Gary Johnson officially leaves the GOP to run as a Libertarian

One-joke wonder Gary Johnson — the former governor of New Mexico and erstwhile GOP presidential candidate — today officially announced he will run for president as a Libertarian. The Hill reports:

“Frankly, I have been deeply disappointed by the treatment I received in the Republican nomination process,” Johnson said in a statement released by his presidential campaign. He named GOP candidates Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman, saying they have “no national name identification” yet are allowed to participate in debates. …

Johnson acknowledged in his announcement that he is not the only self-avowed Libertarian in the race. “While Ron Paul is a good man and a libertarian who I proudly endorsed for president in 2008, there is no guarantee he will be the Republican nominee,” he said. “If I earn the Libertarian nomination, I will be on the ballot in all 50 states. I will not be held hostage to a system rigged for the wealthiest and best-known candidates in a handful of states who happen to have early primaries. And most important, we will offer a political “home” for millions of Americans who are not finding one in the current political establishment or its candidates.”

Personally, I wouldn’t have minded watching Johnson on the GOP debate stage more than twice. Some barrier to entry has to exist, but, so far, the barrier has been so low as to make Johnson’s exclusion more remarkable than it should be. In other words, the former governor has a point: Other candidates might be better-connected, but they weren’t necessarily more viable prior to the publicity they received through the debates.

Then again, Johnson is a Libertarian — so to run under that label makes the most sense. The question now is whether this will make any difference at all in the general election. A Gary Johnson third-party run is a very different proposition from a Ron Paul third-party run, and won’t on its own be much of a game-changer. But, as The Christian Science Monitor explains, he could still have some effect:

Historically, Libertarian candidates haven’t made enough of a dent to spoil the chances of a major-party candidate, but they tend to “disproportionately hurt Republicans,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“If this continues to be a time of economic dislocation … then given American history, you would expect one or more independent candidates,” Professor Sabato says.

More than half of Americans – 55 percent – say a third party is needed, compared with 38 percent who say the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job of representing the American people, according to a Gallup poll this fall. …

In the swing state of New Mexico, Johnson as a Libertarian would draw 20 to 23 percent support in a three-way race for president, with Obama at 44 to 45 percent, and Gingrich or Romney coming in second, at 28 percent and 27 percent respectively, according to a recent Public Policy Polling (PPP) New Mexico survey.

In all likelihood, whatever effect Johnson did have would be to the detriment of the GOP. With the novel third-party group Americans Elect also gaining momentum and with Donald Trump continually hinting at an independent run, the 2012 race could become less a referendum on Obama or a clear-cut choice between two sharply contrasting visions as a confused experiment. The least desirable result in any election is the result that obfuscates the mandate the American people try to send. At a time when jobs and the economy remain a top concern of many Americans — and as majorities still express the desire to reduce spending — voters need to be especially careful to consider the entire context of their vote and to adjust it accordingly to ensure our newly elected officials understand at the very least that they have an obligation to future generations to reduce the debt and deficit.