A golden moment from his interview with our Townhall cousin, Guy Benson. Watch him get genuinely pissy at around 4:00 when Guy, very politely, presses him on why the term “illegal” is so troubling. What we’re left with here is a third-party candidate who’s hyper-libertarian on immigration, of all issues, but not so libertarian on, for example, a carbon tax or whether business owners should be forced to cater gay weddings. That’s his pitch to conservatives who have been alienated by Trump: Possibly some new taxes, certainly less religious liberty, and all the amnesty you can eat. There’s no reason left why any anti-Trump conservative should waste a vote on this guy when they could back Evan McMullin, a write-in choice, or simply not vote for president on their ballot. Johnson’s appeal, we’re told, is as a protest candidate. What am I protesting in voting for him? Borders?
Take five minutes and read Robert Tracinski’s recent piece on Johnson as an essentially “left-wing candidate.” It’s less an indictment of Johnson, though, than it is of libertarian intellectuals who seem happy to watch him squander his opportunity this year with the right by remaining dogmatically left-ish on cultural issues:
My whole exchange with the folks at Reason, particularly the last response from Doherty, reveals a particular theme: libertarians can’t bring themselves to take any political position that might be seen as sympathizing with the Right in the culture war…
[T]he reaction of Johnson’s Libertarian apologists in an indication that, as much as they look down on the culture war and see themselves as floating above it, what that really means is that they have taken a position in the culture war, and they’re on the side of the Left. They would rather force you to bake the cake and make sure everyone knows that “the kind of anti-discrimination law we’ve had for many decades is not something he’s interested in rolling back,” in Doherty’s description.
I’m not sure this is an irrational calculation for libertarians to make, though. If Johnson shifted right on a few choice cultural issues to try to woo disaffected conservatives, two things would happen. First, he’d lose some of his support from progressives, and it’s unclear that he can make up those lost left-wing votes with an equal or greater number of right-wing votes. (Johnson pretty reliably draws a bit more from Hillary’s base in four-way polls right now than he does from Trump’s.) More importantly, it’s a core part of the libertarian “brand” that they don’t stoop to indulging supposedly primitive conservative impulses on culture-war issues. If they did, they’d be little better than — ugh — Paul Ryan. They might consider trading some of their more enlightened left-ish cultural positions for a real share of the electorate in November, but Johnson’s not going to bring them that. In a best-case scenario he’s a 15 percent candidate, which is a nice haul but not enough to win a single state or even to match Perot’s total in 1992. They’re not going to auction off one of the pillars of their political identity for something so meager. In which case, sure, why not seize the opportunity offered here by Guy to reach conservatives online by getting visibly angry at calling illegals “illegal”? It’s good for the brand. Not so good for votes, but the brand has always been more important than votes.