A leftover from last night. I’m not even going to give you the transcript; it has to be seen to be believed. Skip to 7:55 below and marvel as Gary Johnson and Bill Weld can’t come up with one critical word between them about the former and current nominees from America’s statist party. CNN gave them a full hour to introduce themselves to American voters who don’t like Clinton or Trump, of which there are many, and they whiffed on something as softball as word association. You can practically hear the groaning from libertarian Matt Welch as he laments a missed opportunity:
You are less than 10 minutes into the most important introduction to voters of this campaign, one in which differentiating yourself from the existing big-party competition is kind of the point, and you can’t do any better than this?
Johnson has long and genuinely said that he doesn’t do personally negative campaigning, and on his effective days he then pivots to talking about his opponents’ various terrible policies, which allows him to be simultaneously nice and cuttingly honest, and away we go. The “wonderful public servant” phrase for Hillary was recited as if in a hostage video; he could have said “the best example of why we shouldn’t measure policies by their stated intentions” in about the same amount of breath.
Welch thinks the error here was in Johnson and Weld straining to seem “nice,” which isn’t a terrible strategy when you remember that the two major-party candidates this year are widely viewed as dirtbags. But I don’t know. Johnson has winked at anti-Trump conservatives periodically during the campaign but he seems to be betting bigger on Bernie Sanders’s large idealistic progressive minority, emphasizing in interviews how very much he and Bernie have in common. The flattery for Obama and Clinton may be part of that scheme, calculating that even Sanders fans who dislike Hillary will appreciate some rhetoric aimed at showing that Johnson and Weld have sympathy for the left and its leaders. It’s a “we’re not that different, you and I” type of signaling. Although even so, as Welch says, how do you fail to at least highlight policy differences? Praise Obama’s immigration policies if you must but criticize his imperious use of executive power to achieve them. Attack him for intervening too aggressively overseas but not aggressively enough at home in reducing criminal penalties for minor drug offenses. Steal Bernie’s line of attack against Hillary and lambaste her for being too comfortable with Wall Street. This isn’t hard. What were they thinking?
Exit question: Does this guy really want Republican votes? Are you sure?