Shortly before submitting this column, I slipped an absentee ballot, addressed to the Montgomery County Board of Elections, into a mailbox by the Cornell Store. When filling out that ballot I was presented with four options for president of the United States — many Americans will see those same four options, although some will see fewer, and some will see more. But it is important to recognize that, although I could have technically selected Gov. Gary “What is Aleppo?” Johnson or Dr. Jill “I would not have killed Osama bin Laden” Stein, or written in Evan “Egg McMuffin” McMullin, there were really only two choices on that ballot: Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump. One of those two will become president.
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson has consistently polled in the high single digits and will mostly likely take the largest share of the vote by a third-party candidate since Ross Perot won 19 percent and 8 percent in 1992 and 1996, respectively. But he will not win. No candidate has ever won the presidency with under 40 percent of the vote, let alone 10 percent. In 1992, Ross Perot ran a better-organized, better-funded and highly visible independent campaign — at one point he polled higher than both then-President George H. W. Bush and an Arkansas governor named Clinton, and he even appeared at all three presidential debates, something Johnson has failed to do. But Ross Perot carried only 19 percent of the popular vote and not a single electoral vote. Johnson is polling lower than Perot, has less money than Perot and, most critically, has far lower name recognition than Perot did. His outlook is, statistically, not good.
Gary Johnson is also totally unqualified to be president. We’ve all seen the high-profile string of gaffes indicating a lack of fundamental knowledge: a man who wants to be commander-in-chief has no more than a cursory knowledge of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria, and can give neither the name of a foreign leader he admires, or even the name of the leader of North Korea, a country incredibly aggressive towards America that recently tested a nuclear weapon. He absurdly defended himself by claiming his ignorance should be viewed as a positive, because he couldn’t go to war with any country he didn’t know about. Johnson has also made an aggressive push for disgruntled supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), which is facially preposterous, and any Bernie supporter who votes for Johnson never really believed what Bernie believes to begin with.
I should caveat that: if the one issue you care about is legalizing weed, then yes, Gary might be the candidate for you. But if you were drawn to Bernie because he recognized that corporate interests, especially those housed on Wall Street, exert too much control over the economy and everyday Americans, than there is no way you could conscionably support Johnson. As a Libertarian, he believes that business knows best, and that the economy, including the financial sector, would be better served with less regulation and oversight. The same goes for his stance on climate change, a phenomenon Bernie decried as the “greatest threat to our national security.” Johnson does not believe that the government should work to counteract climate change; when asked about it, he stated that such action would be useless because “the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right?”
I have no doubt that Gary Johnson is a good man who appears far more wholesome than either Trump or Clinton. His unvarnished personality can be endearing. But he has neither the experience, nor the expertise, to lead this country effectively (though it should be said that his running mate, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, would be a far more capable choice).
I don’t want to devote too much ink to Green Party candidate Jill Stein, but I will say that in various polls throughout the election she has garnered less support than candidates such as “Deez Nutz” and debate-questioner-become-American-hero-become-creeper Ken Bone (who isn’t even eligible to be president). Stein is at best a well meaning but utterly unprepared participant in this race, one with no elected or executive experience and a limited knowledge of politics, and at worst a medical doctor who shames her own profession by pandering to anti-vaccination elements and pseudo-science. Stein is an opportunist who has spent the last decade of her life running for one office or another, and, despite carrying the mantle of the Green Party, could not name a single environmentally friendly, or “green” technology of which she was aware.
For what it’s worth, I suffer no illusions regarding the direct impact of my vote in solid-blue Maryland. The Electoral College delegates the responsibility of actually choosing our next president to a few lucking voters in Florida and Ohio — I could write in Eli Manning for president and it would have no effect on the outcome (though Mr. Manning needs to up his QBR a bit before he earns my vote). But it is shortsighted to think of my vote only in the immediate context of the election. The better question is, what kind of message will my vote, and everyone else’s vote, write in history.
Consider the difference between a margin of victory of two percent and one of 10 percent. Even if both margins produce the same Electoral College outcome (entirely possible), one represents a resounding victory and the other is practically a squeaker. If Clinton wins by 2 percent, the lesson the Republican Party will take away is that, “if Trump just hadn’t admitted to sexual assault on tape, he might have won.” A margin of two percent will not put Trump or Trumpism away, not by a long shot. Every extra percentage point of margin, even if it comes from deep blue states like California and New York, strengthens America’s stand against what Trump represents. You may think that a third party vote sends a message of its own, but its effect (a slim margin of victory) sends a much louder and more important message about how close America is willing to flirt with authoritarianism. Your “protest” will be drowned out by the millions of Trump supporters who will feel vindicated and empowered by a close result.
Voting for obviously unqualified third-party presidential candidates is not going to take down the duopoly. If you are truly serious about changing politics as usual, you have two options. You can either become involved in your own party; political parties are essentially vehicles for citizens to advance policy. Go to Democratic and Republican town hall meetings and county council meetings and conventions and make yourself heard. Organize with like-minded voters to amplify your voices. Bernie showed us how a movement can undeniably shift the focus of a political party. And if, after all that, you’re still totally disgusted with the two party system, then work at the lowest levels of government to promote a third option. After a decade or two of hard work, the smaller parties will have more to offer than a totally unprepared and inexperienced neophyte such as Dr. Stein, or a washed up loner from one of the major parties, such as Gov. Johnson.
Yes, both major party candidates are unpopular (though one is far more unpopular and only getting more so). But we cannot expect our candidates to be 100 percent compatible with every single voter. If you want to vote for a candidate who agrees with you on all the issues, and will never, ever give you up or let you down, then write in yourself. You may not agree with everything they stand for, but it is foolish to deny that these two candidates represent radically different world views and will take America in wildly different directions. It is up to all of us to decide which path we want to take, but we must make a decision. At this juncture, there is no third way.
Jacob Rubashkin is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jacobin appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.