As the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is doing very well with the youngest voters in America. According to the polls, Johnson is running a very close second to Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton among ‘millennials.’
Which is really weird, because Johnson shares almost no issues with the majority of people younger than 30.
Take climate change. Unlike the huge majority of younger Americans who consider global warming an important problem, Johnson doesn’t seem to think it matters — and as president, he says that he would do absolutely nothing about it.
“In billions of years,” Johnson said at the National Press Club five years go, “the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right? So global warming is in our future.” He calls this idiocy “taking the long view.”
Jeremy Schulman at Mother Jones has dug up the video of Johnson’s remarks. Watch:
Anyone who actually cares about this issue enough to study it for ten minutes understands that Johnson’s call for new coal-fired electric plants is exactly the wrong answer. They’re not just the biggest source of carbon emissions in the world, they’re being phased out by the very market forces Johnson says he loves so much. Building new ones would actually be far more expensive than a switch to renewable energy sources.
But set aside the specific facts about carbon taxes versus cap-and-trade, or his flip-flops on the subject, which Schulman has recounted. Instead, pay attention to the default settings on display: Johnson may give lip service to the reality that climate change is man-made, yet he ends up in exactly the same policy position as the worst deniers in the Republican Party.
And that’s the case on issue after issue after issue. A former Republican, Johnson supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, agrees with the Citizens United decision, opposes raising the minimum wage, would end net neutrality, adores private for-profit prisons, and calls for eliminating corporate taxes, bank regulation, welfare spending, student loans, and public schools.
Very few of Johnson’s policy positions should appeal to young people who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders and his quasi-socialist platform in the Democratic primary race. Yet various polls show anywhere from 10 to 18 percent of them will likely vote for Johnson, who actively courts them in his campaign.
As a result, there are several scenarios where Johnson might hurt Clinton in some states, perhaps helping her in others. (There is no scenario in which he wins a single Electoral College vote in the process, a fact which tells you a lot about the Koch brothers’ motivations to keep funding the Libertarian Party.) It’s enough of a perceived problem for her that some former Sanders supporters who have switched to the Democratic nominee write ominous warnings to their former allies about the electoral dangers of flirting with Johnson.
Which really begs the question: was their support for Sanders ever really about the issues, or just about rejecting the politics of their parents’ generation? Because when you drill down into the data, it’s not clear that ‘issues’ are actually at the heart of Johnson’s appeal to young folks at all.
Taken as a cohort, millennials are utterly incoherent on political questions, for example expressing economic opinions that are more in concert with their personal incomes than any ideological baseline.
Instead, they seem to just like Gary Johnson as a person. You know — he’s the guy they’d “want to have a beer with” and so forth. They like Johnson because he seems ‘genuine’ by never compromising on policy nuances.
They’re totally unaffected by Johnson’s gaffes about climate change and Aleppo because they prefer the ‘honesty’ of plain ignorance to the occasional dissonances of an informed politician like Clinton.
Indeed, the only issue that truly resonates between Johnson and Sanders is a non-interventionist foreign policy, which is the most common leftist critique of Clinton. When Gary Johnson fails to recognize the name of the city where 250,000 Syrians now suffer in apocalyptic conditions, perhaps those former Sanders supporters feel like he’s one of them.