Independent voters hankering for a genuine alternative to Barack Lyndon Roosevelt Obama on the left and Fox News flunkies on the right might have their man. No, it’s not Ron Paul, the Texas Republican congressman who electrified them last election cycle. It is arguably someone better: the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson.
Johnson, who became the first to declare his candidacy for the 2012 Republican nomination last week, is the most consistently pro-liberty Republican or Democratic candidate in living memory. Like Paul, he is anti-war, anti-big government and pro-civil liberties. But unlike Paul, he is pro-choice (except for late-term abortions), pro-immigration, pro-trade and untainted by bizarre conspiracy theories that NAFTA is a prelude to the dissolution of North American borders. Nor does he have Paul’s racist newsletter baggage. His signature issue is not abolishing the Fed or returning to the gold standard. Rather, it is avoiding the impending financial collapse by cutting government spending on everything by 43 percent — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense — a plan bolder than any that either party has proffered.
But more impressive than his winning office is what he did in it. A fiscal hawk, he slashed government spending, something that none of the other governors leading the pack of GOP hopefuls has done. Mitt Romney destroyed his own fiscal legacy by enacting a universal health coverage program that is now devouring the Bay State’s budget. And Sarah Palin, notwithstanding her fairy tales, presided over a 31 percent spending hike in Alaska. By contrast, Johnson cut in half the 10 percent annual growth his state budget had been experiencing. He vetoed 750 bills, a third of them Republican, privatized government services and trimmed public-sector employee rosters. He lowered taxes and still exited with a tidy budget surplus.
None of this is to deny that his candidacy faces impediments of Mount Everest-like scale (a mountain which, incidentally, Johnson has climbed). He has little name recognition and no money. That might change if he makes a serious showing in the first few primaries. But that’ll be difficult given that the GOP’s primary process is stacked against anti-establishment candidates like him who refuse to pay obeisance to agricultural subsidies in Iowa, the site of the first contest. His strategy is to win New Hampshire, where his pro-liberty message has more resonance.