Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

The Gary Johnson Effect Revisited: Is the Libertarian Hurting Hillary?


Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Back in May, I speculated that the conventional wisdom that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson would disproportionately impact Donald Trump was wrong, and that Johnson was instead pulling support from both Trump and Hillary Clinton in almost equal measure.

Fast-forward roughly four months, and it would appear the major candidates are realizing this as well — especially Clinton, whose campaign is now reportedly worried about the effect Johnson may have in a handful of important swing states:

…[A]s national and battleground polls tighten and Democrats’ hand-wringing grows more urgent, operatives both within and allied with Clinton’s political operation who are looking around to explain Trump’s new polling strength are growing increasingly wary of the former New Mexico governor. His appeal with young and libertarian-leaning liberals, they worry, could create a growing headache for them in western states like Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona — if not yet reason to believe he could hand the states to Trump.


Clinton has maintained a steady lead in both New Mexico and Colorado throughout the year, but her strategists in Colorado — once considered a core swing state — have been warning that Johnson could pull from her support there for months. While that hasn’t happened, recent polling shows that Nevada is still a neck-and-neck race: Clinton leads by less than a point there according to the RealClearPolitics average.

“My understanding is that Trump has remained fairly steady and the transition recently has been the Clinton campaign slipping in some of the polls, and where that happens it seems like [Johnson] or ‘none of the above’ is on the rise,” said [former Gov. Bob] Miller of his home state, where the race has appeared to tighten slightly in recent weeks. “They’ve got to really work hard to make sure that the vote gets out. A lot of it is independents, so she’s got to project to those voters as well.”

Accordingly, Clinton’s current battleground organizing surge designed to drive base turnout is her team’s primary answer to any concerns that Johnson’s causing her too much trouble.

Anxiety that the Libertarian may swing the race to Trump may not be limited to the Democrats either. Over the weekend, CNN’s Carl Bernstein suggested that the Libertarian vice presidential nominee, Bill Weld, might be considering dropping off the ticket and announcing support for Clinton in an effort to deny Donald Trump the White House. Given comments Weld made to the Boston Herald earlier this month, such a move would not necessarily come as a complete surprise:

Former Gov. William F. Weld says a Donald Trump presidency frightens him more than a Hillary Clinton administration — and he plans to target the brash billionaire more in his Libertarian vice presidential campaign.

“I certainly plan to focus my analysis on Mr. Trump rather than Mrs. Clinton,” Weld said in a sit-down interview with the Herald yesterday.


Weld said he and Libertarian presidential hopeful Gary Johnson will be “matter of fact” with “predictions of doom about the economy” on Clinton, but was direct when asked which potential administration scares him most.

“I think a President Donald Trump,” said Weld.

Nevertheless, Weld quickly responded by denying CNN’s report, as did Gary Johnson earlier this morning. This has in turn fueled counter-speculation that Bernstein — a Clinton biographer — might be spreading rumors about Weld in order to hurt the Libertarian candidates to the benefit of Clinton, who, as was noted above, could stand much to gain from a collapse in Johnson’s and Weld’s support.

Regardless of the truth in this story, however, it is clear that campaign strategists are beginning to seriously consider the possibility that the Libertarian ticket may impact the 2016 race in unexpected ways — even in ways perhaps advantageous to Donald Trump.

Paul Dupont is the managing editor for

Paul Dupont

Paul Dupont is editor of

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