Johnson, Weld: See you at the debates!

Will the Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld wind up qualifying for the presidential and vice presidential debates, tentatively scheduled to start next month? If not, perhaps they could debate each other.

The pair appeared on Morning Joe earlier today, and the very first question Joe Scarborough asked related to health care reform. Johnson offered a free-market approach and insisted that insurance had to return to a traditional role of protecting against unforeseen circumstances. “Pay as you go,” Johnson said, which would cut costs to “one-fifth of where they are now.” When challenged by the panel about how an unemployed mother would get routine care for her child, Weld contradicted what Johnson had just said and said they’d need to get her into insurance to cover the costs. Later, the two also differ on whether the US should intervene against ISIS; Johnson says they’ll go away on their own, while Weld says the US has to be “prepared to deliver a coup de grace” if the opportunity arises (again apparently on its own).

Should be a heck of a debate, fellas!

The two also seem torn when Mark Halperin asks them to name three federal departments they’d close down. Johnson names three immediately — Commerce, Education, and HUD — and then they both stumble when asked what happens to the “good” programs within them. Johnson and Weld respond by pledging that other federal agencies will pick up those programs that work, to which Halperin responds by noting that these departments do a lot of things. Weld tries to come back with a pledge for zero-based budgeting — which is a good idea, but Congress has to adopt it. Weld appears to forget that the White House only proposes budgets, but Congress works independently to produce them. If Congress sticks with baseline budgeting, there’s not much a president can do except shut down the government and try to outlast them. A Libertarian administration isn’t going to have very much leverage in that endeavor.

The first three minutes encapsulates the problem with the Libertarian ticket: It’s not Libertarian. Any Libertarian worth his salt would have answered Halperin’s question with this: If it’s worth doing, the states can do it for themselves. That’s certainly true of Education and HUD; the Constitution does give the federal government jurisdiction over interstate commerce, so perhaps a greatly reduced Commerce Department might still have a role.

If the Johnson-Weld ticket isn’t Libertarian, what is it? It’s the No Labels ticket, especially with Weld. They’re the centrist ticket — which is why they’ve been playing footsie with the terror-watchlist firearm ban and trying to woo Bernie Sanders’ statists to their fold. That’s unfortunate, because if there was ever going to be a Libertarian Party moment, this cycle would be it.

Johnson does claim “better than a 50% chance” of making the debates. That may be true; in some polls, Johnson/Weld gets to single digits, and there are plenty of voters still unwilling to vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. But if they do make it and expect that to have any impact, they’d better start looking for better answers than they gave here … or at least more consistent answers.