Friday 3 June 2016 4:50 am

Never Trump and Never Clinton have gifted Libertarians an historic opportunity to realign US politics

The Never Trump movement was to be expected. A true outsider breaking into the right-wing political establishment was never going to go down smoothly, and Donald Trump’s behaviour since entering the US presidential race hasn’t made his candidacy any easier a pill to swallow among Republicans.

What’s truly remarkable is the recent surge in the Never Clinton movement.

When the Democratic debates first kicked off this primary season, senator Bernie Sanders stood next to Hillary Clinton on stage and could not have been more praiseworthy. He tossed much of his political ammo against her – like her email scandal – out the window, declaring it a Republican smear campaign, and kept his digs at her policy-focused, just sprinkling a few mentions of her connections to Wall Street here and there.

Read more: What Hillary needs to do in the Age of Trump to win and win again

No longer. Sanders – and, more importantly, his supporters – have grown far more vocal, and scathing, about Clinton’s voting record, corporate donations, and lucrative speaking engagements for Wall Street. No doubt this increasingly unsportsmanlike behaviour is a backlash against the Democratic establishment more than anything else; the Sanders camp believes the primary process is set up in a way that has fundamentally disadvantaged his campaign.

But regardless of motive, the consequence of these vicious attacks is further frustration and disenchantment within the Democratic Party with their presumptive nominee. Months back, the exit polls showed a large majority of Sanders supporters willing to support Clinton come November; now, according to a YouGov poll taken in early May, 45 per cent do not plan to vote for her in the general election.

The Never Clinton movement is much more problematic for Clinton than the Never Trump movement is for Trump. Until last weekend, independents, moderates and pragmatic Republicans didn’t have the luxury of chanting Never Clinton. She was the only alternative to the xenophobic radical who has hijacked the Republican Party.

But this is no longer the case.

Read more: What is more likely: Brexit or Trump becoming President?

Aptly named the “honourable alternative” by the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, a third presidential candidate has emerged. Last weekend, delegates at the Libertarian convention nominated two former governors to their presidential ticket: Gary Johnson and William Weld.

The Libertarian Party has never had any success on the presidential level. Indeed, Johnson – who was the candidate in 2012 as well – received just 1 per cent of the national vote in the general election that year. But the party may have just entered the perfect storm: with so much dissatisfaction within the two major parties and with the looming potential for party realignment – populists versus conservatives on the right and moderates versus socialists on the left – this could be a historic chance for a fringe party to become mainstream.

Both Johnson and Weld were elected as Republican governors in left-leaning states; both are proven fiscal conservatives and small government advocates; both value civil liberties and take a liberal view on social issues (including abortion and gay rights). This combination of principles will be very appealing to voters, especially (but not exclusively) in the era of Clinton and Trump.

Read more: Why the US presidential race leaves me utterly miserable

The few pollsters who have included Johnson found him polling around 10 per cent. But in order to get on the national debate stage, he will have to hit 15 per cent in five national polls. Just four years ago, suggesting this possibility was the stuff of fantasy. Now, with 47 per cent of voters saying they’ll consider a third party candidate, and the media giving Johnson more attention than ever, this is no longer a pipe dream.

It is my deepest hope that pollsters give Johnson a shot in this race – and any other fringe party candidate who creeps up in popularity. Voters deserve better than the political chameleon and media monster we’ve been left to choose from.

Put Trump and Clinton on the debate stage, and it’s a low-brow, ugly debate you’ll get. Add Johnson, and that’s when you’ll start a real conversation in America.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.