The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld's CNN Town Hall Last Night

 

Johnson was given screen time on Wednesday by CNN, as they hosted both Johnson and his VP, Bill Weld, for a Libertarian town hall. I was excited to watch it, to be sure. After the dumpster fire-duo that is Clinton and Trump, Johnson was an obvious choice since he’s not insane, and tickles my Libertarian sensibilities.

And last night, I’m happy to say he didn’t disappoint…too much.

Let me begin by saying that this town hall was far and away better than the first one. Johnson and Weld may have been too kind to their opponents, namely Clinton, who for all intents and purposes should be an easy target for a small government guy like Johnson.

This was not the case this time. While still maintaining his penchant for avoiding negative campaigning, Johnson tackled Clinton’s issues like a pro, citing how she’s “beholden” to many people and groups from all the promises she made. When the subject people finding Clinton untrustworthy came up, Johnson simply responded “I totally get it.”

Weld smartly kept his mouth shut about his friendship with Clinton this time.

But he didn’t hold back on Trump, calling him “a showman,” and a “pied piper.” This was expounding on his previous comments on Trump in the first town hall, where Weld called him a “huckster.”

“Maybe he should consider another line of work. Anything but the President of the United States,” said Weld to laughter from the audience.

In terms of Johnson keeping to style of campaigning, he couldn’t have performed better in terms of tackling Clinton. He hit all the points that both the right and left can’t stand about her, while never resorting to attacking Clinton on a personal level. Without sounding too suggestive, it was rather presidential.

Weld’s unleashing on Trump, and having a laugh at his expense balanced it out. Fewer and fewer like Trump, and Trump’s love of below the belt attacks was answered by Weld in kind, causing a moment when the duo really connected with the audience on a personal level. It showed that Weld is not afraid to sling mud, and is not as nice as Johnson is.

I wasn’t too concerned with the issues of marijuana and prostitution legalization. I felt this was only something that would be asked at a Libertarian town hall, and of all the questions they could have asked the two, fringe issues like these seemed like a waste of time. That said, Johnson’s favoring leaving prostitution up the states, and putting research and study into marijuana, and de-scheduling it as a Class 1 narcotic, was a solid stance to take.

For the most part, Johnson hit all the right chords, especially for people on the right like me. He has zero intention of illegalizing semi-automatic rifles. They’re willing to spend money to help combat ISIS at home, but not abroad where we sometimes do more damage than not. He wants to get rid of the Department of Education, and Weld actually has an alternative plan that works. His fiscal conservatism is something that attracts me like a moth to a flame, and both pointing out that they were the most fiscally conservative governors elected, and reelected in blue states is a big draw. And I liked the idea that he acknowledges the issues between police and black communities, pointing toward some attention to criminal justice reform.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. For a Libertarian, Johnson’s stance on religious liberty is remarkably un-Libertarian.

Johnson reiterated that he wanted to strike a balance with religious and LGBT peooples, while saying that he doesn’t want to allow discrimination. If anything, RFRA laws are the balance that Johnson is looking for. These laws don’t allow people to refuse service based on race, religion, ideology, etc, but they do allow a business to refuse to perform a certain service if said service requires they violate their religious, or core beliefs.

What Johnson came off as suggesting, is that these laws violate the liberty of the customer, and therefor should be done away with so that nobody is discriminated against. What Johnson either doesn’t see, or won’t acknowledge, is that doing this forces the business owner to perform a service by government mandate. As a Libertarian, this doesn’t fly.

But Johnson has addressed this before. During the Libertarian party debates, Austin Petersen posed the question of a Jewish baker being forced to bake a Nazi cake, to which Johnson replied “That would be my contention. Yes.” It caused something of an uproar, and caused Johnson to write an open letter addressing it later for clarification.

“To be clear, anti-discrimination laws do not, and cannot, abridge fundamental First Amendment rights. I know of no one who reasonably disagrees. In the highly unlikely event that a Nazi would demand that a Jewish baker decorate a cake with a Nazi symbol, the courts, common sense, and common decency — not to mention the First Amendment — all combine to protect that baker from having to do so. It’s not an issue, except when distorted for purposes of gotcha politics.
Does a public bakery have to sell a cake to a Nazi? Probably so. Does that bakery have to draw a swastika on it? Absolutely not. And that’s the way it should be.”

So Johnson’s real stance seems to be that the RFRA laws are redundant, and can be abused. That 1A, and “common decency” will keep the courts from ruling in favor of the Nazi forcing the Jewish baker to bake the cake.

But that’s not true. Courts are already coming down on Christian businesses for refusing to bake cakes specifically for gay wedding ceremonies. Johnson is off here. If he wants to make sure people are free, he needs to reign in government by keeping it out of the individual’s right to decide for him or herself.

That glaring disagreement aside, Johnson did well. He oftentimes came off as rambling, like he was trying to get across three different thoughts at once, but when he was on, he was on. I was particularly impressed with his reasoning as to why Bernie voters should now back him. He was succinct, direct, and truthful about his contrasts and similarities. Given more time – and I feel the town hall should have been longer – I’m sure Johnson would have found his groove and came off as smoothly as Weld.

Weld proved to be a more confident speaker. He gave off an air of charm and charisma that his partner lacked from time to time. In fact, I felt like I was watching a Libertarian version of Joe Biden in demeanor. Whenever Weld opened his mouth, he sounded like a man who knew what he was doing, even if you disagreed with him.

Gary Johnson may or may not make the debate stage. Head of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf, has said he might bend the rules a bit to allow Johnson on stage, but on how much he’s willing to bend, he wasn’t exactly forthcoming.

Johnson continues to be a danger in statewide polling, especially in certain swing states, so it would seem prudent to get him up on a stage where the others can defend themselves against him, and he can try to win more. But I digress.

This town hall should do some head turning, especially for independents looking for a home. And RFRA laws aside, Johnson was able to remind me why I left the party to vote for him.

Is he perfect? Not at all. Who is? If there is a perfect politician, I’m sure he’ll appear in a blurry picture at some point, roaming a forested hillside. Johnson and Weld both have some issues that I certainly would like to do without, but with that said, he’s the best choice I’ve seen.

I’ll be casting my vote for him this November.