Presidential candidate Gary Johnson is not a good television personality. He’s awkward and uncomfortable. He contradicts himself. He’s often non-committal with his answers. While Wednesday’s CNN town hall was an improvement from the one in June, it was Johnson’s running mate, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, who delivered many of the best moments. Johnson’s performance, while passable and even stellar at times, was plagued with indecisive and ambiguous answers. However, this inability to speak fluent bumper sticker should not disqualify him. In fact, some of his weaknesses on television could translate into strengths in the Oval Office.
Being a presidential candidate and being the president are two fundamentally different jobs. Being good at one does not guarantee you’ll be good at the other. In fact, there are some traits that might be assets as a candidate that would be liabilities as a president. A president negotiates with people from different backgrounds, both foreign and domestic. A good candidate doesn’t meet in the middle with their opponents; they instead make a compelling case for why the opposition is unworthy of office. A good president prioritizes the needs of the people and isn’t responsive to special interests. A good candidate schmoozes donors constantly, as their very campaign depends on it. A good president is detail-oriented, understands that complex problems typically require nuanced solutions and makes policy decisions accordingly. A good candidate is able to sum up their positions in easily digestible sound bites.
One of Johnson’s biggest problems on television is his lack of commitment. While other candidates like to say “this is good” and “that is bad,” Johnson prefers phrases like “I’m open to discussion about that,” “it’s a complicated issue” and my new personal favorite, “Perhaps we’re really good at civil liberties.” All this makes it difficult for outsiders to learn what his positions actually are.
A prime example came on Wednesday when an audience member asked Johnson where he stood regarding religious liberty and LGBT discrimination. He asserted that there can be a balance between the two, but didn’t paint a clear picture of what that balance might look like. Since many voters have already picked a side in this conflict, many will have trouble relating to a candidate that doesn’t. “Us vs. Them” makes for good television. “There can be a balance between us and them” does not.
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