The Libertarian Presidential Nomination Field

Amidst widespread dissatisfaction with the presumptive nominees of both the Democrats and Republicans, The Libertarian Party is getting a fresh look, and some new registrations, including high profile people like Mary Matalin.

The Libertarian presidential nominee will be selected by convention in late May. The leading candidates are two-term former Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, entrepreneur Austin Petersen from Missouri, and security software pioneer John McAfee of Tennessee.

Johnson was a successful and popular governor in a state where Democrats were heavily favored. He reduced the size of government, ran budget surpluses, and put New Mexico on a sound financial footing while advancing major infrastructure projects and improving services.

Johnson's greatest asset is he is clearly qualified, capable, and fit to be president.

Even after running for the 2012 Republican nomination and later as the Libertarian nominee, less than 25% of the voters know about Johnson. Still, he polls at 11% against the major party nominees.

Johnson is a constitutionalist and will faithfully execute the laws passed by Congress -- a major improvement over President Obama. Where he can work with Congress, Johnson might reverse some of the damage done over the last seven years.

Conservatives will like that he is for limited government, judicial restraint, and would likely nominate originalists and textualists to the federal bench. He favors sound money, budget discipline, and free trade.

Conservatives will oppose his positions on social issues. He is pro-abortion, thinks government should dictate who bakers serve, and supports same-sex marriage. Curiously, he never explains why abortion, baking, and marriage are federal issues.

Many Americans will feel uneasy with his plans to cut the military budget. Some will disagree with his views the US exacerbated much of the anti-American sentiment in the Middle East. How he will reconcile his views on America's role in the world with maintaining commitments and critical alliances is unknown.

Most Americans will also have trouble with Johnson on immigration. He favors amnesty. Anybody listening to Johnson, or any Libertarian, knows they favor open borders and will remove legal immigration limits if given the opportunity. Unlike Obama though, Johnson would enforce current law.

One concern is Johnson's admitted  marijuana consumption. Like alcohol, marijuana slows reaction times and impairs judgment. Operating heavy machinery while drunk or high is a bad idea for a reason. Temporary impairment is a legitimate concern in the age of intercontinental missiles, cyber attacks, and terrorism. Drunk or stoned presidents are unacceptable, regardless of their substance of choice.

Considering the campaign against "buzzed driving," what is the safe level of alcohol or cannabis for handling the nuclear football? Can we trust candidates to keep their faculties sharp or do we need presidential drug and breathalyzer testing?

Austin Petersen, with his background as a producer, started a photo/video consulting firm, and founded the online magazine The Libertarian Republic. Whether he has the qualifications and is capable of being president is debatable.  Petersen is closely aligned with conservatives on many issues. He is pro-life and supports religious freedom -- he will not be micro managing baking policy as president. He also opposes government involvement in marriage.

Like Johnson, Petersen is a constitutionalist favoring judicial restraint, and would appoint judges like Andrew Napolitano to the courts. Petersen supports limited government, sane budgeting, sound money, and free trade.

On national defense and in foreign policy, Petersen is less radical. He wants to realign overseas deployments with national interest priorities. Defense cuts would likely be smaller under Petersen than under Johnson.

He is still a Libertarian, and so his immigration policy is to reduce illegal immigration by streamlining legal immigration and offering amnesty. He will enforce the law, so only Congress could open the borders.

Petersen rarely refers to federalism by name. He does imply the federalist argument when talking about abortion as a state issue. One blogger accused Petersen of not being pro-life and republished a Facebook post where Petersen wrote, "government should not be involved in legislating abortion." Whether Petersen was referring to Congress or state legislatures was unclear. The late Senator Fred Thompson, among other pro-life leaders, believed abortion was a state issue after overturning Roe vs. Wade. The relevant question for a president is would he or she cut funding to Planned Parenthood and appoint judges likely to reverse Roe vs. Wade. Petersen would do both.

John McAfee pioneered antivirus software. Of the Libertarian candidates, he is the only one unfit for office. McAfee is smart and well informed, especially about the cyber warfare threat. Despite allegations, he is probably not corrupt and exhibits an even temperament. Unfortunately, between his DUI just 10 months ago, past alcoholism, past drug addiction, and foreign entanglements, his judgment may be considered by many to be poor at best.

In early April, John Stossel hosted the first nationally televised Libertarian Presidential Forum on the Fox Business Network (see: part one, part two). The debate was revealing, most notably for the absence of even one reference to federalism -- then again the Libertarian platform never mentions federalism either.

During the debate, Petersen said government should not be involved in marriage. Johnson responded weakly that changing one federal law is easier than rewriting thousands of laws referencing marriage. Since when do Libertarians prefer to make life easier for bureaucrats and legislators rather than confine government to its proper role? Neither candidate questioned why marriage is a federal issue.

To the question, "When is war justified?" McAfee responded in Socratic fashion, "Why do we have war?" He proceeded to explain that war is unnecessary. That is fine for the faculty lounge, but who is going to tell ISIS?

Johnson is a quirky speaker, but he is knowledgeable and relies on his experience as governor to show he can effectively manage a government. Petersen is the most polished at times, but appears nervous at other times. Petersen did better in interviews with RedState and with Steven Crowder.

In the forum, they argued over libertarian ideals with little regard for policy implementation or governance. They were running for philosopher in chief, not president. Instead of embracing federalism to free the national party from wrestling with divisive issues, they squabbled over policies covering marriage, baking, and gambling -- issues where state parties can take different positions -- a very libertarian approach.

Erick Erickson wrote the Libertarian Party must "grow up" to be taken seriously. That was clearly demonstrated in Buck Sexton's interview with Tom Welch, editor of the libertarian magazine Reason. In the interview, Welch laughed about the awesomeness of McAfee, a "crazy force of nature...weird guy," becoming president. If Libertarians regard the presidency as a joke, the Libertarian Party will continue to be treated as a joke.

Of candidates from all parties, only Johnson is definitely qualified, capable, and fit to serve. Petersen's positions are preferable and he is fit to serve, but his experience is thin. America deserves more options, but they are both far superior to the major party nominees.