executive branch, as Trump-nominated judges almost certainly would be. Again, this leaves Johnson still looking like the best option of the three, imperfect though he may be on the judges front.

Johnson has also pissed some people off with his comments on religious liberty, and Matt is one of many conservatives I talk to who are concerned about his stance on this topic. I hear that, but I also have to say, first, go read his op-ed in the Deseret News, and second, remember: Religious liberty is a dicey subject for basically all politicians at this point—even Mike Pence, the one guy in the world who defenders of religious liberty probably thought they could count on until relatively recently.

Remember the debacle over Indiana’s religious liberty law? A lot of conservatives do. First, Pence signed a religious liberty bill; then, after he was pummeled by its opponents, he did a 180-degree, high-profile, gymnastics-grade flip-flop and reversed himself, signing a “clarification” law designed to appease his critics. Pence wound up making no one happy, because he attempted to grapple with the public’s mixed views on religious liberty and make everyone love him.

Not to overly knock Mike Pence… There’s a good reason this stuff is tricky—just look at the polling: Americans want to protect religious liberty, but they also think non-discrimination should trump religious liberty concerns (see the 9/7-10/15 Washington Post poll here). How do you reconcile those two apparently conflicting stances? Johnson believes what Utah has done is the right move. Like that or not, at least with Johnson, you have greater clarity on the issue than you have with most public figures—including Pence, the supposed uncompromising conservative. You also know that your nominee is unlikely to get dragged into the usual painful debates surrounding lunch counters and the Civil Rights Act that typically engulf anyone who describes themselves as a libertarian, even in passing.

Of course, not being a social conservative, Johnson’s stances on some of these issues weigh less heavily on my mind than economics—the area where, along with civil liberties writ large (including surveillance, due process and 2nd amendment concerns) Johnson shows his libertarian stripes the most, and contrasts well with both Clinton and Trump.

Clinton and Trump are both calling for massive expenditures on infrastructure alone (Trump is suggesting $1 trillion, twice what Clinton is demanding); their records prior to 2016 show plenty of support for deeply unconservative economic policy, too. Meanwhile, Johnson and Weld are governors who both had good, solid fiscal conservative records as governor, even when governing in blue states and having to work with some pretty powerful and numerous Democrats in their respective legislatures.

Go look at CATO’s fiscal report cards on America’s governors from 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2002. Johnson scores Bs, Weld manages As and Bs. Both were among the most fiscally conservative governors in the nation, in a period when CATO was grading tough (note: a criticism of CATO ‘s ratings, currently, is that they’re a little softer on governors than they were years back). 

Are we hearing enough about this from the ticket? Possibly not—a fair criticism of Johnson-Weld is that they have perhaps devoted more rhetorical effort, of late, to wooing left-libertarians than conservatives or right-libertarians. But the reality is this: Johnson and Weld can be fairly described as “small l” libertarians, who are legitimately fiscally conservative, socially moderate-to-liberal, and plainly preferable to Trump or Clinton when it comes to gun rights, domestic surveillance, and depriving US citizens of due process. They also happen to have more, and more relevant executive experience than any of the other candidates, and—in the form of Johnson—the experience of being a legitimately self-made, successful businessman (as opposed to Trump, who has bankrupted his own company four times, and owes a huge amount of his success to his father).

Is that ideal, from Matt’s perspective? No. Should it be good enough, in a year full of disappointments? I would argue “yes”—especially for conservatives and libertarians who found a way to vote for Mitt Romney…though as noted, in Matt’s profession, he specifically may prefer to be able to prove definitively that he didn’t vote for either Trump or Clinton by simply not voting—that’s just how bad 2016 and the state of political discourse in this country really is.

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