COMMENTARY | Tonight's tea party debate among GOP hopefuls won't include former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson despite the face he has polled better than former Utah Gov. and former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who will share the stage with current contenders Rick Perry of Texas, Mitt Romney and discounted third-place contender Ron Paul.
So that leaves me wondering: Why is Gary Johnson still a Republican? For that matter, given that the tea party moralists have changed the Republican Party into a party of hard-line moral purists willing to decry the government in your wallet but all too quick to govern what happens in your bedroom and living room, and given the fact the only president in modern history to actually succeed in balancing a budget was a Democrat, why are any sensibly minded, fiscal conservatives still registered as Republicans?
Johnson and Republican moderates should consider the option of changing parties and aligning themselves with Democrats. In Johnson's case, it's a move that could make him president. He's not doing anything for Republicans, and given they won't even let him in the debates, Republicans are certainly not doing anything for Johnson.
In the classical sense of the ideology of what constitutes a Democrat or a Republican, Johnson is a conservative. But the parties have become more about social issues than about fiscal issues, despite that some are trying to make the election about money.
Given the truth of that, Gary Johnson is a modern Democrat. On drug policy, like most Democrats, Johnson says, "It's up to you." His Republican counterparts support the war on drugs. On same-sex marriage, like Democrats, Johnson says "It's up to you what constitutes a family." On abortion, like Democrats, again he says the government should stay out of it. The same goes for prostitution. On immigration, Johnson sides with documentation over fences and guns.
Like Bill Clinton with a nation, the man once known as "Governor Veto" left his state fiscally sound at the end of his term of office. Given the opportunity, Democrats like balancing budgets. Johnson should become a Democrat.
Democrats are clamoring for the opportunity to elect a man who will have the tough fights. Johnson can't get on the stage with Republicans (because he doesn't fit there), but with no Democratic challenger in place, President Barack Obama is enjoying an unchallenged ride that would end the moment Johnson decided to challenge for the nomination. He's got the resume. He's just barking too much at the wrong tree.
This election will be about social issues, no matter how much the candidates and news media want it to be about the economy. We're smarter about money now and we know economies are cyclical. We know it will come back. Democrats will be voting for the guy they trust on social issues.
Obama looks good in a suit, and he made us think we were electing Superman. Johnson admittedly needs a better tailor (and hair stylist). He's awkward like Clark Kent and as charismatic as a box of Corn Flakes. But don't let that fool you. He also scaled Mount Everest with a broken leg and built a company from nothing into an empire with 1,000 employees. He doesn't look like much, but when faced with an obstacle, he faces it full on.
Will he put his cost-benefit analysis to the test and change parties? Yes. At least he will if he really wants to be president.