The Libertarian Ticket: Johnson and Weld

Steve Kroft interviews Gary Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld, the Libertarian candidates taking on the two-party system with many ideas outside the political mainstream

The following is a script from “The Libertarian Ticket” which aired on Sept. 18, 2016. Steve Kroft is the correspondent. L. Franklin Devine and Maria Gavrilovic, producers.

When you look at your presidential ballot in November, somewhere below the Democratic and Republican lines you will find the Libertarian Party and the Green Party, but for many voters this year they might as well read “none of the above.”

In a race that features the most unpopular Democratic and Republican party choices in memory, they are the two alternatives to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and for the first time in 16 years third parties could well determine the outcome of the election. Right now, of the two alternatives, the Libertarian Party has the most support and is the only one on the ballot in all 50 states. The ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld is currently favored by about eight or nine percent of the electorate even though 70 percent of the voters don’t know who Johnson and Weld are. We thought it was time to give you a primer.

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Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld

CBS News

If you don’t recognize them, the tall guy on the left is vice presidential candidate Bill Weld. The shorter one is former New Mexico governor and presidential nominee Gary Johnson.  Right now they can stroll through a park unmolested by the press and the public. Their rallies usually attract only a few hundred people… but they can still make some noise and are not without enthusiastic support.

[Rally: Gary Gary Gary. Bill Weld: The next president of the United States, Gary Johnson. Gary Johnson: You rock. You rock.]

Steve Kroft: Why are you doing this?

Gary Johnson: I think that we would do a really good job.

Bill Weld: I feel it’s something of a patriotic duty given how the election season is unfolding. We feel a responsibility to offer the country sort of a sober, sensible alternative.

[Gary Johnson: Has life in this country ever been better?]

They are no political neophytes. Each one won two terms as Republican governors in heavily Democratic states.

Steve Kroft: Do you really think you have a chance to win?

Gary Johnson: Neither of us would be doing this if we didn’t think that that was a possibility.

Steve Kroft: Let me be a little skeptical here. I mean, right now the people--

Bill Weld: We expected no less.

Steve Kroft: Right. Right. Yeah. The people that do this for a living, to try and do polling, and public opinion surveys and make odds-- some of the most prominent experts put your chances at about less than one percent, less than one percent.

Gary Johnson: I think that Donald Trump started out that way. And I would’ve given him that-- I would’ve given him that percentage at the very start. But as crazy as this election season is, I think it could be the ultimate crazy and that is is that the two of us actually do get elected.

Steve Kroft: Right. And how does that happen?

Gary Johnson:  Well presidential debates-- a third alternative, 70 percent of America doesn’t even know who we are. And yet we exist. I think there’s a lot of opportunity here. And there’s still a lot of time left.

[Bill Weld: --we are in a way breaking a glass ceiling--]

They’re hoping to get a place in at least one of the presidential debates but right now they don’t meet the threshold of 15 percent in the national polls.

Steve Kroft: Are you running against a two-party system?

Gary Johnson: Absolutely.

Bill Weld: Absolutely.

Gary Johnson: And I—and I do believe this is going to be the demise of the Republican Party.

Steve Kroft: So you see yourself as a protest vote?

Gary Johnson: No way. I think, a conciliatory vote. Look this is how we wanna come together.

Bill Weld: It happens, Steve, if people do think for themselves and focus on the choices available because the polling shows that nationally people do tend to agree with our approach. As Gary sometimes says, you’re a libertarian. You just don’t know it yet.

[Libertarian Party Convention: “Let’s bring back liberty.”]

The Libertarians were founded 45 years ago as an off-shoot of the Republicans. They tend to be fiscally conservative and social liberals who want the federal government out of their pockets, out of their schools, out of their computers, and out of their bedrooms.

[Supporter: So the hats are 25.]

They support the right to bear arms, even assault weapons. But they also believe women have the right to an abortion, gays have the right to marry, and adults the right to smoke pot.

[Supporter: Anybody looking for a bumper sticker?]

They oppose almost every federal program not mentioned specifically in the Constitution, including Social Security and Medicare and the regulatory agencies.

Steve Kroft: You’re making yourself seem like mainstream candidates. But in fact, you know, your positions and the positions of the party aren’t mainstream, you know. Phasing out Medicare, you’re for doing away with private health insurance-- as a way to bring down medical costs. You’re talking about abolishing the IRS and imposing a 29 percent or 28 percent sales tax, essentially a sales tax. You call it a consumption tax. Talk about eliminating the Department of Homeland Security. I mean, these aren’t exactly mainstream opinion.

