Opposition to Donald Trump among Republicans and distaste for Hillary Clinton among Bernie Sanders supporters could create an opportunity for the Libertarian Party, which has general election ballot access in a majority of states.
On Wednesday, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, made their case at a CNN town hall hosted by Chris Cuomo.
Here are 5 takeaways from the CNN Libertarian Party town hall:
Happy to be the spoiler
The Libertarians made clear that they’re well aware of the challenges they face in winning the election as a third party in a country where Republicans and Democrats have dominated for more than a century. But if spoiling the election for Clinton or Trump by taking away votes is a concession prize, they’ll take it.
“I’d feel just fine” if Libertarians acted as a spoiler in the election, Johnson said. “I believe that the two-party system is a two-party dinosaur and that they’re about to come in contact with the comet here. I think that’s a real possibility.”
Johnson outlined the challenge of reaching the presidential debates — a feat that could be their only chance of having a significant impact on the race.
“The only opportunity to win is to actually be in the presidential debates, the Super Bowl of politics. To do that, we’ve got to be at 15 percent in the polls. To be at 15 percent of the polls you’ve got to be in the polls,” Johnson said. “And right now we see day after day where really it’s two candidates running for president — occasionally they throw in our names.”
Weld followed by conceding that merely getting into the debates would be “harder” than the task of persuading people they were the better alternative than the Republicans or Democrats.
Johnson doesn’t go ‘full libertarian’ on drugs
Unlike Ron Paul, who made a case for legalizing all drugs when he ran for the Republican nomination in 2012, Johnson said Wednesday he is against loosening drug laws beyond marijuana.
“We are not espousing the legalization of any drugs outside of marijuana,” Johnson said when asked about his drug policies by a mother who said her son was a recovering drug addict.
Johnson advocated for harm reduction programs around the world that provide clean needles and supervised injection sites, but stopped short of advocating for the legalization of drugs.
“It’s prohibition… that kills people,” he said, but then went on to advocate for some prohibition. “It seems to me that there’s an inconsistency here,” Cuomo said. “Either you think drugs should be legalized or not.”
“Keep the drugs illegal,” Johnson said.
Johnson isn’t looking for new gun controls
A survivor of the terrorist attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, asked the candidates about their position on guns. Instead of calling for loosening regulations on gun ownership, Johnson defended current laws barring certain types of weapons.
“I don’t think our position would be to make it easier” to obtain guns, Johnson said. “We’re not looking to roll back anything.”
He went on to defend laws that have long banned automatic weapons, but suggested he would not support banning semi-automatic rifles.
Johnson was critical of efforts among Democrats and even some Republicans to keep firearms away from Americans suspected of crimes on the “terror list” or “no-fly list.”
“All of these government lists are subject to error,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Weld said they would be open to discussions about how to better keep firearms out of the hands of the “mentally ill” and “potential terrorists,” and proposed an FBI task force to investigate ISIS supporters as though it were “organized crime.”
Weld as attack dog
Johnson abstained when given the chance to personally knock Trump and Clinton.
“I don’t think either of us are going to engage in any sort of name-calling,” Johnson said. “We’re going to keep this to the issues, and the issues are plenty.” (Indeed, Johnson was critical of Trump’s immigration plan and other issues.)
When asked about President Barack Obama, Johnson called him “a good guy.” He said Clinton was “a wonderful public servant.” And Trump? “I’m sure there’s something good to say about Donald somewhere.”
Not so much for Weld, who called Trump a “huckster” and repeated a comparison he had made previously between Trump’s immigration plan and Nazi Germany.
“I think the Republican presumptive nominee has succeeded in tapping into the very worst political traditions and in other countries,” Weld said, adding that Trump’s deportation plan was “directly analogous” to “Anne Frank hiding in the attic hoping no noise will alert the Nazis below.”
Abolish the IRS? Well…
When party tickets have a policy disagreement, they traditionally find a way to keep it to themselves. But in at least one instance–on a key policy position–Johnson and Weld don’t see eye to eye.
Johnson supports a broad-based consumption tax, essentially a levy on goods and services, to replace the federal income tax, which he said would allow him to abolish the Internal Revenue Service as President. But Weld wouldn’t quite go that far.
“I don’t think we need to go as far as to abolish the IRS,” Weld said.
The statement prompted Johnson to defend his position, launching a micro-debate among the running mates.
“If you did away with the IRS, 80% of lobbyists would go away, because they’re there to garner special tax favors,” Johnson said.