As promised, tonight I will briefly summarize the case for each of the four Presidential candidates who have run significant national campaigns and are on the ballot in enough states to be elected. I will attempt to be as impartial as possible in my evaluation of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. I will do this in alphabetical order, beginning with Hillary Clinton, and continuing with Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and Donald Trump. I will then offer my endorsement.
Hillary Clinton-50 states plus DC-538 Electoral Votes
Hillary Clinton has been a fixture in the world of American politics for a quarter of a century. She first rose to prominence during her husband Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign, where her role in defending her husband from charges of having an extramarital affair was critical in salvaging his candidacy. She would continue to play a significant role in policy during his Presidency and was particularly involved in developing a health care proposal which would generate strong opposition and was defeated in Congress. She continued to stand by her husband during numerous accusations of wrongdoing and throughout his impeachment and trial.
In 2000 she ran for the US Senate from the state of New York was was elected and reelected in 2006. In 2008 she sought the nomination of the Democrat party for President and, though widely seen as the front runner, she would be defeated by Barack Obama. Resigning her seat in Congress, she would join his administration as Secretary of State, where she would serve until 2013. She would again seek her party’s nomination this year and, despite a stronger than expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, would win the nomination. Her running mate is Tim Kaine, a first term Senator from Virginia who also served as that state’s Governor for 4 years.
The strongest case in favor of Secretary Clinton is her experience. It is hard to imagine who would know more about the day to day requirements of the office than a former First Lady. In addition, she has experience in the legislative branch with her time in the Senate and, in serving as Secretary of State, an intimate knowledge of foreign policy. Her Presidency would likely continue most of the policies of the current administration and there is great value in continuity, particularly in a time of relative peace and prosperity. While hardly charismatic, she most often appears calm, controlled and confident.
That being said, Mrs. Clinton has her share of foibles. While likely exaggerated by her political enemies, issues of corruption, deceit and incompetence have dogged her throughout her political career, just as they did her husband. Her time in the Senate was pretty nondescript and her time as Secretary of State is marked by a number of questionable policy decisions. It is also pretty clear that she was, at the very least, negligent in safeguarding classified information and it is hard to know exactly how that may have negatively impacted the nation. That being her only executive experience, it calls into mind her judgement and that may be the most important quality in any leader. Her Presidency would likely be a divisive one as it is likely that a significant number of Americans will simply never accept her and she will almost certainly face Congressional investigations into her prior actions and likely criminal indictments of some of her closest confidants.
Gary Johnson-50 states plus DC-538 Electoral Votes
A two term former Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson was also the nominee of the Libertarian Party in 2012. From modest roots, he founded a small construction business, which became one of the largest in the State. In 1994, he was a dark horse candidate for Governor but won the Republican nomination and ultimately the general election. His term was marked by fiscal conservatism and frequent clashes with the state legislature over spending. He used the veto power far more frequently than most. He was also known for his controversial support of marijuana decriminalization and school vouchers. Reelected in 1998, he retired from active politics after his term ended in 2003.
He returned to national politics when he sought the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination. Gaining little support for his socially liberal policies, he decided to leave the party and seek the Libertarian nomination instead. He won the nomination and earned over a million votes nationally, the largest vote total of any Libertarian candidate but that was only 1% of the vote. While genial and honest, his long shot campaign never caught fire and was largely ignored by the national media.
During the past few years, Johnson became part of a legal marijuana company and completed the impressive feat of having climbed the highest mountain peak on every continent. He has admitted to having used marijuana within the past few years, stating that he prefers edibles and that he has used it for medicinal purposes. He is widower, his wife having died unexpectedly in 2006, but has a fiance named Kate Prusack. He remained active in the Libertarian Party and decided to once again seek his party’s nomination. After a spirited campaign, he won renomination by a narrow margin. His running mate is former Massachusetts Governor William Weld.
Johnson’s greatest strength is his honesty and executive experience. He comes across as a genuine person and, while his campaign has been short on policy specifics, his combination of fiscal conservatism and social tolerance reflects a refreshing perspective, one that cuts through the traditional liberal/conservative divide. Both he and Weld were successful Republican Governors in generally Democrat states. They have shown the ability to work with member of both parties and would be more likely to be able to bridge the gap between the parties, creating an administration of national unity.
Johnson’s biggest problem, outside of running as a member of Third Party, is his intellectual laziness. He often seems distracted and has failed to be able to answer simple policy questions a President needs to know. When offering a radical change of policy, it is helpful to appear committed to principles and Johnson often seems at odds with his own party and his own running mate when it comes to explaining himself. Given his strong support for drug policy liberalization, it is unfortunate that he often comes across as a bit of stereotypical pothead. While he deserves to have been taken more seriously by the national media, he repeatedly shot himself in the foot when he had the opportunity.
Jill Stein-44 states plus DC-480 Electoral Votes
Dr. Jill Stein is a physician and this is her second Presidential run as the nominee of the Green Party. A native of Chicago, she attended Harvard University and received both her BA and MD degrees. She became concerned about the health impact of environmental contamination and began to engage in grass roots activism towards that end. She became active in the Green Party after becoming disenchanted with the Democratic Party. She ran for Governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and 2010 as well as several other smaller offices but was not successful.
