Gary Johnson, the candidate no one ever heard of—until Reddit

gary johnson
Presidential hopeful Gary Johnson found a few new converts thanks to a Q&A on the social news site.

It’s lonely at the bottom.

Republican presidential candidate and former Arizona governor Gary Johnson just can’t catch a break: Whenever a Republican debate comes around, his polling numbers always fall just below the threshold. He just about never gets an invite.

So as Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and other candidates tossed barbs last night at Dartmouth College, the former New Mexico governor took his political message to another stage: social news site Reddit.

His live question and answer session (or AMA -- “ask me anything”) hit Reddit’s front page last night, gathering more than 4,000 comments and playing out in front of the site’s millions of viewers.

And if redditors’ reactions are any indication, the former governor inspired some conversions to his cause. It doesn’t hurt that the former governor’s political principles are fiscally conservative but socially liberal -- a combination that easily stirs the passion of Reddit’s often libertarian-leaning user base.

Take this exchange, for instance:

“How would the DEA under a Johnson presidency differ than the DEA has operated under President Obama?” kyles08 asked.

“It's my understanding I can deschedule marijuana as a class 1 narcotic by executive order and I will do that,” Johnson wrote.

Redditor petrithor replied: “So you would save money by ending the war on drugs? And give freedom back to the people? Who is this man and why isn't he president already?

Johnson held the reins of New Mexico government from 1995 to 2003, where he was known for his record-use of gubernatorial vetoes, hard stance on the state’s budget deficit, and attacks on the nation’s drug laws (which he compared to the failed policies of prohibition-era America).

Nowadays, Johnson makes political waves by bravely eschewing traditional Republican stances. He says the Occupy Wall Street protesters are inspired by “well founded disgust” with inequality (but thinks the country’s financial problems are mostly the governments fault), wants to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and hasn’t the slightest problem at all with homosexuality.

Plus, the guy climbed Mt. Everest. Has Mitt Romney scaled any mountains recently?

“Why haven't I heard of you before?” redditor Trotaway wrote. “What can I do to help you get into the White House?

“PS:” the redditor added, in case there was any doubt. ”You've got my vote.”

Johnson didn’t win over everyone, however.

“I can not understand why one would oppose taxes when you can do wonderful things when everybody pitches in,” one Belgian redditor wrote. “It's called socialism in the USA but apparently that's a dirty word, while it's completely accepted in Western Europe. Can you explain to me why Belgium or any other country, like maybe the USA, should lower its taxes instead of raising them?”

At one point this post was the top-voted question in the thread. Johnson must have seen it.

“If he doesn't answer this ... his AMA will be remembered as a failure.” one redditor wrote.

Johnson didn’t answer the question.

His AMA was hardly a failure, however.

In the minds of some particularly demanding redditors, he ducked a tough question. But Johnson’s Reddit play was a smart political move. The site has long experimented in democratizing the news. Reddit’s excitement over Johnson’s AMA shows that, perhaps, the nation’s primary battles aren’t quite democratic enough

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