CNN’s second Libertarian Town Hall sets the record straight for Johnson and Weld


After CNN’s first Libertarian Town Hall for Gary Johnson and Bill Weld in June, the consensus among at least the rightist pundit class was that it was an awkward at best introduction for the ticket to the national television audience. In the sequel that aired Wednesday night, both former governors made a much more refined, articulate case for what they term their “down the middle” approach between the two major parties.

In the typical analysis, libertarians are seen as more socially permissive than Democrats, being more permissive on drugs and prostitution for example, and more fiscally restrictive than Republicans, seeking to cut government and rely on free market even more. This usually puts the Libertarian Party at the fringe on both spectrums.

In an election where both Republicans and Democrats are largely dissatisfied with their choices, the Libertarian nominees have instead sought to position their platform and ticket as squarely in the middle of both parties and the ideological divide in the country. It’s an interesting strategy that hasn’t really been tried in national politics on this level and may yield dividends in November, if not even later for the party as a whole.

Johnson and Weld included even their coalition-building ability in this strategy. Weld in particular argued that as president and vice president they would hire and nominate the best Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians for their administration, and that their success as Republican governors in heavily Democratic states shows their ability to forge consensus in their own way.

Not everyone will be convinced, of course. When you run counter to both standard ideological alignments on about half of the issues, there will be plenty to nitpick. In particular, Republicans will dissent on Weld’s agreement with FBI Director Comey’s acquittal of Hillary Clinton’s email investigation and overall continued coziness with the Clinton family.

On the other hand, Democrats will challenge Johnson’s plan for private sector-focused economics, as one Bernie Sanders supporter did in the event. Johnson smartly challenged her that the best way to address a Sanders-friendly economic issue like income equality is better addressed by equal opportunity, which in some cases means lowering government barriers, not erecting them.

More generally, the biggest problem the Libertarians face in getting their “moderate” message across is the media itself. While CNN was gracious to host these events, and is also doing one for the Green Party candidates soon, they forgot about it almost immediately after it ended.

During the town hall, Anderson Cooper noted that Johnson’s 9% support in CNN’s own poll hadn’t changed from before their first town hall event to now. If this second event was as much improved as I think it was (and most importantly, people actually saw it), that number should edge up a bit soon.

And with the Commission on Presidential Debates’ co-chair saying their 15% threshold for inclusion might not be quite so concrete this year, a slight bump may be all Johnson and Weld need to get into, as they call it, the “Super Bowl of politics” and really change the conversation in this election.

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