Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson has been making the rounds in Washington libertarian and conservative circles this week, possibly in anticipation of a presidential bid in 2012. As I type this, The American Spectator and Americans for Tax Reform are hosting a Newsmaker event for him, but our omnipotent government cannot keep snow off the train tracks on a sunny day, so I was unable to go. Perhaps my colleagues who were in attendance can offer a different perspective, but it seems to me that Johnson has one advantage and one disadvantage over Ron Paul, the man Johnson supported for president in 2008.
The big advantage: Johnson was a governor and has wielded executive power. Not only do governors have a much better track record of being elected president than congressmen — the last man to go straight from the House to the White House was James Garfield — but it helps bolster the case for Johnson as a government-cutter. Ron Paul has an excellent record of fidelity to the Constitution, but often as someone casting votes on the losing side. Gary Johnson has actually vetoed legislation, forced budget cuts, and canceled programs.
The big disadvantage: Johnson is more permissive on abortion and immigration than Paul, more of a standard-issue libertarian. Not only will this complicate Johnson’s ability to become the full-service paleo candidate the way Paul was, but it also will add to his differences with mainstream conservatives. Ron Paul ran into trouble in the Republican primaries just for opposing the Iraq war. Had he also been pro-choice and lax on borders, like Johnson, those problems would have been magnified.
Now, as governor of New Mexico Johnson did sign most pro-life legislation that came across his desk despite self-describing as pro-choice. As a constitutonalist, he is likely to take an anti-Roe position. But few paleo-sympathetic conservatives cut Rudy Giuliani much slack when he vowed to become operationally pro-life while clinging to the pro-choice label (I know I didn’t). Granted, Johnson actually had an operationally pro-life record while Giuliani didn’t, but it still strikes me as a tough sell politically.