WHEN: Monday, August 22nd
Gary Johnson has always cut a distinctive political profile. After growing up in Albuquerque, he built a successful construction business while nurturing his hobby as an endurance athlete. In 1994, at age 41, he entered politics by running for governor of New Mexico as a Republican. He rode his party's national tide — that was the year Republicans captured both houses of Congress — to victory and governed as a strict fiscal conservative. Now, turned off by the GOP's social conservatism and truculent immigration stance, he seeks the presidency as the Libertarian Party nominee with an idiosyncratic agenda. He favors smaller government in the social as well as economic realm, including legalization of marijuana. His running mate, William Weld, who served as governor of Massachusetts in the 1990s, is also a former Republican. Johnson discussed his campaign with me over huevos rancheros in a restaurant near his home in this scenic city.
A partial transcript from Speakeasy with John Harwood featuring Governor Gary Johnson follows. All references must be sourced to CNBC.com:
JOHN HARWOOD: How many miles did you ride on your bike to get here today?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: Maybe 15, 14, 15 miles. All uphill. It'll be a much nicer ride going back down.
JOHN HARWOOD: Given your passion for athletics, I'm surprised you're running for president of the United States.
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: Well, if I'm not elected, I will probably ski somewhere in the vicinity of 120 days next season.
JOHN HARWOOD: It seems to me not an accident that the two halves of your ticket are both former Republican governors. What does that tell you about the Republican party that that's what's ended up on the Libertarian ticket?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: 30% of Republicans believe the scourge of the earth is Mexican immigration. What's the reason for why I don't have a job? Well, make, make Mexican immigration the scapegoat for that, I understand why there's that sentiment. And there's a logic to the fact that they're coming over. They're taking our jobs. They're taking, you know, they're siphoning off our welfare system. When the reality is anything but. They are not taking jobs that U.S. citizens want. They're the cream of the crop when it comes to workers. And they are contributing to the economy.
JOHN HARWOOD: Do you see Trump as a freak event within the Republican party? Or does his emergence say something about where the Republican party has gravitated to?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: He's tapped into that anger. But that is not, in my opinion, representative of the majority of the Republican party. And where's that representation? Well, I think it's me. I think it's me right now. It's the Libertarian party. It's a big six-lane highway down the middle that Bill Weld and myself are occupying. I've been a self-declared Libertarian since '71. What was the old saying? If you weren't a Democrat in college, you didn't have a heart. And if you weren't a Republican in later life, you didn't have a brain. Well, I happen to think Libertarian kind of encompasses hearts and brains both. And that that's what we all are about.
JOHN HARWOOD: But isn't your problem that on economic policy, that Americans who are feeling stagnant in this economy want more from government, not less?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: You could be right. If Bernie Sanders supporters, and this is my hypothesis, is if you're looking for opportunity equality, that is something that's achievable. Most people recognize that nothing is free. Was there anything that Hillary didn't promise in her acceptance speech the other night to anybody?
JOHN HARWOOD: Do you think that there's no reason to raise taxes on anyone, including the most affluent people in the country?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: I'm not getting elected dictator or king. But if I could wave a magic wand, I would eliminate income tax. I would eliminate corporate tax. And I would replace it with one federal consumption tax.
JOHN HARWOOD: What happens to Wall Street regulation and Dodd-Frank specifically under Gary Johnson?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: Well, I would love to scrap it and get rid of it. But I'm not, I'm not the king. I'm not the dictator.
JOHN HARWOOD: The Libertarian party platform calls for phasing out the Social Security system.
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: I don't agree completely with the platform of the Libertarian party. And how could you phase out Social Security? I don't see that happening, but there does need to be reform to Social Security.
JOHN HARWOOD: Is it part of your objective to do something that sets off a chain of events that busts up the two-party system as it, we now know it?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: Maybe we're there already. Maybe that's going to be the consequence of what we do at a minimum.
JOHN HARWOOD: Let's say Hillary Clinton's elected. And you have a solid showing. Trump loses. Where does the Republican party go after that?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: This is the demise of the Republican party. This is an opportunity, I think, for the Libertarian party to become a major party.
