Moments before Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson joined Purdue president Mitch Daniels onstage at a gymnasium in the France A. Córdova Recreational Sports Center Sept. 13, a massive crowd of college students and enthusiastic supporters began to chant in unison. Starting slow but finishing strong, their cries echoed off the gymnasium walls.
“Let Gary debate! Let Gary debate!”
The audience’s chant is emblematic of a growing desire—especially among college students and millennials–to be given another option in the upcoming presidential election. A former Republican Governor of a blue state, Gary Johnson believes he has what it takes to crush the two-party system once and for all.
In an open conversation and subsequent question-and-answer session with the crowd, Johnson discussed his diverse opinions on everything from immigration and marijuana legalization to gun rights and foreign policy. He emphasized his belief in decreasing government spending and his desire to guide the United States to adopt a less-interventionist foreign policy.
“I do believe that I reflect what most millennials believe,” Johnson said. “I believe most millennials recognize that government is not the answer to everything. I think most millennials recognize choice in life, freedom, liberty: I should be able to decide anything in life that I want as long as I don’t harm others. And I think that millennials are particularly in-tune with these military interventions, because you are the ones on the line right now.”
“Millennials recognize crony capitalism,” he added. “I want to say crony capitalism and free trade are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. They’re opposites. Crony capitalism is when government picks winners and losers. Governments shouldn’t pick winners and losers; that’s the free market.”
With numerous polls suggesting up to 20% of Americans would vote for an independent this election,(Source) there is no hiding the nation’s discontent with the candidates presented by the Democratic party and the GOP in the upcoming election. Johnson is currently polling at 11% among Hoosier voters. Sophomore Caroline Crosslin chose to handle her exasperation with the two-party system by turning her attention to Gary Johnson.
“I feel like the other two candidates are incompetent, and he’ll do the best for the country,” Crosslin said. “I can’t see myself voting for Trump or for Hillary. Hillary Clinton is a liar and Donald Trump is a racist.”
A surprising number of Johnson supporters were previously supporters of candidate Bernie Sanders before the Vermont senator lost the Democratic primary and endorsed Clinton. Johnson explained that despite their obvious differences—he is a pro-free market capitalist and Senator Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist—the governor said he shares more in common with Sanders than most people might initially think.
“With Bernie and myself, we agree on so many things,” Johnson said. “On social issues, on the fact that crony capitalism is alive and well, that you can buy favoritism. Let’s stop dropping bombs. That’s Bernie.”
On the other hand, many young Americans have pledged support for Johnson due to sharing many of his ideological beliefs beyond social issues.
“In terms of personal liberty, people should be able to exercise their own pursuit of happiness,” said Ph.D. student Paul Branham. “As long as I’m not infringing upon someone else’s rights, there doesn’t need to be a lot of government oversight.”
“He really stands for small government,” Branham added. “The typical tagline for him is he’s fiscally conservative and socially liberal, and that’s just something I can identify with very well.”
Before entering the gymnasium, sophomore Alicia Taylor beamed as she showed off a Gadsden flag she proudly draped across her shoulders as a cape. Taylor said that policy by policy, Johnson’s stances practically mirror her own.
“I’m what you would call a card-carrying libertarian,” Taylor said. “I like Gary for that reason, but also I feel like he’s really down-to-earth as a presidential candidate. Trump is a celebrity, he can’t really appeal to the American blue collar class…And Hillary has been a politician for so long, I’ve kind of come to look at her like a mosquito: Just another blood-sucking politician.”
Without entry into national debates alongside Hillary and Trump, winning the presidency will never happen, Johnson said. He compared the struggle of overcoming the divisiveness and financial crises gripping our nation today to another passion of his: Climbing mountains.
“It’s all the same struggle,” Johnson said. “One foot in front of the other, that’s how we all live…It’s how we face adversity that defines who we are.”