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Why a former governor thinks 2016 could be a third-party year

June 6, 2016 at 7:45 PM EDT

Why a former governor thinks 2016 could be a third-party year

With the general election likely to feature party nominees of unprecedented unpopularity, third-party contenders such as Libertarian candidate and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson are looking to reap big gains with a dissatisfied electorate. Johnson joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his platform, how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump fall short and what he hopes to achieve in the election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, back to politics.

This year’s presidential election will likely feature, as we just heard, two major-party nominees who currently have some of the highest unfavorability ratings of any such candidates in recent decades.

As a result, some voters may take a look at the nominee chosen last week by the Libertarian Party, the former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson.

I spoke with him a short time ago.

Governor Gary Johnson, welcome.

GARY JOHNSON, Libertarian Presidential Candidate: Judy, such an honor to be here. Watching you on television forever, and here I am.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we thank you for being here.


JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to talk to you about Libertarian.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What you believe, smaller government.

You said you believe in a 20 percent cut across the board in government spending.

GARY JOHNSON: That would be a target, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The target. And you would phase out Social Security.

What else would you eliminate?

GARY JOHNSON: You know, no, I wouldn’t phase out Social Security. I think that Social Security is absolutely fixable.

There are some reforms, though, to Social Security, raising the retirement age. You could have a very fair means-testing. You could also be able to self-direct funds. By being able to do that, people, lower-income, middle-income, they could actually pass on the asset of Social Security to their heirs by doing that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you also would clearly leave some government functions. You would have a — you would defend the country.

GARY JOHNSON: Well, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you have talked about law enforcement. You have talked about some other safety functions of government.

So let’s — let me try to get specific.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Air traffic control.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Seat belts. Would you require seat belts? Would people be banned from texting while driving? I mean, what kinds of things…

GARY JOHNSON: Well, as president of the United States, that’s what I would get elected, I would just like people to believe that I am going to sign on to any legislation that’s going to make things better and that I’m going to veto any legislation that at the end of the day would just add time and money to our lives and wouldn’t really accomplish anything.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But when you say less government is better, today, government requires things like seat belts, like…

GARY JOHNSON: And, of course, that’s all local. That’s all state initiative. And, you know, I buckle up, myself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Food. What about food safety requirements? Those come from the Food and Drug Administration.

GARY JOHNSON: Well, so, food safety — 20 percent reduction in federal spending, I don’t think, is the end of the world. I think that that is very accomplishable, and that’s a target, Judy.

So count on me when it comes to legislation from Congress to actually make government more efficient, but not neglecting the fundamental role of safety. Government exists to protect us against individuals, groups, corporations, foreign governments that would do us harm. In the context of food safety…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you have also talked about eliminating the federal income tax, so how would you pay for the services that you kept?

GARY JOHNSON: Well, in the case of what I’m advocating is — and, by the way, I’m going to sign on to anything that reduces taxes, simplifies taxes. So, flat tax, hey, count on my support.

But, ideally, we would eliminate income tax, we would eliminate corporate tax. Because we would do that, we could abolish the IRS, and replace it all with one federal consumption tax.

Now, I suggest that people look at the FairTax as a template for how to dot the I’s and cross the T’s on accomplishing one federal consumption tax. If we abolish corporate tax in this country, I believe tens of millions of jobs would get created. Imagine life without having to comply with the IRS.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn you now to foreign policy.

There’s so much to ask you about. But you are noninterventionist, but you are not isolationist. I guess the question is, if the U.S. — if, say, Vladimir Putin were to go into a country in Eastern Europe, should the U.S. join NATO and stand up for at the country that the Russians went into?

GARY JOHNSON: Well, first of all, we have many treaties, many treaties with foreign countries where we are obligated to defend their borders. And these were treaties…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you would honor those?

GARY JOHNSON: Well, these are treaties that were not ratified by Congress.

These have been presidential treaties, military treaties. We need to involve Congress in all of these decisions, which they have abdicated really to the executive, to the military. Right now, Russia is stretched economically. Do we really want to go in and defend Baltic states against Russian aggression?

Do we really want to go to war over that? I think it’s wrong to project what you would or wouldn’t do given any situation, because that’s kind of drawing a line in the sand. And that’s one of the problems with President Obama has had, is he draws lines in the sand that get crossed and then no action.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Johnson, when you have been asked whether you would take more votes away as a Libertarian Party nominee from Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, you have said you believe it would be equal.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But you have been more critical with Donald Trump.

You concurred when your vice presidential running mate, Bill Weld, compared what Trump has said about Mexicans and Muslims. He’s compared it to Hitler and Nazi Germany. Is there anything that Hillary Clinton has done that you would put in that category?

GARY JOHNSON: Not in that category.

But, at the end of the day, I believe that Hillary Clinton is going to grow government, that government is all about giving out things. Bill Clinton was in New Mexico talking about free electricity to the Native Americans. Well, nothing is free. Somebody pays for that. So, I believe Hillary is going to grow government. And I don’t believe…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You think that’s as bad as the kinds of things Donald Trump…

GARY JOHNSON: Well, it’s going to raise taxes.

And I think Hillary has also been the architect, one of the premier, primary architects of our foreign policy that has made the world less safe, not more safe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you think that’s as bad as what you have heard from Mr. Trump during…

GARY JOHNSON: Well, I really take exception with what Donald Trump says with regard to immigration, with regard to killing the families of Muslim terrorists.

He’s going to bring back water-boarding or worse. He’s for free trade, but he’s going to implement tariffs, on and on and on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Gary Johnson, we’re going to leave it there, the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party.

Thank you very much.

GARY JOHNSON: Judy, so nice to be with you.

I’m the only third-party candidate that’s going to be on the ballot in all 50 states.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thanks for pointing that out.