Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson at a news conference during which he announced he was seeking a presidential nomination as a Libertarian, at the State Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., Dec. 28, 2011. 
Photo by Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal/AP

Gary Johnson hopes to take advantage of a rare opportunity

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver noted yesterday that there was a “big spike in Google searches” for Gary Johnson since Donald Trump locked up the Republican nomination. That’s exactly what Johnson was hoping for. The conservative Washington Times reported this week:
With Sen. Ted Cruz’s departure Tuesday from the GOP presidential race, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is intensifying his push for the #NeverTrump crowd.
Mr. Johnson, a one-time Republican who’s running for the Libertarian Party nomination, urged disaffected Republicans and conservatives to support his presidential bid after real-estate mogul Donald Trump’s big win Tuesday in the Indiana primary.
At this point, some readers may be saying to themselves, “That’s great, but who’s Gary Johnson?”
Johnson was a two-term governor of New Mexico, first elected in 1994, and he served as a Republican. In 2012, he briefly sought the GOP presidential nomination, though after struggling to gain traction, Johnson switched parties – and became a Libertarian.
As the Libertarian Party’s nominee four years ago, Johnson didn’t seriously compete in any state, but he did manage to earn about 1% of the national popular vote.
But as the former governor sees it, things are different now. Republicans were generally united around Mitt Romney in 2012, but Trump’s rise creates a very different kind of opportunity.
Johnson spoke to MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin two months ago.
“I think Donald Trump wholly alienates more than half of Republicans,” Johnson told MSNBC. “If nothing comes of this election with regard to the Libertarian Party, then nothing is going to ever come of it, I don’t think.”
Johnson ticked off the list of his own disagreements with Trump: His “racist” comments; his anti-immigration position, which Johnson strongly disagreed with both as a libertarian and a former border state governor; and his opposition to free trade.
But Johnson has plenty of other disagreements with the GOP, his former party, and noted that Libertarian Party members tended to be social liberals.
Ordinarily, the Libertarian Party – which has a ballot slot in all 50 states – is relegated to afterthought treatment, but if there’s a sizable number of Republicans who just can’t bring themselves to back Trump’s ridiculous candidacy, and they don’t feel comfortable voting Democratic, it’s not outlandish to think at least some of these voters will give Johnson a good, long look.
Does Johnson have a credible chance of becoming president? No. But he does have a chance to take advantage of unique circumstances, and it’s an opportunity the former governor takes seriously. Watch this space.