Recently, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson sat for an interview and Q and A session at Purdue University. (View the entire event here.)
A few days before the event, the venue was moved from a 1000-seat hall to an 1800-seat gym. It was packed.
Purdue President and former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels took the stage to introduce Johnson. He said someone once told him the first duty of a political candidate is “to be interesting”, and Johnson, who “started a business from nothing and built it into the biggest contracting firm in his home state” served two terms as governor, left his state much better than he found it, and has climbed the tallest mountain on every continent, certainly satisfies that requirement.
As the two men settled into their chairs, Johnson told the audience he has a similar experience to Daniels, in that the people of his state wave at him with all five fingers, not just one (FYI: unlike Governor Pence, whose favorability was around 40% before he became co-conductor of the Trump Train, former Governor Daniels is wildly popular in the state.) Daniels said Johnson had been offered the opportunity to either make a speech and then take questions, or be interviewed by him, and then take questions. Ever the risk-taker, Johnson opted for the interview format.
Rather than try to provide a blow-by-blow report, and because there was a lengthy Q and A with the audience, I’ll provide the highlights issue by issue.
The philosophy of Johnson/Weld –
We’re fiscally responsible, in that we’re for smaller government, that when government taxes you or I, that’s money we could be spending on our lives, as opposed to government telling us how to live our lives. We’re socially inclusive. That means I think all of us want the freedom and liberty to make choices in our own lives—period—as long as those choices don’t put others in harm’s way. I’d also add to that that I think the majority of Americans right now are skeptical of our military interventions and when we involve ourselves in regime change, things have worked out worse, not better, and without exception in my lifetime I can’t think of one example of it ever working out.
He also distinguished free trade from crony capitalism, saying they are opposites. Johnson/Weld is the only ticket that supports free trade.
Military – The US must have an invincible national defense. If we are attacked, we will attack back. However, involvement in regime change has never worked to the advantage of the United States, and we must stop pursuing it. Johnson considers North Korea the greatest current threat, because eventually the missiles they are building are going to work. Addressing this crisis will require diplomatic alliance with China. In two polls of active duty military, Johnson has beaten both major party contenders in both polls, he hopes because of his stance on the judicious use of military force. It was right to go into Afghanistan, but we should have left when we achieved victory seven months into it, and we should get out tomorrow. Getting out tomorrow may have consequences, but they are no different from the consequences of getting out 20 years from now. Johnson was against going into Iraq.
Syria – Daniels joked, “That’s where Aleppo is,” then said, “He invited me to say something about it.”
I oppose regime change. So, Aleppo—at the epicenter—and, please, if I’m wrong on any of this, follow up with your question, but, let’s see, we’ve got the eastern side of Aleppo, which is the Syrian regime, Assad, and they are fighting the Free Syrian Army, which we support, but they’re allied with Islamists, who we don’t support, and so we arm the Free Syrian Army, and those arms end up in the Islamists’ hands, and then we’ve got Ar raqqah to the North, which is ISIS, which was really created when we invaded Iraq and all of Saddam’s henchmen fled to that area, and ISIS was a term we didn’t hear until a couple of years ago—but we’re supporting the Kurds against ISIS, but the Kurds are sideways with our ally, Turkey, who isn’t such a good ally anymore because we invaded Iraq in the first place—are you getting just how complicated this becomes when you get involved in a civil war? And as horrible as these situations are, because we got involved because the situation was horrible—look how much worse the situation has become. And I have said now for months that the only way we’re going to find ourselves getting out of Syria is to join hands with Russia diplomatically to make this happen.
The Budget – within the first 100 days, Johnson and Weld will present Congress with a balanced budget, which will mean cutting government expenditures across the board. Both governors operated with balanced budgets and both improved their states’ economies. Moreover, getting there will require reforming Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security—something neither major party has addressed, despite those programs being almost broke.
Drugs (you knew someone on a college campus would ask that, didn’t you?) – One of the first acts of the Johnson/Weld Administration will be to de-schedule marijuana at the federal level, which would devolve the issue to the states, and eliminate the legal clash between federal statutes and states which have already legalized it. Other drugs would remain illegal, but the government would change the focus of drug policy from a criminal justice matter to a public health matter, seeking innovative approaches to harm-reduction.
Education – while governor of New Mexico, Johnson was one of few who signed on to school choice. People, he argued, seem to think the Department of Education was created by George Washington. It was created by Jimmy Carter, and instead of states sending their money to Washington to have it reduced and returned with even more costs and mandates, they should keep the money, and let the states—50 laboratories of innovation—take care of education. The high cost of college is because of government-guaranteed student loans, which give colleges no incentive to reduce costs or control tuition (Mitch Daniels excepted. Purdue has frozen tuition for the past five years while Daniels has been president.)
The Second Amendment – Johnson is unequivocally behind the Second Amendment (an answer that—surprisingly, from a collegiate audience—got as much applause and cheers as de-scheduling marijuana). While we should be open to a debate as to how to prevent terrorists and the mentally ill from having guns, the Second Amendment remains paramount. (In other settings, he has stated opposition to the “no fly/no gun” bill, as well as to any form of so-called “assault weapons” ban. He may be the only presidential candidate who actually knows that automatic weapons have been illegal since the 1930s and that semi-automatics encompass more than 30 million weapons; which Americans would be unlikely to give up.)
Immigration – as a country of immigrants, we should make it as easy as possible to come in and get a work visa, requiring a background check and a social security card. Trying to build a Southern border wall is “crazy,” and deporting 11 million people already here is “unworkable.” A recently-published study from the Wharton School of Business shows that shutting down immigration would have a severely negative effect on the economy, whereas increasing high-skill immigration would have a slightly positive effect and increasing low-skill immigration would have a very positive effect. The government should get out of the business of setting immigration quotas.
At the end of the event, Daniels (who, fortuitously, is a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates) thanked the audience for their excellent questions, then thanked Johnson for offering “intelligent, candid, politically risky, unpredictable answers all apparently grounded in a consistent philosophy.” Then he paused.
“What are you doing in this election?”