Perhaps it got more play here in Massachusetts because one of them is our former (very popular) governor. But the newly formed Libertarian ticket of former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson for president and fellow former GOP Gov. William Weld could wreak havoc on the race if it somehow catches on.
Picture this scenario: Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, and Weld catch some fire as an alternative to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. By “catch fire” I mean poll well enough to get into the general election debates, make some noise there and garner enough Electoral College votes so no candidate gets enough to win the election outright.
What then? It’s an improbable but an impossible scenario (and certainly fun to think about). It’s the latest parlor game in an election cycle that keeps on giving as far as unprecedented and just plain weird developments.
Johnson borders on the political fringe—he was the Republican governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003. In 2012, he ran for president as a Republican but dropped out and won the Libertarian nomination. He got 1.3 million votes or one percent.
If we want to spin this story pro-Johnson, then we have to consider that 43 percent of Americans consider themselves independents. Add that to the fact that Trump and Clinton are the most unpopular nominees in history and are upside down in their approval ratings, then why not Johnson?
Johnson scored a coup by adding Weld. He’s proven himself to be a political oddball over the years. He won the Massachusetts governorship in 1990 and was reelected with 71 percent of the vote in 1994—the largest margin of victory in Massachusetts history. Weld lost a contest for the ages when he challenged John Kerry for the Senate in 1996. He then inexplicably resigned the governor’s office in 1997 to focus on being Bill Clinton’s nominee for ambassador to Mexico. That effort was blocked by the dusty old Strom Thurmond who didn’t like Weld’s socially liberal views.
Not one to go quietly, Weld briefly ran for governor of New York in 2006 trying to become only the second person ever to serve as governor of two states (Sam Houston, Tennessee and Texas). He lost. Weld then turned things upside down a bit when he endorsed Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008 but returned to the fold in 2012 when he backed one of his Massachusetts successors Mitt Romney.
Johnson seems to think he has a very good chance of upsetting the presidential apple cart. They key will be if he can get into the nationally televised debates. Johnson—on a stage with Trump and Clinton—would have absolutely nothing to lose and could portray the other two as simply unlikable, unacceptable choices.
So what if the Johnson-Weld ticket prevails to the point that it stops the other two from getting the 270 electoral college votes it takes to win the presidency? It becomes very interesting, that’s what.
If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the president from the three presidential candidates who received the most. Assuming Johnson stays in the race and gets at least some Electoral votes, he’d be one of the three. Each state delegation has one vote.
Meanwhile, the Senate would elect the vice president from the two VP candidates with the most Electoral votes. Each senator would cast one vote. If the House of Representatives fails to elect a president by Inauguration Day, the vice-president elect serves as acting president until the deadlock is resolved in the House.
As it applies to the current race, if the election is thrown into the House—controlled by Republicans—it would be hard to imagine it breaking for Trump or Clinton.
Stay tuned. We’ve got a long way to go.