SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Libertarian politician Gary Johnson announced Wednesday that he’ll run for president a second time on promises of reining in the federal government, and with the hope of debating the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees in the fall.
The two-time governor and pioneering proponent of drug decriminalization said he wants to wipe out the federal deficit and hold the line against spending on Medicare, Medicaid and the military. Personal freedoms, he said, are under threat from the U.S. response to terrorism.
Johnson announced his candidacy for the Libertarian Party nomination at the state capitol in Santa Fe, where he once used his veto power as governor with relish in search of a balanced state budget.
He cast himself as a potent alternative to Republican Donald Trump’s hard-line stances on deporting immigrants in the country illegally and going after the families of terrorists, and Democrat Hillary Clinton on issues of fiscal responsibility.
“Where is the voice of being socially liberal and fiscally conservative?” he said. “It’s certainly not a Republican voice, and it’s certainly not a Democrat voice when it comes to being fiscally conservative.”
Johnson insists he has a real chance at being elected president if he can secure a place on the debate stage after primary elections. He’s counting on an anti-trust lawsuit against the private Commission on Presidential Debates brought by the Libertarian and Green parties in federal court.
“The Democrats and Republicans collude with one another to exclude everyone else,” Johnson said.
He also would happily play the role of spoiler by stealing crucial votes from major-party candidates in competitive swing states.
Many Democrats still blame liberal Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 election. Votes for Nader in Florida far exceeded the 537 votes that separated Bush from Gore.
In 2012, Johnson initially ran as a Republican before dropping out ahead of the primaries and securing the Libertarian nomination. He won nearly 1.3 million votes, or 1 percent cast — far less than Nader in 2000 or Ross Perot in 1992.
Johnson said that failure has taught him how to campaign more effectively.
He sees Trump as especially vulnerable and pledged to stand up to a “scourge” of anti-immigrant sentiments in the U.S., especially against immigrants from Mexico.
An outdoor fitness buff, Johnson lives near the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Taos, where he has already skied about 40 days this season at resorts and in the backcountry. After retiring as governor, he climbed Mount Everest and peaks on each continent.
Johnson is proud to have spoken out on issues such as the decriminalization of marijuana when they were taboo, and he expects to be vindicated — perhaps after his death — on the threat of government debt and spending.
“The biggest problem is that when Obama leaves office there will be a $20 trillion national debt,” he said. “There will be a real negative consequence to that at some point and it needs to be fixed.”