It would jeopardize the media narrative that Republicans are stodgy old white men who can’t relate to the “MTV Generation.”
A wildly successful two-term governor of a swing state, Johnson was prohibited from joining all but two of the GOP presidential debates because of his poor showing in the polls.
His supporters point out, however, that Johnson’s name was often excluded from polls, which kept him out of the debates and in turn hurt his standing in the few polls he was included in. The Republican National Committee refused to help him break this cycle and, perhaps sensing an opportunity, Libertarian Party members began to encourage him to jump ship.
As Johnson put it in a letter to the RNC:
Even worse, the same organizations who organize the debates are the ones who conduct the polls upon which their invitations are based. In my case, most of those organizations do not include me in their polling.
The net result is that a handful of media executives have largely denied Republicans the opportunity to hear from a former governor whose record clearly merits their consideration
It’s even worse than that. There have been cases where Johnson’s name was dropped from polls after he began to hit their arbitrary threshold for the debates.
In a minute I’m going to put on my official TinFoil Hat. But first, let’s take a look at some of the legitimate factors that have hurt Johnson’s campaign.
1. Johnson has been out of office since 2003. (Romney and Gingrich have been household names for years.)
2. If you’re not in Washington, your team had better include some DC/NY insiders. (Huntsman and Pawlenty both stocked up on “big name” insiders.)
3. In the first few months of Johnson’s campaign, he led with his chin: medical marijuana. Now even though such hippies as William F. Buckley and half of the editorial staff at National Review have held similar positions, it’s bad branding for an unknown to talk about a ready-made punchline issue right out of the gate.
4. Ron Paul sucked the libertarian oxygen out of the room.
But Johnson still deserved a spot on the stage. In fact, all through the summer and fall he was typically polling at or near the numbers of Huntsman and Santorum – and even out-polled them in a few cases. Look at all of the 2′s, 1′s and 0′s in the Huntsman and Santorum columns in the RCP numbers from summer and fall.
My theory: The media and pop culture (and, by extension, the Democrats) have a vested interest in making sure that the image of Republicans comes strictly out of the “square” mold: Think Romney, Perry, Santorum and Bachmann. When your target audience is the youth demographic, it’s pretty easy to craft a punchline around the stereotypical “traditional” Republican candidate.
But younger people are being drawn to the Republican Party on the message of individual liberty. Twentysomethings are beginning to realize that the politicians who want to tell them what to eat, what to smoke, what to drive, what color to paint their houses and even what type of lightbulbs they can use all have one thing in common: They all have “D’s” after their names.
And as this generation enters the adult world after years of preparation and anticipation, they’re finding out that it’s the nannies in control of the Democrat party who want them to remain wards of the state. (The minority who welcome the warm embrace of statism get “Person of the Year” designation. The vast majority of the millennial generation – the ones who expect to be treated like the adults they are – are conveniently ignored.)
Who’s the biggest magnet for twentysomethings on the national stage? Ron Paul of course, the ceaseless advocate for small government and individual liberty.
But Ron Paul has already been marginalized by the media. Not only that, but he’s older, he has never won statewide office, and he’s always been considered to be on the fringe of the GOP. In other words, his message might resonate, but there’s no real “threat” there. (I’m paraphrasing others. It’s actually pretty fascinating to watch as the Paul campaign has worked to break through all of those barriers in their rise to the top of the polls.)
But Gary Johnson? Imagine Ron Paul’s message in a candidate with strong executive experience, who is an entrepreneurial success story, and who has a personal life that includes extreme sports, the Ironman Triathalon, an ascent of Mt. Everest and a descent of Tuckerman Ravine?
It could – conceivably – create the perfect storm: A “cool” Republican running a campaign on individual liberty.
And that’s too big a threat to the Democrats’ branding as the party of the “MTV Generation.”
(Finally, let’s also concede that there are elements within the Republican Party who would gladly see a pot-smoking, pro-choice candidate never see the light of day. If Johnson runs on the Libertarian ticket – and elements within the Republican establishment have aided and abetted his exclusion from the debates – the GOP will reap what it has sowed.)