JOHNSON ON POLLING
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: None of the polls being conducted right now have us on the top line. None of them. It's always Trump and Clinton and then second question, third question, "Well, what if you add Johnson-Weld?"
JOHN HARWOOD: Yup.
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: And then 99% of the media just reports line one. Well, I thought it was interesting over the weekend, Colorado came in at 15%. So all of our analytics, all of our social media analytics suggest that we're going to continue this. This is not – we have not topped out in any way. Right now today, 60% of Americans don't even know who we are. So back to if we were just on the top line, and I recognize that a lot of that has to do with just how polarizing the two of them are. But people don't realize that there is another choice.
JOHN HARWOOD: The history of third-party candidates is that they go down as we get closer to the election. The – only one time has a Libertarian nominee gotten 1% of the vote.
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: Politics is momentum. And we have, right now, straight line momentum.
JOHN HARWOOD: So you think that 10% can become what by November?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: I do think there's a better than 50% chance that we'll be in the presidential debates. If we're not in the presidential debates, hey, no chance of winning. No chance.
JOHN HARWOOD: Do you accept that the 15% threshold's going to hold?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: I don't have an issue with 15%. But shouldn't the polls include my name on the top line? And shouldn't it be reported top line? And if it – and that's my, that's my only issue. Fifteen percent? Not an issue.
JOHN HARWOOD: Let's say you get to 15% and you're in the debates.
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: We could win.
JOHNSON ON CLIMATE CHANGE
JOHN HARWOOD: We're sitting in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. What would you do about climate?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: Well, I do think that climate change is occurring, that it is man-caused. One of the proposals that I think is a very Libertarian proposal, and I'm just open to this, is taxing carbon emission that may have the result of being self-regulating.
JOHN HARWOOD: So you agree with the people who say the answer is to put a price on carbon and then the market will take care of it.
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: The market will take care of it. I mean, when you look at it from the standpoint of better results and actually less money to achieve those results, that's what is being professed by a carbon tax.
JOHN HARWOOD: You would like that better than, say, the Obama Clean Power Plan?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: Well, yes. My, my understanding of – back to carbon tax, is that it can accomplish all these things in a very free market way. Coal is a great free market example right now. You and I do not want carbon emission. We don't want it. And so right now, natural gas costs less than coal. So there are no new coal plants that are going to be built, given the price of natural gas. And that's something that you and I desire. So it's happening. I'm afraid that coal, from a free market standpoint, has been done in.
JOHNSON ON MARIJUANA
JOHN HARWOOD: Tell me about the effect that your accident, the paragliding accident had on your life.
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: In 2005, I had a really serious paragliding accident. I lost an inch and a half in height on that accident from the burst fracture in my back. And it took me three years to fully recover. Although six months after the accident, I did bicycle from Santa Fe to Napa Valley.
JOHN HARWOOD: In the recovery you were experiencing pain. And you, which you treated with marijuana.
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: it was really painful and I have an aversion to painkillers. I think painkillers are horrible. I'm laying on the floor and someone comes by and they said, "You know, you want me to get you some marijuana for this?" And I thought, "Yes, I do. Please." And I think that it absolutely helped me through this period that was really, really difficult.
JOHN HARWOOD: You became the chief executive of a cannabis company. Is in any way the run that you're making this time about building your profile for that purpose? For business purposes?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: Yeah. No. Not in any way. And the fact that I got to be the CEO of a publicly traded company in the marijuana space, that was something that was completely unexpected. But, very quickly. Marijuana products, medicinally, compete with legal prescription drugs that statistically kill 100,000 people a year. There's not been one documented death due to marijuana. So – and then on the recreational side, I've always maintained that legalizing marijuana will lead to less overall substance abuse because people will find it as such a safer alternative than everything else that's out there, starting with alcohol. But the President of the United States hiring the Surgeon General – the Surgeon General can de-schedule marijuana as a Class One narcotic. And that would open up the research and the development that needs to go along with –
JOHN HARWOOD: And you would want to do that?
GOVERNOR GARY JOHNSON: And I would want to do that. Yes.
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