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Libertarian flame and GOP Hopeful Gary Johnson finally realizes that he’d be better off running as an actual Libertarian.

I noticed that a few libertarians are upset that Gary Johnson did not get invited to today’s first Republican presidential debate. Here’s Will Wilkinson:

Is there an objective way to determine who among those not, or not yet, running must be included in the relevant polls? Mr Giuliani, has not announced his candidacy, nor has he been seen hitting the hustings in Iowa and New Hampshire in clear anticipation of a run for the nomination. The whimsical choice to exclude from consideration the polls that would qualify Mr Johnson for participation in the debate hardly seems objective, or fair. In any case, the 2% threshold seems wrongheaded once you consider that Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, and Bill Clinton all polled at 1% around this time in nomination campaigns they went on to win. Or so says Mr Johnson’s campaign in a video protesting his exclusion from tonight’s debate.

Of course Johnson will not win. But neither will Herman Cain. The basic story is that CNN excluded Johnson on a technicality, and they deserve to take some flak for that. If you’re going to come up with objective criteria for being in a debate and then throw up a bunch of new conditions later to justify your own decisions, then why bother with the pretense of objectivity? But the reason why not Johnson is obvious to me. Johnson is a mild-mannered, normal-seeming dude. Such people generally don’t lead to the hothouse nutty atmosphere that leads people to tune into cable news. It’s assuredly in CNN’s interest to get as many Michele Bachmanns and Herman Cains onto the stage as possible, because it’s just more interesting television. Yes, this is a cynical interpretation of CNN’s action, but it’s cable news, and I generally don’t give them the benefit of the doubt.

For some reason I feel like being a dick about this, but I just can’t. Johnson has some worthy ideas (and some awful ones), but he actually has a fairly accomplished record of achievement in an executive capacity. He has more principles than the other Republicans running for president. But if CNN wanted a reason to shut him out that didn’t involve splitting hairs on who was included in what poll, here’s a pretty simple one: Johnson identifies as pro-choice. He can never win a GOP primary for that very reason. If he somehow won the nomination, it’s very likely that he’d trigger a party split on an immediate basis, and you’d almost certainly see a third-party pro-life candidacy gain steam. Take the pro-life movement out of the party, and you lose basically the entire enduring Republican activist base and a good chunk of the party’s electorate as well. Notice how quickly those tea party rallies turned into ghost events this year? Without the pro-lifers pounding the pavement, the GOP has a lot of money and nobody on the ground. If Johnson won the GOP nomination, he’d probably finish third in the general election and the Republicans know it. Of course, the increasingly popular line for blue-state Republicans these days is to identify as pro-life while saying that you don’t want to impose your own beliefs etc., and just be functionally pro-choice, which is a stance that has worked well for Chris Christie and Vermont gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie, among others. Dubie lost anyway, but Christie won and is regarded as a very serious contender for the GOP nomination. More proof, I suppose, that affect is the most important element in finding success in Republican politics. But Johnson isn’t doing that so far as I can tell. Much like movie ratings and many concepts of “genre”, pro-life/pro-choice is basically just a marketing distinction at this point that blurs more than it reveals, and Johnson’s attributes don’t fit the support he wants.

It’s actually sort of a shame that Johnson is not likely to get any attention at all. I’d much rather him be the underdog than the execrable Tim Pawlenty, for example. But the real culprit behind that status seems to me to be Ron Paul, who in lieu of designating a successor and endorsing Johnson (or even his own son) has mounted yet another pointless presidential bid even after being rejected in 2008 because, much like Ralph Nader on the left, Paul might have some values but the biggest one of those is self-promotion, and he’s perfectly willing to see his ideas marginalized to gain more attention. The other problem here is ironically that Johnson actually has too much integrity–he says the things that most Republicans say, like talking about personal responsibility and freedom, but he actually has a record and issue positions that apply these principles even-handedly, such as with the drug war and the military (and abortion, for that matter). I personally think there are other values that matter as well as those two, and freedom is much more complicated than just scaling back government across the board, but it can’t really be denied that Johnson is more or less the embodiment of what Republicans say they believe, and he’s completely unacceptable because of it.

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Earlier, I wrote that Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty were about equivalent in terms of unpopularity in their home states. I was wrong. Santorum’s net favorability is actually higher in Pennsylvania than T-Paw’s is in Minnesota. In fact, aside from Gary Johnson, all of the Republicans in the race are disliked in their own states. And Gary Johnson is not going to win.
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