Libertarian Johnson predicts a boost after Sanders drops out

Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson believes his campaign will get a boost whenever Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Meghan McCain: Bernie Sanders supporting prisoners being able to vote 'bats**t insane' MORE ends his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Johnson, who many believe could be the strongest third-party candidate in decades, told The Hill in an exclusive interview on Monday that Libertarians are poised for a breakout year driven by dissatisfaction with the major-party nominees.

ADVERTISEMENT

Johnson believes that once Sanders drops out, he’ll benefit from having one less insurgent candidate in the field as voters look for an alternative to the Republican and Democratic candidates.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDavis: The shocking fact that Mueller never would have accused Trump of a crime Trump says he would challenge impeachment in Supreme Court The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? MORE and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE are the two most polarizing figures in American politics today,” Johnson said.

“When Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCornyn campaign, Patton Oswalt trade jabs over comedian's support for Senate candidate MJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid Liberal survey: Sanders cruising, Buttigieg rising MORE dropped out of the campaign, my Google hits went up 5,000 percent. … Another big step forward that I see will be Bernie Sanders dropping out from the election.”

Johnson says he fills a “sweet spot” of fiscally conservative but socially liberal voters who are ignored by the major parties at a time when independent registration is on the rise.

“I think most people in this country are libertarian. They just don’t know it,” he said.

Johnson, who served two terms as the Republican governor of New Mexico, is running on a ticket with vice presidential candidate Bill Weld, a former two-term Republican governor of Massachusetts.

Johnson said there has been intense interest in his candidacy this cycle, noting that the media attention has blown away what he experienced in 2012, when he won 1.3 million votes.

Johnson appeared on “Meet the Press” on Sunday and, after visiting with The Hill, had appearances scheduled on CNN and Fox News, as well as with several other print and online media outlets.

Johnson also said “online fundraising has dramatically increased” from where it was the last go-round. He acknowledged that he needs to raise more than the $2.2 million he raised in 2012 but said he received a significant number of pledges from interested donors at the Libertarian Party convention last month.

The “Never Trump” movement, spearheaded by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, has so far shunned the Libertarian Party’s ticket, even though it has two former GOP governors who would seem a natural fit for Republicans frustrated by their nominee.

That contingent of Republicans “eventually” will come around, Johnson said, once they realize that at this point it’s nearly impossible to find and recruit a candidate who can be on the ballot in all 50 states.

“Neither Bill nor I would be doing this if we didn’t think we had a chance to win,” Johnson said.

Here are other highlights from the 30-minute sit-down interview The Hill conducted with Johnson that aired on Facebook Live.

Donald Trump

Johnson lashed out at Trump for “racist” remarks in which he said the judge overseeing a Trump University lawsuit couldn’t be a fair arbiter of the case because he’s Hispanic.

“The latest comments on the Hispanic judge — nothing short of racist,” Johnson said.

When asked if he believes Trump is a racist, Johnson
replied:

“Clearly. Clearly. These are incendiary comments to me as a former governor of a state that’s one of the four majority-minority states in the country.”

Johnson said he’s “fearful” of what a Trump presidency would mean for the nation, particularly as it pertains to race relations.

“Donald Trump has said 100 things in this campaign that would disqualify any other candidate, and if you turn the page, tomorrow it will be 104 things,” Johnson said.

Marijuana

Johnson left a job as an executive at a marijuana company earlier this year to run for president.

He talked openly about his own marijuana use, telling The Hill that he has used the drug recreationally “as recently as a month ago.”

But he said he wouldn’t be using it going forward during his campaign or if he wins the White House.

“The notion of getting that call at midnight or two o’clock — people need to know there’s a firm voice on the other side,” he said.

Johnson, who does not drink, argued that legalizing marijuana would lead to less substance abuse overall because it’s a “a safer alternative than everything else out there, starting with alcohol.”

“Marijuana products on the medicinal side directly compete with legal painkillers and anti-depressants that statistically kill 100,000 people a year,” he added. “Marijuana products — not one documented death.”

Taxes

Johnson said he would eliminate personal and corporate income taxes, replacing them with a federal consumption tax on new products.

“As president of the United States, I’m going to sign any legislation that simplifies taxes or reduces taxes, believing that money in my pocket is liberty and freedom I can enjoy as opposed to … the tyranny of government taking my money,” he said.

National Security Agency

Johnson said he believes he can abolish the NSA by executive order — or at the very least end the agency’s controversial metadata collection practices.

“We could turn those satellites on what is supposed to be the enemy. The fact that they’re pointed on us right now — doesn’t that cause everyone a bit of concern? It should. Look, there’s due process for spying, but due process is not blanket collection of all of our data.”

When asked whether he had the authority to eliminate the NSA through executive order, Johnson responded: “Apparently. I’m waiting for someone to prove me wrong. This is what I’ve been told.”

Foreign policy

“I reject the notion that Libertarians are isolationists,” Johnson said. “We want an impenetrable and invincible national defense, not offense. We want to engage diplomatically to the hilt.”

Johnson said North Korea poses the greatest global threat to the U.S., more so even than terrorism. 

“At some point their intercontinental ballistic missiles will work,” Johnson said.

He called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria a “regional” threat that has been “an overstated” problem.

Still, he acknowledged the exponential growth of the group and blamed current U.S. policy for its rise.

“What’s behind that? The U.S. dropping bombs and flying drones that kill thousands of people,” he said.