In late 2011, Stein announced her intention to seek the Green Party Presidential nomination. She was successful and received just under a half a million votes in the General Election. She sought her party’s nomination again this year and was successful. Her running mate is human rights activist Ajama Baraka.
Her greatest strength is her integrity and commitment to her principles. As many of her campaign themes echo those of Bernie Sanders, she has a large and sympathetic audience for her message. She is a big proponent of campaign finance reform, structural changes in our banking system and more corporate accountability. She is, far and way, the biggest real “outsider” seeking the office and is unafraid to speak her mind and challenge the status quo. Like many Independent voters, she sees little difference between the two major parties and their candidates. Her election would send shock waves through Washington and even a strong showing would force more attention to her issues.
Stein is neither a current nor former elected official and neither is her running mate. That is usually seen as a minimum qualification to be President. Therefore, the number of voters who will even consider voting for her is relatively small. Her positions are pretty extreme and even further outside the political mainstream than that of Trump or Johnson. Americans have not normally been very sympathetic towards socialism and her policies read like those of a democratic socialist.
(Note: Stein is an official write-in candidate in the states of Georgia, Indiana and North Carolina. She is not on the ballot nor qualified as a write-in candidate in Oklahoma, Nevada and South Dakota.)
Donald Trump-50 states plus DC-538 Electoral Votes
There has probably never been a Presidential candidate who has been more controversial than Donald Trump. Beloved by many, feared and hated by others, both his life and his short but meteoric political career are the stuff of reality TV.
Trump first came to national prominence during the 1980’s. His high profile real estate deals, good looks and glamorous lifestyle attracted attention first in New York but eventually throughout the country. He co-authored a popular business book and opened numerous apartment buildings, hotels and casinos, most emblazoned with his name. While his business acumen and ethics have been questioned, his skill at self promotion was nearly unequaled. He became a popular figure and one never afraid to speak his mind.
While he flirted with a Presidential run on a couple of occasions, most notably a brief dalliance with the remnants of Ross Perot’s Reform Party in 2000, he decided against it. He was able to parlay his fame into television commercials and eventually the very successful TV program The Apprentice. He surprised experts when he first announced he would seek the 2016 Republican nomination and, despite facing 16 other candidates, he was able to use free media and a populist message to take the party’s nomination. His running mate is Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who also served 6 terms in Congress.
Trump’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. He is not afraid to say whatever he thinks, no matter who might be offended. In an era of political correctness, Trump is the antidote. His argument that precisely because he has been a part of the political system and has used it to his advantage, he is uniquely aware of how it needs to be changed, rings strangely true. For his supporters, the idea that he will go to Washington and “burn it down” is absolutely invigorating. And that message is one that has always appealed to American voters. With a significant number of Americans feeling like the country needs change, Trump is the most likely candidate to be able to take advantage of that sentiment.
Trump is the most polarizing political figure of my lifetime. Whether intentional or not, his rhetoric often verges on racism and xenophobia. His words and deeds seem to reflect a lack of respect for women which is disturbing. If he really means some of the things he says, he comes across as scary and divisive. If he is just mouthing what he believes his audience wants to hear, then he comes across as a demagogue. With a lack of support within the establishment of his own party, it is hard to imagine how he would govern. His closest advisers are a rag tag group where political opportunism seems to be the only constant. His thin skin and tendency to treat his opponents as enemies is problematic.
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I will proudly cast my ballot this coming Tuesday (no early voting for this traditionalist) for the ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld. Though a registered Republican for a number of years, my distaste for the current state of the party and its eventual nominee led me to change my registration to Libertarian within the last couple of months. I am aware that the Governor’s chance of winning is about the same as my chance of hitting the Powerball jackpot but I take a longer-term view of things. My first posting on this blog was clear in my desire to build a consensus for liberty, finding common cause, not only with big-L Libertarians but like-minded Republicans, Democrats and Independents. A strong showing and particularly one in which he gets at least 5% of the vote would send an undeniable message to the political establishment. While the Johnson campaign has been, in my opinion, a missed opportunity, it still provides an opportunity to register my disgust with the choice of Clinton & Trump. These are the two most disliked and distrusted candidates in our recent history. Imagine any Presidential candidate in either of the two major parties in the past 40 years and ask yourself if either Clinton or Trump would have beaten them. I can’t think of one. And I just don’t think these are fundamentally good people. Do you actually believe that, if they had a chance, either one of them wouldn’t push a hypothetical button that would both guarantee their election but cause the death of a million people? I believe either of them would. Whatever his flaws, I don’t believe Gary Johnson would. He is a fundamentally decent human being which, sadly, probably disqualifies him for the office he seeks.
My greatest fear in this election is not the candidates nor the outcome. No, my greatest fear is that this campaign has divided our country so deeply that the wounds may never heal. Whatever your feelings about the candidates, do not take out your hatred on their supporters. If we see our neighbors as our enemies, then we had might as well figure out the best way to break this country apart because there is no longer any way we can stay together.
On that cheerful note, I will remind you that my election predictions will be coming over the next two days. I have a degree in Political Science and even a few years of graduate school so it is almost like reading the ramblings of an expert. Join me tomorrow if you will and be sure to share this blog with your friends!