This presidential election campaign is so beyond the pale of anything we’ve seen before (and that’s an understatement) — our electoral landscape is equally toxic and polarizing. Trump voters bait and name-call Clinton voters; Clinton voters return the favor.
But the third-party voter, those who still refuse to fall in line with either camp, feels a special brand of fire and invective these days. Weathering barrages of insults and irate accusations from friends, family and peers, to some they’ve become political pariahs, ideological outliers to be verbally tarred and feathered, consigned to the nether regions of barely civilized discourse.
Following the dictates of their conscience and convictions, third-party voters are brave souls, indeed — and realists who know their candidate has no chance of moving into the White House come January. Yet when you can’t stand either major-party nominee, what alternative do you have?
Recently, I reached out to three voters via email and phone to discuss the reasons why they’re voting for the ticket of the Libertarian Party, Gary Johnson and William Weld. Judging by the flak that these voters have received from their respective circles, it’s not a decision they’ve embarked upon lightly.
Ben, who lives in Wilmington, DE, is a self-described “serial entrepreneur” currently working as a waiter. He says he has been “negatively affected by the down economy” and is a registered Democrat. On Nov. 8, he’ll be voting for Johnson. He explained the reason for this switch:
I began to not love Hillary Clinton because of her ties with [agribusiness giant] Monsanto. She votes in favor of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) every time. …As someone who had intestinal issues as a kid, allowing our society to eat this food knowing what it does is inexcusable. That would have been enough for me, but, due to my doing research, worse things kept appearing.
Ben also cites the former Secretary of State’s response to the Benghazi attack, in which four Americans were killed, including the Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, the well-known email controversy and the Clinton Foundation corruption charges. As for Trump, after he mocked a disabled journalist on TV, Ben never entertained any thought of voting for the GOP presidential nominee.
He has other objections to the real estate mogul-slash-erstwhile reality-TV host.
My Mom lives in Atlantic City and she has spoken to many who have had very bad business dealings with Trump. Trump has promised to rebuild or ‘Make it Great Again’ three times, including this time. There was [the failed casino deal in] Gary, Indiana. [There was] Atlantic City and he devastated the town, and now, this presidential run. What makes anyone think that this time is different?
Linda (not her real name) is an advertising sales executive in NYC, and she is also voting for Johnson, even though she’s a registered Republican. Her reasons are clear and to the point:
I can’t vote for Trump because he is a horrible person. I don’t think he’s competent. I still think he’s in cahoots with the Clintons and doesn’t really want to be president.
Linda says this is the first time she’s voted for a third-party candidate.
I have been told it’s a wasted vote. I wasn’t going to vote at all but I’ve been peer-pressured and I’ve never missed a presidential election.
…What alternative do you have?
Interestingly, Ted’s reasons for not casting his vote for either Trump or Clinton stem far deeper than mere ideological differences. In fact, he says, it has a deeper, more nuanced psychological component:
When I see Trump it’s like an instant time machine for all of the things that were bad about the 1980s. When I look at Clinton, I see the same thing. There’s business as usual — have to win at all costs — and that’s an attitude we propagate with our politicians.
All three are not voting for Johnson simply out of default or protest. They do support some aspects of his platform.
Ben, who told me he will register as a Libertarian after the election, strongly subscribes to Johnson’s plans for balancing the budget. According to him, because Johnson, as governor of New Mexico (from 1995 to 2003) and Weld, as governor of Massachusetts (from 1991 to 1997), were able to balance their budgets effectively in what had been troubled states shows “they both know how to run a government.”
Ted, who characterizes himself “fiscally conservative,” says that Johnson’s ideas on the economy also appeal strongly to him. However, he does view Johnson as “extremely flawed,” while noting, “I don’t think he’s fully qualified to be president.”
Like Ted, Linda also considers herself to be fiscally conservative but describes herself as socially liberal. She quipped, “I’d call myself a Libertarian but I believe in strong foreign policy, the Food and Drug Administration and traffic lights.”
In addition to Johnson’s fiscal policies, Linda applauds his support of gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose. At the same time, she says she finds it increasingly difficult to ignore Johnson’s recent gaffes, from his inability to name a world leader he admires to his now-infamous ignorance of the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo, the epicenter of a worldwide refugee crisis.
“I think the flubs show that long-term pot use is hurtful to the brain,” she says, referring to Johnson’s admission that he smoked medicinal marijuana, his favoring the legalization of marijuana and his time serving as the CEO of a marijuana-branding company. (Johnson also claims that he has not smoked pot since the start of his presidential run.)