Gary Johnson: Well what you can count on the two of us to provide is consistency. We’re going to always be consistent in looking for lower taxes. And much of what you cite is the Libertarian platform which, you know, we are the Libertarian nominees for president and vice president. But we’re not looking to eliminate Medicare. We do believe in a safety net. But there has to be reforms for Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security. And if we’re going to put our heads in the sand, if we say we’re going to do nothing in any of these areas, it’s a fiscal cliff.

Bill Weld: And nobody can tell me that no changes are necessary in Washington. Those bozos think that unless the appropriation of every single account goes up five percent, they call that a cut. Well, that’s not how we approached our state budgets. And that’s not what we would do in Washington either.

Steve Kroft: Do you think most people want to do away with the Department of Homeland Security?

Gary Johnson: Yeah, I do. I do. I think there’s a real skepticism. I mean, really, we have the FBI. Wha-- why another agency? I mean-- and all these Homeland Security cars driving around these days, what are they doing?

Bill Weld: There are functions that you’d have to retain and make sure they were attended to. But there’re some who remind me of the, you know, muddled bureaucracy in Washington that nobody can quite tell you why they’re essential. And that’s where I would go hunting.

They also want to abolish the Departments of Education, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development. They want to cut the Defense Budget by around 20 percent and get American troops out of Korea.

As they’ve said, they don’t agree with their party on everything -- sometimes they don’t even agree with each other.

Gary Johnson earned a fortune in construction before making his political name as the first governor ever to advocate the legalization of marijuana, and until earlier this year was CEO of a marijuana branding company.

Steve Kroft: Until recently, you were a consumer—

Gary Johnson: That’s correct—

Steve Kroft: --of marijuana.

Gary Johnson: One of 100 million Americans who have consumed marijuana. I am guilty. The unforgivable in life, hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing another—telling the truth-- I hope more than anything, I’m credited here with telling the truth.

Steve Kroft: But you’re not using marijuana now?

Gary Johnson: I’m not.

[Bill Weld: …running on the Libertarian ticket. Live free or die, baby, you know what they say.]

Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld is a card-carrying member of the Eastern Establishment, whose libertarian bonafides are still questioned by the true believers.  Until his nomination in May he was a member of the nearly-extinct political species known as “moderate Republicans.”

Steve Kroft: You weren’t a Libertarian until a couple of months ago.

Bill Weld:  Well, I considered myself a “small L” Libertarian since the 1970s. And people called me the Libertarian Republican.

They run a frugal low-key campaign in jeans and sneakers and keep a very loose schedule that can change by the hourly. When we were with them, their version of a presidential limousine was a rented red Toyota.

Steve Kroft: Do you have a motorcade?

Bill Weld: No. We don’t have a motorcade.

Steve Kroft: You stop for red lights?

Gary Johnson: We do stop for red lights.

Steve Kroft: Do you have a campaign plane?

Bill Weld: We don’t have a campaign plane.

Gary Johnson: No. No. We don’t.

Bill Weld: We do fly commercial.

Steve Kroft: Do you have a campaign headquarters?

Bill Weld: Yes.

Gary Johnson: Yes. We do. But it’s-- but if you went to the campaign headquarters, you wouldn’t find anybody there because this is-- you know, this is social media.

[Gary Johnson: Come on, get selfie, get selfie ready!]

They have a big presence on the Internet and claim to have 50 million followers -- most of them young people. Johnson and Weld are good friends and say they plan to run a co-presidency sharing the same staff. On the campaign they often stay at each other’s homes.

They’ve tried everything to get more attention in hopes their campaign would go viral.  And 10 days ago it did.

MSNBC/MORNING JOE clip /Willie Geist: “Governor good to have you with us.”

But it was the wrong kind when Johnson was unable to identify Aleppo as the center of the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

MSNBC/MORNING JOE clip /Mike Barnicle: Aleppo.

MSNBC/MORNING JOE clip/Governor Gary Johnson: And what is Aleppo?

MSNBC/MORNING JOE clip /Mike Barnicle: You’re kidding.

MSNBC/MORNING JOE clip/Governor Gary Johnson: No.

