Gary Johnson is running for president.
If you weren't aware of Johnson's candidacy, don't be too hard on yourself or consider yourself an ill-informed news consumer. There's a reason you may not know that the former governor of New Mexico is seeking the Republican presidential nomination: He's been all but ignored by the mainstream media.
When Johnson has appeared in polls surveying voters on their top picks for the GOP nomination, results have indicated that he is just as popular, if not more so, than fellow nominee hopefuls Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Herman Cain. In a CNN poll that surveyed voters on August 24 and 25, for example, he achieved 2 percent of the vote, tying Cain and edging out Huntsman and Santorum.
Despite these results, which candidates use to qualify for prominent debates on news networks like CNN and FOX, Johnson has been excluded from nearly every debate featuring Republican candidates, including a Fox News-sponsored event in Orlando, Fla. on September 22.
The Importance of Social Conservatism
Johnson isn't like most of the other Republican candidates. He's not socially conservative, demonstrated by his support of LGBT rights, marijuana legalization, and women's right to choose. That sets him apart from much of the rest of the pack, who invoke commitment to their religious faith when discussing LGBT rights and other social issues.
Johnson believes that he is being excluded from debates because he is not socially conservative. His candidacy, therefore, would complicate the media-driven narrative that Republican politicians are anti-gay, pro-establishment people motivated by hard-nosed conservative perspectives on social issues.
That lack of diversity in the GOP debates, he argues, results in a lack of a voice for people like him - fiscal conservatives who advocate for small government.
"I'm trying to give a voice to what I think is the majority of the Republican party," Johnson told The Bilerico Project. The majority of Republicans, I believe, are not social conservatives - and yet all of the candidates in the debates are social conservatives. I am not a social conservative, and I think that segment [of Republicans who are not socially conservative] is not being represented at all."
Johnson's Positions on LGBT Issues
Johnson especially believes that the most prominent GOP candidates are misrepresenting the Republican party with regard to their stances on LGBT rights.
"I may be wrong on this," he said, "but I'm under the belief that the majority of Republicans would in fact be very tolerant of LGBT rights."
Johnson largely supports LGBT rights; according to Marriage Equality USA's chart on candidates' stances on LGBT positions - which Johnson approved - he is as supportive of the rights of LGBT people as President Barack Obama. Both Johnson and Obama are currently listed as "maybe" on the chart when it comes to "full marriage" rights. Johnson said his "maybe" on "full marriage" rights stems from his belief that marriage is predominantly a state's issue. He said he could see that belief changing.
"I've been saying that this is a state's issue, but maybe it's not," he said. "What I think may come under the purview of the federal government is that this is a civil rights issue, so I'm open to the debate. That's what I'm really open to: the notion that this is a civil rights issue that should be dealt with at a federal level."
While speaking with The Bilerico Project, Johnson corrected one of his LGBT-specific positions, changing his "maybe" under "No LGBT Job Discrimination" for private civilian workers to "yes."
"I do not believe that businesses should be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation," he said. "I've always supported the notion of gay rights in the workplace, and I would hold the same position for privates [as I do for federal] workers."
Looking Beyond the Two-Party System?
Johnson said that it is challenging to see his mostly-Libertarian perspective too often marginalized by the broader Republican party. But despite this frustration, he said he doesn't see himself separating from the GOP because of the United States' current political system.
"I've been a Republican my whole life, and I plan to remain one because I believe that it's important to get elected," he said. "I absolutely support the whole notion of third parties, but the reason I'm in the Republican party is to get elected. I was able to serve two terms as governor of New Mexico, and I really think that my term was highlighted by the notions of liberty and freedom and personal responsibility and fiscal conservatism. I really think that's what resonates with the majority of Americans."
For now, Johnson plans to focus his efforts on campaigning in New Hampshire. That effort, he hopes, will allow him to make a strong showing during the state's primary on February 1, 2012. Attracting attention in New Hampshire, he believes, may be enough to put him back on the map and finally get him on stage to square off with the other GOP candidates.