Gary Johnson delivers principled speech at Liberty University, stumbles on abortion question

Libertarian candidate for President Gary Johnson was the guest speaker at Liberty University’s weekly convocation. With 13,000 in attendance and thousands more watching online and on television, the LU convocation is likely the largest crowd Gary Johnson has addressed this campaign season — and the national media largely ignored it.

Because of the large platform it offers, visiting LU’s convocation has become somewhat of a “new norm” for candidates this election season. Ted Cruz — somewhat controversially — officially launched his presidential bid from an LU convocation last year, while Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Mike Pence have all been guest speakers there in that past year.

I’m going to give my analysis of how Gary Johnson did below, while trying to hit the major policy points. But if you don’t care about my take and just want to watch for yourself — here you go:

13K in attendance for Gary… Sort of

Somewhat ironically, Johnson was only invited to fill a last minute vacancy that opened up after Tim Tebow had to cancel (thanks, Tim!). Apparently Gary and his team didn’t get the memo, though, that students are required to attend the weekly convocations. Johnson opened his remarks clearly moved that so many were in attendance.

GJ: “Unbelievable, you honor me. I saw that this was like a 12,000 person auditorium and I’m thinking 500 might show up and, wow — you have no idea, no idea — thank you…”

As someone who knows how LU convocations work, watching him open that way made me cringe a bit — but no real harm done. Then, quite humorously, the subject of attendance came back around as he was wrapping up the Q & A session. At that point the moderator finally corrected him. Here’s how that went.

GJ: “But obviously you had the option to be here today, and you’ve decided to come, and I’m so grateful, so honored… umm… OH, IT’S REQUIRED?! HA, HAAAA…” [sticks out tongue, continues to awkwardly laugh]

The moderator, obviously feeling bad for Johnson, did try to soften the blow to his ego.

Moderator: “But Governor, they each get a couple of skips per year, and they could have used that skip today and they chose not to use it — so they are here for ya!”

Sigh… Well, with that misstep aside, let’s move on to the substance of his speech.

After opening with some personal and family background, Johnson launched into his familiar stump speech of limited government and personal rights. I’d say it took him about 5-8 minutes to get over the nervousness of speaking in such a large venue, but once he hit his stride he delivered a compelling speech. Quite admirably, he didn’t try to pander to the crowd by sidestepping issues that might be received unfavorably — such as his “welcoming” view on immigration and familiar theme of describing himself as “fiscally conservative and socially inclusive.”

I’ll get to abortion later, as that came up in the Q&A, and will elaborate on how I felt he could have done better on that issue.

First, a quick rundown of the policy points of his speech with time markers for where they occur in the above video.

Opening Advice to Students (10:08)

After the opening biographical information, Johnson began with a few points of advice.

GJ: “Apply whatever it is that you know ‘entrepreneurially’. There will never be a bigger reward in your life than applying what you know to creating your own job, or creating jobs for others — it’s a huge reward. And government plays a role in all this — they can make it easy, or they can make it difficult — and they are making it more and more difficult to be an entrepreneur.”

He also challenged students to live debt free, and then outlined how he has lived that principle out personally as well as in politics.

School Choice (13:36)

Johnson wants to bring competition to public education.

GJ: “As Governor I was more outspoken than any governor in the country regarding ‘school choice’ — believing that we needed to bring competition to public education. And in that regard, competition to anything is an improvement!”

War on Drugs (13:52)

Johnson says drugs is first a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.

GJ: “The fact that half of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts, and the prisons is drug-related — and what are we getting for that? Well, we’re not getting anything for that… We need to first recognize drugs as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.”

Fiscal Reform (16:00)

Johnson doesn’t believe the weight of our government programs should be on the backs of young people.

GJ: “I don’t think it’s Constitutional to have a 20 Trillion dollar debt! … Right now, in polls I’m tied with Hillary Clinton among the millennial demographic… I think what it has to do with is, nobody is standing up and saying we have to reform Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. And in the case of President Obama’s ‘affordable health care’ — that is a formula that relies on young healthy people paying for those who aren’t so healthy. So I’m going to get my healthcare, I’m going to get my retirement, I’m going to have my health insurance on the back of young people? It’s not fair! These issues have to be reformed… It’s about the future of this country!” 

The Military / Foreign Policy (17:15)

Johnson believes in defense, not offense.

