- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Presidential hopeful Gary E. Johnson announced Wednesday that he’s bolting the Republican Party in favor of a long-shot Libertarian bid.

Mr. Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, blamed the Republican establishment for freezing him out of the presidential debates, despite his “solid record of job creation” and experience leading a border state closely divided between Democrats and Republicans.

He appeared in only two primary debates, but was excluded from the others, presumably because of his poor performance in the polls.

“Frankly, I have been deeply disappointed by the treatment I have received in the Republican nomination process,” he said in a statement. “In the final analysis … I am a libertarian — that is, someone who is fiscally very conservative, but holds freedom-based positions on many social issues. I think this election needs a libertarian voice.”

In 2008, Mr. Johnson endorsed the Republican presidential candidacy of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is running again this time around and is leading in polling for next week’s Iowa caucuses. This time, however, Mr. Johnson thinks backing Mr. Paul would be a waste of time.

“While Ron Paul is a good man and a libertarian who I proudly endorsed for president in 2008, there is no guarantee he will be the Republican nominee,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson is, in a sense, following in Mr. Paul’s footsteps. The Texas Republican abandoned the party in 1988 to mount an unsuccessful Libertarian presidential bid, and that party still holds him in high esteem.

Many Republicans fear that a third-party candidate will ruin their party’s chances of defeating President Obama next fall, but the Libertarian Party isn’t buying it.

“You can make that case only if Ron Paul is the Republican nominee,” Libertarian Party Executive Director Carla Howell said in a statement Wednesday.

“If any other remaining contender in the GOP primary were to win, then the Republicans will offer a choice for more big government and higher taxes. Should one of the non-Paul candidates prevail, then the Libertarian Party will be our only means to restore fiscal sanity, to create a friendly business environment and to create desperately needed new jobs,” she said.

Mr. Paul and Mr. Johnson have both long criticized the rest of the Republican field for, in many key policy areas, too closely resembling Democrats. Each has contended that he is treated differently because his message doesn’t fall neatly into the traditional Republican mold.

“The process was not open and fair,” Mr. Johnson said during a press conference in New Mexico on Wednesday, where he announced his third-party effort.

Mr. Johnson also took parting shots at other Republican candidates, bemoaning the fact that Jon Huntsman Jr. and Rick Santorum have frequently appeared on the national stage despite having “no national name recognition.” Mr. Johnson also took aim at Rep. Michele Bachmann, who briefly led the pack over the summer, for being embraced by some in the Republican establishment despite her lack of “executive experience.”

The Libertarian Party’s candidate is expected to appear on all 50 states’ ballots in the November election. Former Rep. Bob Barr, another ex-Republican lawmaker who bolted the GOP, was the party’s 2008 nominee, but garnered less than 1 percent of the vote.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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