On November 8, Americans will elect either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as their next president. In a two-party system, this is the choice in 2016. But there are two other candidates who are trying to get a shot at the electorate’s attention, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. According to pollsters, the chances of either third-party candidate of becoming president are less than 0.1 percent. Yet, in a poll last month, over 30 percent of young voters ages 18-29 said they are considering voting for a third-party candidate. And sure, while Green Party candidate Ralph Nader’s Florida votes probably tipped the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush, just dismissing third-party candidates as spoilers for Clinton or Trump is too easy. The impact of third-party candidates depend on their messages – and their seriousness (or lack thereof).
GARY JOHNSON: Gary Johnson, 63, is the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president, his second run after 2012. Before entering politics he was a businessman who became a two-term Republican governor of New Mexico (1995-2003) running on a business-friendly, small government and anti-tax platform. Johnson made national headlines for advocating the decriminalization of marijuana, something that Republican politicians usually oppose. He said that he stopped smoking pot in April so he could run on “all cylinders” during the election campaign.
Yet, Johnson has consistently declined in the polls as Election Day is coming closer. His highest national numbers have been at around ten percent, they now stand at six percent. His numbers are much higher, though, in his home state as well as other states in the Rocky Mountains west. Johnson is on the ballot in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
After an unsuccessful attempt at clinching the Republican nomination in 2012, Johnson declared his candidacy for the nomination of the Libertarian Party, which he received a few months later. The final results showed Johnson received 0.99 percent of the popular vote nationally, a total of 1,275,971 votes. This was the best score in the Libertarian Party’s history by raw vote number. In 2016, Johnson ran again and received the party’s nomination together with his running mate Bill Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts.
Johnson’s views have been described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal with a philosophy of limited government and military non-intervention. During the campaign, he said that he would simplify and reduce taxes, which he has done 14 times during his governorship in New Mexico. Johnson has advocated the “Fair Tax” as a template for tax reform. This proposal would abolish all federal income, corporate and capital gains taxes, and replace them with a 23 percent tax on consumption of all non-essential goods, while providing a regressive rebate to households according to household size, regardless of income level. He has argued that this would ensure transparency in the tax system and incentivize the private sector to create “tens of millions of jobs.”
In his campaign for the Libertarian Party nomination, he stated he opposed foreign wars and pledged to cut the military budget by 43 percent in his first term as president. He would cut the military’s overseas bases, uniformed and civilian personnel, research and development, intelligence, and nuclear programs, while maintaining an “invincible defense.” Johnson opposes US military involvement in the Middle East and has said that he does not believe Iran poses a military threat.
Yet, it was a question about the Syria that revealed Johnson’s astonishing degree of ignorance about basic foreign policy. The candidate drew widespread negative attention when he appeared on live television and was asked what he would do about Aleppo. “And what is Aleppo?”, Johnson asked back, looking lost and clueless. In a later response to charges that he was uninformed, Johnson said that he had “blanked,” that he did “understand the dynamics of the Syrian conflict,” and that he had thought that the reference to “Aleppo” was in relation to “an acronym, not the Syrian conflict”.
Watch Johnson’s ‘Aleppo moment’ here:
Johnson’s ‘Aleppo moment’ went viral and quickly became the flub ‘heard around the world’ as critics and voters alike realized the Libertarian candidate lacked basic geographical knowledge pertaining to one of the biggest conflicts to date. Unfortunately for Johnson, there were other ‘Aleppo moments’. In another TV appearance, this time with studio audience, he was unable to name a foreign leader he respects
Another ‘Aleppo moment’:
Johnson, at this point already the laughingstock of late night television hosts, apparently wanted to take it lightly by answering an interview question with his tongue stuck out at the reporter.
JILL STEIN: Jill Stein, 65, is the Green Party’s nominee for president, her second run after 2012. She also ran unsuccessfully for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and 2010. In late August, Stein polled at 3.2 percent nationally, but her polling average declined to less than two percent nationally by mid-October. Stein, who is only on the ballot in 45 states and the District of Columbia, has stated that the Democratic and Republican parties are “two corporate parties” that have converged into one. Concerned by the rise of fascism internationally and the rise of neoliberalism within the Democratic Party, she has said, “The answer to neofascism is stopping neoliberalism. Putting another Clinton in the White House will fan the flames of this right-wing extremism. We have known that for a long time, ever since Nazi Germany.”
The rise of Donald Trump, she has said, is proof that anything can happen this year. He has harnessed the anger of the “people who have been thrown under the bus,” she has said. “It’s not a mystery what is going on here,” she has said. “People have been savaged by a predatory economic and political system, and some are turning to Trump. Unfortunately, Trump is just more of the same.”
The Green Party plays no role on the national level and has no member of Congress. As of October 2016, The Green Party web site listed 86 office holders in the United States, the majority of them in California, several each in Illinois and Massachusetts. These included one mayor and one deputy mayor, and fourteen county or city commissioners (or equivalent). The others were members of school boards, clerks, and other local administrative bodies and positions.
Stein, a physician with a degree from Harvard University, advocates a “Green New Deal” in which renewable energy jobs would be created to address climate change and environmental issues. Stein said she would fund the start-up costs of the plan with a 30 percent reduction in the US military budget, returning US troops home, and increasing taxes on speculation in stock markets, offshore tax havens, and multi-million-dollar real estate, among other things. Stein also said that she supported a new 0.5 percent financial transaction tax on the sale of stocks, bonds, and derivatives, and an increase in the estate tax to “at least” 55 percent on inheritances over $3 million.
Critics have called many of Stein’s ideas “half-baked” and “unrelated to political reality”. Her flagship proposal is to cancel the $1.3 trillion in student debt through quantitative easing, which she described as a “magic trick” that would allow for up to $4 trillion in “free money”. Yet, the president has no authority to use that complicated monetary tool, only the Federal Reserve Bank has – something Stein didn’t or doesn’t know.
Stein also got caught in some foreign policy issues. Immediately after the UK voted to leave the European Union, Stein posted a celebratory statement on her website, saying the vote was “a victory for those who believe in the right of self-determination and who reject the pro-corporate, austerity policies of the political elites in the EU.” She later changed the statement (without indicating so), removing the word “victory” and adding the line, “Before the Brexit vote I agreed with Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas and the UK Greens who supported staying in the EU but working to fix it.”