- - Thursday, August 25, 2016


The successful presidential candidate has to assemble a coalition with others with overlapping but rarely identical desires and interests, which means his most ardent partisans naturally see him as imperfect and inconsistent. Voters, alas, rarely get to choose between a candidate they admire unreservedly and a candidate they don’t like at all.

They have to choose between competing imperfect humans. If they’re lucky they can find one they like, trust, and agree with more than the other. Since the choice is easy only for partisans, they have to be willing to forgive shortcomings, after dismissing the positive qualities of the opposition as irrelevant. Voters often have to vote for the candidate they dislike least. This year a lot of people live, work and choose in this imperfect category.

Both Democrats and Republicans seeking a safe harbor for their votes are courted by the Libertarian Party team of Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, and William Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts. Both used to be Republicans. They have decided not to be the usual third-party candidates. Such candidates usually run to make a point or to influence the policies of one of the major parties.

The Libertarian Party has candidates who have done both, like Norman Thomas in an earlier era, but Messrs. Johnson and Weld are neither consistently libertarian nor much interested in shaping the policies of the other parties. They appear to aim their message at Donald Trump and Republicans who don’t particularly care for the Republican nominee. It’s not at all clear what message they would send to court disgruntled Republicans.

Mr. Johnson favors a carbon tax and dismisses the idea that religious liberty is under attack. He would be comfortable with Supreme Court justices like Stephen Breyer of Merrick Garland. His message is neither libertarian nor conservative, but confused.

Mr. Weld, for his part, seems confused about guns, which many conservatives appear to hold as important above all else. He compared the AR-15, the nation’s most popular long gun, as a “weapon of mass destruction.” Mr. Johnson, wrestling with a coherent opinion on the Second Amendment, says he favors banning “assault weapons,” but not semiautomatic rifles, reflecting a lack of understanding that it is precisely the semiautomatic rifle that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Weld would ban as an “assault weapon.”

The real weapons of mass destruction are the nuclear weapons that he does not see as a problem in the hands of Iran’s mullahs. Gary Johnson and his supporters dismiss Mr. Weld’s confused views of gun control as not necessarily Johnsonian, but when asked by a reporter, “is there a role for gun regulation?,” resplied quickly, “there may be.”

If voting for one of these worthies would make a valid point for conservatives, it’s not at all clear what that point would be. We already have enough candidates and politics without a point.

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