Across the spectrum of Libertarian writing, there are a lot of ideas put forth on who to support this cycle. We'd think the answer is easy - support the Libertarian Party candidate. The LP would have to nominate a libertarian before I could consider this option.
As far as Johnson goes, I'm not convinced he's a good standard bearer. He's certainly better than his predecessor, Bob Barr, by libertarian measure, but so are a lot of people. Being better than a disaster doesn't make something good. When I hear him speak, he doesn't sound like a libertarian. He sounds more like a jaded Republican with an interest in marijuana, aiming to cater to the SJW crowd now that Sanders is out of the game.
Ron Paul was leaps and bounds better, while campaigning as a Republican, catering to a Republican crowd at that. His message only grew. 2012 was a better year for "Paul Awareness" than 2008, at least by anything I could see. Had there been a Paulian candidate in the Republican primaries this cycle, I can see the fight for the nomination going all the way until the end.
Instead, we have a wasted opportunity. If not for Paul, I'd say Johnson would be deprived of his current opportunity. I'd encourage Johnson to take a lesson from the great teacher - dilution doesn't make something better. If it didn't work for Rand it definitely won't work for Johnson.
Let's say Johnson does succeed, and attracts enough attention to put the big tent of libertarians in the spotlight. What does this do to the expectation of Libertarianism? Does it necessarily help libertarianism, or include elements that aren't libertarian, giving us something different entirely? It's not hard to imagine the Libertarian Party becoming the "Jaded Republican with a Liberal Twist" party after a few more cycles, if it isn't already. Maybe next cycle they'll nominate John McCain? He fits the Fiscal Conservative/Socially Liberal descriptor perfectly.
We can't expect Johnson to quote Mises, Rothbard, Rockwell, or Block - it doesn't sound like he's familiar with anything outside of Libertarianism besides the easy stances we're known for. When Johnson stumbles on libertarian stances, he doesn't just stumble. He tumbles into the briar patch. Some might say I sound nit-picky, but consider just two stances where Johnson suspends conviction on two core libertarian principles that likely define much of what Libertarianism is.
- Freedom of Association: Johnson has stated that a baker should be required to sell a cake for purposes said baker finds distasteful. To what ends would a libertarian dismiss the basic right of non-participation? If there's a requirement, there's likely a penalty for non-compliance. This is an initiation of aggression both in forcing participation, and penalizing non-participation. There's no justifiable wiggle room for a libertarian argument on this answer. This stance resembles the worst result of Cultural Marxism.
- War: If you can't say "Under no circumstances, ever" to atomic devastation, what can you say no to? I'm surprised this wasn't the deathblow to his campaign, and it says much about the state of the Libertarian Party that this was passable. I've never heard of a libertarian of any variety that couldn't say no to atomic or nuclear warfare. This stance resembles the worst result of the Warfare State.
But, the Libertarian Party insists, "He's our guy!".
This takes me to Trump. He's definitely no libertarian, contrasting to Johnson's "almost Libertarian on maybe something". But, Trump's also not trying to tell me he's a libertarian either. He isn't pandering for libertarian applause, like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz did. Trump also doesn't seem interested in making terrible things worse, until we talk about additional interventions on the free market. Any of the nasty things he talks about doing in any arena are things I can picture Clinton doing, and maybe Johnson. Should Hillary get her hands on these arenas I imagine she could only do worse.
Trump also appears to be honest to a fault. Honesty doesn't make a person good though. We don't applaud the mugger for his honesty when he holds someone at gunpoint and demands their wallet. I at least know what Trump is thinking. His thoughts change quick though. Even now he's reconsidering his stances on elements in the Gun Control debate - admittedly his stance is only likely to move further from liberty. But take this to the broader conversation - Who knows what else he could reconsider, whether for better or worse? Maybe he chooses another inexperienced (I consider this a good thing) politician for his VP, or someone with minimal experience, ideally someone very sobering. Imagine Peter Schiff as president of the senate for a minute. Unlikely, sure. I wouldn't call it impossible, and this might even be worth suggesting to the proper ear.
I don't have a dog in this fight, but if I had to choose to lend support to the Libertarian That Wasn't, or the Statist that could change his mind on any number of things - and at least seems very uninterested in nuclear fisty cuffs with Putin, I'd probably lean towards the latter - even if the rest of his statist policies pan out to horrific fruition. This gets twice as scary when we see who Trump chooses to associate with, including Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie. Unfortunately, Johnson's lack of libertarian principle put that bad of a taste in my mouth.
Trump may even be a fraud entirely, I couldn't say. It's very possible, even Bush Jr. came out against nation building during his 2000 campaign. We got the complete opposite. This would all be rendered moot, if the LP candidate was in fact a Libertarian. There's something to be said of the Libertarian candidate that struggles to convince another Libertarian. I was hesitantly leaning towards Johnson, until his major errors - and Weld got onto the ticket. Weld alone could drive me away from supporting Johnson.
All of this goes to say, there isn't a libertarian alternative this cycle. I can't help but think the opportunity was wasted. Everything Ron Paul and the Rothbardian wing of Libertarianism warned about is actively happening, and it's only just begun. How many curious and eager minds are out there wondering if there's a better way? How many of them would have become unapologetic libertarians, as we've come to know them, had someone like Ron Paul got nominated?
We won't know. Instead, their frustration with the establishment found a home in Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Sanders lost, and I can't imagine what his supporters will do - but their minds are made up, they believe in Socialism and we'll be dealing with their belief for a long time. Regardless, this fall we'll be hearing from The Joker, Cthulhu, and possibly Gollum (I'll let you decide which is which). Though a subject for another writing entirely, some might say shame on me and other disappointed libertarians for not participating and putting forth an alternative candidate, and they might be right for the wrong reasons.
The ideal candidate wouldn't even need to win - just change minds, change conversations, and show a better way. Ron Paul did this.