GJ: “Look, we should have a military — we should have an invincible National DEFENSE. When we are attacked, we should attack back. But when we involve ourselves in regime change, in my lifetime none of those regime changes have worked out.”

Later in the speech Johnson circled back to this point claiming that in poll after poll of active duty military personnel they overwhelming pick him as the next Commander-in-Chief. He attributes this support to his policy of not putting them in harms way for unnecessary reasons — not being the “world’s policemen.”

Economy (18:40)

Johnson wants to eliminate the middle-man (re: get government out of the way).

GJ: “I think the model of the future is ‘Uber-everything’ (referring to the online taxi service). It’s the sharing economy. It’s eliminating the middle man. It’s allowing you and me as entrepreneurs to directly give out the goods and services that we’re providing to the end user, the end user ends up paying less, and you and I as the provider end up making more because we eliminate the middle-man…” 

He also promoted AirBnB —  a peer-to-peer online marketplace that enables people to list and rent short term lodging — saying, “this is the role that government can play — it can either promote the ideas that empower us, or get in the way of empowering us.” (he chooses the former).

Free Markets (19:50)

As most libertarians do, Johnson believes free markets are the solution to everything.

GJ: “Make it easy to be self-employed… There is a magic to free markets. Free markets is the opposite of ‘crony-capitalism’. Crony-capitalism is when the government picks winners and losers. Healthcare reform has everything to do with opening up healthcare to free markets.” (he then expanded with examples on how free markets would work in regards to healthcare reform)

Immigration (21:25)

In regards to immigration, Johnson outlined his position humbly and clearly. He is against building a wall, and was met with favorable applause by many in attendance when making that point.

GJ: “This country is a country of immigration. I think we should embrace immigration in this country… We should make it ‘as easy as possible’ for someone to come across the border and work, to be able to get a work visa. And a work visa should entail a background check and a social security card [so] that applicable taxes get paid.”

He then stated to resounding applause:

Let’s not build a wall across the border. We will be on the wrong side of history building a wall across the border!
— Gary Johnson


Johnson’s 7 Principles of Good Government (23:50)

Johnson concluded by listing off, and in some cases expanding upon, what he called his “7 Principles of Good Government.”

  1. Always become reality-driven.
  2. Always be honest and tell the truth.
  3. Always do what’s right and fair.
  4. Don’t procrastinate — determine your goal, develop a plan to reach your goal, then act!
  5. Communicate — make sure everyone who ought to know what you’re doing knows what you’re doing.
  6. Don’t hesitate to deliver bad news.
  7. Be willing to do whatever it takes to get your job done.

Question and Answer Session

Are you a ‘throw away’ vote? (26:08)

Q (paraphrased): What do you say to those that say you are a ‘throw away’ vote?

GJ: “Throwing away your vote is voting for someone you don’t believe in… The two-party system is broken and the only way to change it is to vote for who you believe in.”

Racial Reconciliation (27:20)

Q (paraphrased): How will you work to heal the racial division in our country?

GJ: “The roots of the racial divide lie in the war on drugs. And I’ve been more outspoken regarding [bringing an end to] the war on drugs than anyone else. As President, I will recognize this issue [and not ignore it].”

Abortion / Sanctity of Life (30:04)

Now the elephant in the room — abortion. Even though it was a tough crowd for his views, he could have done better here. I will include the exact wording of both the question and Johnson’s long-winded answer as to not take anything out of context.

Question: “On your website, it states that you personally believe in ‘the sanctity of life’, but that individuals should have the right to choose, and that the government shouldn’t be a part of that decision. How will this effect the kind of Supreme Court justices you will nominate, and why should a pro-life Christian vote for you?”

GJ: “Well, first of all, how could there be a more difficult choice in anyone’s life — and by ‘anyone’s life’, the woman involved?  And I personally believe that that is a choice that lies with the woman involved. Now, with regard to the ‘law of the land’, the ‘law of the land’ is KC vs. Planned Parenthood, and the ‘law of the land’ actually echos my own beliefs on the issue, and — came to them separately. I did not realize what the ‘law of the land’ was, which is KC vs Planned Parenthood. And the ‘law of the land’ says that a woman has the right to an abortion up to the viability of the fetus. And the viability of the fetus, as defined by the Supreme Court, is the ability to sustain the life of the fetus outside of the womb even if by artificial means. So there’s a scientific component to all this that is going to be moving for forward…”

“Also, as a Libertarian — libertarians are all about personal choice, all about personal liberty,  all about personal freedom. So Libertarians ideally would have a tax form that would say, “Check off what you would like to fund: bombs, abortion.” …In that context, as Governor of New Mexico, I did try to eliminate the funding from Medicaid to abortion… The Supreme Court overruled me in that decision, but that was the recognition that so many people abhor the notion of government funds being used for abortion, and I did not find that to be an issue.”

