Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is set to announce that he is ending his bid for the Republican presidential nomination annd beginning a campaign to be the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president.
On first glance, a Johnson third party candidacy raises the same question as whether a falling tree in a forest makes a sound if no one is there to hear it. Johnson was only invited to participate in two Republican debates, hovered around 1 percent in the polls, and never had much impact. His candidacy ceased to make sense when it became clear that Ron Paul was going to make a strong second run for the nomination. Johnson made sure to marginalize it even further by softening the stances that were attracting people to Paul (foreign policy and the Fed) while emphasizing a social liberalism shared by few Republican primary voters.
Bob Barr failed to make much of a splash as the Libertarian nominee in 2008. Pat Buchanan did even worse when he was the Reform Party’s candidate in 2000. A pro-choice pursuer of the pagan vote who says that the Constitution requires same-sex marriage is going to have limited appeal to conservatives who don’t want to vote for Mitt Romney.
What could make Johnson different, however, is that you will have a large number of Ron Paul voters looking for somewhere to go in a hypothetical Obama-Romney or even Obama-Gingrich race. Paul received over 1 million votes in the GOP primaries last time around when his poll numbers were much worse. He has significant support outside the party. In theory, if Johnson (who has a legitimate gripe about his exclusion from the early Republican debates, at least) can appeal to these voters, he could be the biggest Libertarian candidate since the 1980 Clark-Koch ticket, though probably not as big as Paul himself could be on that stage.
UPDATE: I argued a while back that Paul would do better in the Republican primaries than Johnson. The piece also explores their differing approaches to libertarianism.
UPDATE II: Johnson could swing New Mexico, one of the states that is in play between Obama and the Republican nominee this year.