Steve Kroft: You’ve been on the front page a lot this month. You made a big splash. And it was a belly flop. We’re talking about Aleppo here. Tell me about Aleppo. I mean, how did that happen?

Gary Johnson: Well, the-- I-- I blame no one but myself. I understand the underlying policy.

Steve Kroft: People have said, “This guy’s not qualified to be president.” I mean, did-- how do react to that?

Gary Johnson: Well-- that-- that I am human. I have a filter. And it starts with honesty. It starts with the truth. It starts with transparency-- and would serve as president-- in that capacity. When I was asked the question, the first thing that came into my mind was this is an acronym-- ALEPPO-- American-- l--

Steve Kroft: Did it sound familiar to you?

Gary Johnson: Well, it didn’t or I think I..but, but look… I do not, in any way, want to make an excuse for myself. You know, so many people have said, “Look, 90 percent of America doesn’t know ALEPPO.” Well, 90 percent of America is not running for president of the United States, no excuse. No excuse.

Bill Weld: But at the-- at the end of the day, this is just my view, is Aleppo is a very important place name. But it’s a place name. Does that mean they’re disqualified from running for president? I mean, you’d have very few people at the debates if that sort of thing was a disqualify-- disqualification to run.

Gary Johnson: Thanks, Bill. But nonetheless, look, we are running for president and vice president.

Steve Kroft: You’re acknowledging that your candidacy has some flaws.

Gary Johnson: As do all candidacies. But I think--

Steve Kroft: But nobody-- I-- I-- I’m trying to remember a presidential candidate admitting that.

Gary Johnson: Well, that is the difference here. That’s what you’re going to buy into is is that it will be transparent. And there’s no quicker way to fix mistakes than actually acknowledging them in the first place.

Steve Kroft: Do you have foreign policy advisers?

Gary Johnson: Well, certainly.

Steve Kroft: Do you have military strategists?

Bill Weld: I wouldn’t quite say that but people that have worked for me and alongside me in foreign policy area.

Gary Johnson: And what your--

Steve Kroft: Do you have any idea who’d you-- who do-- who you would appoint secretary of defense if you were elected?

Gary Johnson: No. But I will t--

Bill Weld: I do.

[Gary Johnson: The country is in really deep trouble.]

Weld says he has a short list of three or four candidates in mind, but he didn’t want to name them. When Johnson ran for president four years ago on the Libertarian ticket, he drew just one percent of the vote. This time, there is considerably more momentum and much higher expectations.

Steve Kroft: What’s changed?

Gary Johnson: Well, a lot of it has to do with Trump and Clinton being as polarizing as they are. I’ve always said this tongue and cheek. If Mickey Mouse were the third name on any poll, Mickey would be at 30 percent because Mickey’s a known commodity. But Mickey’s not on the ballot in all 50 states. And I think that when we get known, 70 percent of America right now doesn’t even know who we are.

Steve Kroft: Even if you are not in the debates you are going to alter the course of this election.

Bill Weld: You’re right, Steve. We’re going to alter the course of this election, whether or not we’re in the debates. And I think someone trying to guess-- what that influence is going to be-- that’s very hard-- very hard to predict.

Right now they’re not even close to winning a single electoral vote, but they already have enough support to tip the scales to either Clinton or Trump in almost every battleground state.

Steve Kroft: Who are you taking votes from?

Bill Weld: I think at the end of the day, it’ll be more likely from Trump than from Clinton. Other people say, “No, we have this big appeal to the millennials,” so it’ll be more from Clinton than Trump.

Steve Kroft: This is my observation. You’re much more antagonistic towards Donald Trump than you are towards Mrs. Clinton.

Gary Johnson: Oh no--

Bill Weld: You must’ve done well in school.

Gary Johnson: May be-- that may be Bill’s-- Bill’s outlook. But for me, this is-- this is-- both sides. This is-- man, this is both barrels. And I’m not going to lose one minute of sleep ruining this two-party monopoly that is going on. I think they are dinosaurs. And I think we’re the comet in this whole equation. And I’m glad for it. I’m proud of it.   

The latest CBS News/New York Times poll of likely voters shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by two percentage points in a head-to-head race. But when the Libertarians and the Green Party are added to the poll, Clinton and Trump are in dead heat. 

  • Steve Kroft

    Few journalists have achieved the impact and recognition that Steve Kroft's 60 Minutes work has generated for over two decades. Kroft delivered his first report for 60 Minutes in 1989.