First, there was the unconfirmed rumor of an impending Jeb Bush endorsement. Then there were whispers that Mitt Romney is seriously weighing a blessing bestowal. Now, we have the official roll-out of "Republicans for Johnson/Weld," wherein disaffected righty activists are throwing their support behind the Libertarian Party's presidential ticket this cycle. Their message to fellow center-right voters: Hate Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Rally around the limited government party's 2016 duo, which happens to be comprised of two former multi-term GOP governors.
Activists from across the country today launched Republicans for Johnson-Weld, an effort independent of the Johnson-Weld campaign, designed to boost support for the ticket as well as down-ballot Republicans in view of the disastrous choices on offer this year from the two major parties. “Republicans for Johnson-Weld is a grassroots effort committed to exercising our constitutional right and obligation as Americans to express our voice through the ballot box by supporting Republican candidates seeking elected office locally, regionally and nationally,” said Martin. “We will do our part to ensure the Johnson-Weld ticket is included on all 50 state ballots and included in the presidential debates, and to make sure that voters of all stripes, but especially Republicans, understand they have an alternative to voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. The way we see it, we are supporting the most Republican ticket on the ballot,” said Lopez. He emphasized that the “combined gubernatorial experience of the Johnson-Weld ticket as well as their fiscally conservative records and inclusive governing styles are most reflective of what the majority of Americans are desperately looking for in their leaders.”
Perhaps the best-known name behind this push is Liz Mair, a longtime GOP operative who's been relentless in her fight against Trump. It was her small outside group, you'll remember, that made the teensy-weensy Facebook ad buy in Utah featuring a racy photo of Melania Trump that triggered Donald's nasty and misdirected attacks against Heidi Cruz. (By the way, how's ruby-red Utah looking these days?) On paper, Johnson and Weld -- the ex-governors of New Mexico and Massachusetts, respectively -- have a fair amount to commend them. In practice, they seem to be far more focused on peeling off left-leaning voters than appealing to alienated Republicans. Many conservatives who may be strongly considering casting Libertarian presidential ballots as clean-conscience protest votes against the terrible major party nominees have watched with mounting frustration as Johnson and Weld demonstrate an apparent determination to lose their support. These conservatives are not seeking perfect ideological soulmates at this point, mind you; just an acceptable alternative. Let's tabulate the self-inflicted strikes against this duo:
(1) At their first CNN town hall meeting (there's another one this week), the two supposed small government libertarians blew rhetorical kisses at Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for an hour. They offered precious little in the way of robust policy criticisms that might convince refugee conservatives of a more traditional bent that they're at least on board for a big part of the program. But hey, if you prioritize relaxed drug laws and a non-interventionist foreign policy, they're your team.
(2) Lest there was any doubt about Johnson's electoral strategy, he boasted that he agrees with Bernie Sanders "73 percent" of the time. That's a guy who ostensibly believes the federal government should do as little as possible bear-hugging a guy who thinks the federal government should so as much as possible. It doesn't compute. There's also a moral stench attached to playing ideological footsie with this man, as Hillary Clinton was forced to do for months by her party's left-wing.
(3) Johnson came out in favor of President Obama's unconstitutional executive amnesty, a power grab that was thrown out in court, and that he himself repeatedly said exceeded his constitutional authority. With one (unpopular and divisive) wave of his wand, Obama attempted to extend effective legal status, including the ability to receive federal work permits, to millions of illegal immigrant adults. Libertarians are famously pro-immigration, but their North Star is allegedly the constitution, firm adherence to which is a major part of their principled appeal. Johnson mused that he backed Obama's illegal power play because, well, maybe it'd force Congress to do something. That's not how this works, Gary.
(4) Another theoretically positive aspect of libertarianism is its anti-Statist defense of individual liberties. One of the hottest disputes in today's culture wars focuses on the extent to which the government can intervene to coerce business owners into violating their consciences on same-sex marriage and contraception. Johnson's views on these questions sound murky and incoherent, and more in line with the Left's prism of "rights" and "discrimination." And perhaps the worst way to reassure conservatives who care about these issues is to dismiss efforts to uphold religious freedom as a "black hole."
(5) What kind of justice does a Johnson/Weld administration envision for the Supreme Court? You'd think they'd have a solid answer prepared for this one, particularly because "but SCOTUS!" is the most powerful pro-Trump argument being employed to pull disaffected Republican voters back into the fold. Skip ahead to the ten-minute mark of this clip, get your hopes up momentarily when the presidential nominee talks about original intent, then deflate as he kicks it over to his running mate for the punchline. Hopeless:
(UPDATE: Here's an argument from CATO's Ilya Shapiro that the two names Weld mentions are among the least "libertarian" judges on the bench today). I'll leave you with a few polling-related thoughts: Tracking with this week's emerging trend, a new NBC national survey shows Hillary Clinton jumping out to an eight-point lead over Donald Trump in a two-way race. That margin is sliced in half when Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein are included in the mix. Trump ally Roger Stone is publicly counseling his man to start beating the drum that these two outsiders ought to be permitted to participate in the autumn debates (the polling threshold for which is 15 percent). Allahpundit explains the various reasons why that would be a smart move on Trump's part. Finally, with the Democratic Left 'coming home' to Hillary after Philadelphia -- and with conservatives and Republicans appearing increasingly fractured and displeased -- at what point do Johnson and Weld decided that trying to attract members of, you know, the party that once elected them as governors might be the smarter play than pandering to ad hoc Bernie bros?