“So with regard to Supreme Court Justices — it would be an issue with justices ruling on the basis of ‘original intent’ of the Constitution. I think that Judge [Clarence] Thomas has probably been at the forefront of the kind of a judge that I would like to appoint.”

Ugh, where do I start?

The question actually gave him an out, and he failed to identify it. The question focused on the phrase “sanctity of life” used on his website, and then pivoted to the Supreme Court justice question. In short, the question was asking, “What does ‘santity of life’ mean to you, and how will your appointment of Supreme Court justices reflect that?”

The question actually does not mention the word abortion! I could tell whomever decided on phrasing the question that way was being kind. So when Johnson led with his rambling view on abortion, I just closed my eyes and couldn’t watch.

It is my view that being a “pro-life Christian” means much more than seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade. Recent studies show criminalizing abortion does not even result in less abortions — all politicians would do well to become familiar with those studies, especially libertarians. But I’ll save the nuance of that position for a later blog post.

Let’s get back to his answer — specifically how it could have been much better.

Johnson should have led with his answer on justices — which was very strong given the conservative crowd in attendance — regarding “original intent” and even citing the pro-life Clarence Thomas as his ideal.

He then could have shared the story of how he’s against government funding of abortions — also a position shared by most, if not all, in attendance.

Next, he could have pivoted to the point that for libertarians “sanctity of life” also means being against the death penalty — a point many Christians in the room would have supported.

Lastly, he could have weaved in the bit about it being “such a difficult and personal choice”, and simply say Libertarians always lean toward less government involvement whenever possible, and that includes in not wanting to look over a woman’s shoulder with regard to her private healthcare decisions.

For bonus points, he could have reiterated his opposition to late-term abortions, and at that moment brought in the scientific point about the”‘law of the land/viability of the fetus” argument he was trying to make (as late-term is well passed any definition of viability).

Instead, by focusing on the “libertarians are all about personal choice, personal liberty, personal freedom…” he set himself up for what the moderator said next —

Moderator: “And so, do you see sir how for us, how a woman’s right to choose also includes a baby’s right to ‘choose life’? ”
(in other words, what about the unborn’s right to a choice, liberty, and freedom?)…

To which loud cheering and a 30 second standing ovation ensued (while also making Johnson feel very small).

Religious Liberty (33:40)

In the next question on religious liberty — a topic in which Johnson took criticism from others within his own ranks due to answers earlier this year — he was pragmatic at best.

Q (paraphrased): How would you respond to evangelical Christians who believe they are being discriminated against in the public square because of their faith?

In summary, he says he is for fervently defending your rights to practice your religion as you see fit, and cited Utah legislation as an example. But there’s some nuance in his answer that seeks to protect the LGTBQ community from what he referred to as “religious freedom legislation that creates discrimination where it doesn’t already exist.” Go to the time marker above to hear his entire answer for yourself.

Video Question from Ken Bone (36:39)

The final question ended things on a light note as they had “internet sensation” Ken Bone submit a question via video. Ken Bone is the undecided voter from the 2nd Presidential debate whose red sweater went viral on social media.

Q: What was, in your opinion, the highlight of last week’s [Trump vs. Hillary] debate?

Johnson answered that the highlight for him was when the candidates were asked to share something positive about the other. He then went on to share some closing remarks concerning his candidacy. This is also the point where Johnson profusely thanked the students for coming (even though they had to be there).

All in all, Gary Johnson gave a strong speech in front of a large group of voters who for the most part probably wont be voting for him. Kudos to him for entering the lion’s den, and kudos to Liberty University for letting another voice be heard. As I outlined above, he could have done better on the pro-life question, but it is what it is.

As I’ve said previously, I’m likely voting for the Johnson/Weld ticket because the only way to break the two-party duopoly is to help the Libertarians get to 5%. Check out my previous post for why I am still comfortably #NeverTrump.