ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, dropped out of the Republican presidential race this week, having made very little impression in the polls and, as a result, qualified for very few debates.
Mr. Johnson is now seeking the Libertarian presidential nomination. He stands for shrinking the federal budget almost in half, legalizing marijuana. He's against gun control, against building a fence along the border with Mexico. He is pro-choice on abortion and he favors the right of marriage for same-sex couples. And he joins us now from Taos, New Mexico.
Welcome to the program.
GARY JOHNSON: Great to be on. Thanks.
SIEGEL: And first, you've faulted the Republican Party for accepting TV network rules that excluded you from most of the debates. But why isn't it equally true to say that Republican primary voters in this cycle show no interest whatever in somebody who is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, hence you had little traction in Iowa and New Hampshire?
JOHNSON: You know, I would argue that I'm speaking on behalf of the majority of Republicans but wasn't really ever given a chance on stage. And that had to do more with being excluded from polls that determined who got in the debates. And when I was, I polled equally with those on stage.
Speaking with a broad brush, I think that people consider themselves fiscally conservative and socially liberal. And I think the Libertarian Party certainly stands for that broad brush.
SIEGEL: Your announcement was very respectful of Congressman Ron Paul, as the exception in the GOP field. He's a former Libertarian presidential candidate. If you were actually to win the GOP nomination, would you return to the fold and support him?
JOHNSON: You know, I don't think it's going to happen. I wish him well. It is about a message that I think really resonates with people. You know, Ron Paul and I have some disagreements on a few things. But for the most part, we're talking about liberty, freedom, and do all of that in the context of don't spend more money than what you're taking in. Or they'll be implications for that too. And the implications for that is a monetary collapse.
SIEGEL: By the way, what do you make of Congressman Paul's libertarianism which pointedly does not include respect for the reproductive rights of women?
JOHNSON: Well, that would be one of our differences. I also happen to think that Israel, you know, we were responsible for the creation of Israel and that was through the United Nations; that they've been a strong military ally, that they will remain such. I do not think a military threat right now exists from Iran, but we should be vigilant to that. And I think it's naive to think that Israel is not going to act in their best interests should there be weapons of mass destruction showing themselves.
SIEGEL: And you would say the U.S. should support an Israeli action in that case, if Israel were to act militarily?
JOHNSON: Well, I would argue that that would probably be in our best interest. And to have them do that is a better situation than U.S. men and servicewomen engaged in the same.
SIEGEL: I want to ask you about where the limits to your Libertarianism are. If you became convinced, say, that human activity is contributing to global warming, would the government be obliged to curtail my rights and yours as to what kind of energy we consume and how much energy we consume?
Or would our individual liberties trump any collective obligation, until each of us became convinced that it was in my individual interest and yours, and the next person's to change one's carbon footprint?
JOHNSON: You know, I'm accepting that global warming is man-caused. That said, I am opposed to cap and trade. I think that free-market approach. Hey, we're all demanding less carbon emission. I think we're going to get it. I think coal generation is not going to be a thing of the future because of our increased natural gas supplies. And so, we're going to see a lot of natural gas electrical generation come online. That's going to be in the very distant future, as this phenomenon has occurred. So...
SIEGEL: But, Governor...
JOHNSON: ...there is going to be less carbon emission.
SIEGEL: But, Governor, if cleaner energy is more expensive to produce, doesn't that require government regulation to favor clean energy? The market would favor cheaper energy, which would be dirtier in that case.
JOHNSON: Well, I would argue that with a free-market approach to energy that the reason for what I just said - us switching from coal to natural gas - will have to do with the fact that natural gas is going to be very competitive, from a pricing standpoint, to do that.
SIEGEL: There are political observers in New Mexico who think that you could run very well there, as a former governor. And as a former Republican governor, you could draw enough votes to make the state an easy win for President Obama.
Do you regard the two big parties as so equal, or equally unattractive, that if you tilted the race to the Democrats you wouldn't feel at all guilty about that?
JOHNSON: Well, I don't think I'm going to tilt the race to the Democrats.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
JOHNSON: I think I'm going to take from the Democrats just like I'm going to take from the Republicans. And the exciting thing to me is, is that the Libertarian nominee will be on the ballot in the general election in all 50 states. And to me, that's really exciting to be able to continue to talk about a message that I think resonates with a whole lot of people, if they can just hear it.
SIEGEL: Well, thanks very much for talking with us. Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico who has dropped out of the Republican presidential race, and is now pursuing the nomination of the Libertarian Party.
JOHNSON: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.