Tonight, for the first time since May, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson will be included in a Republican presidential debate. I chatted briefly with Johnson to see how he’s going to approach it.
Slate: There was some confusion earlier over whether you had made it into the debate or not. What happened?
Johnson: There was a CNN poll three weeks ago that had me at 2 percent. A week ago, CNN put out a new national poll – and my name wasn’t included! So the Republican Party of Florida said I should not be in the debate; the criteria they came in with was that I had to be at 1 percent in five of the polls. Well, I’m wasn’t in 2 of the last national polls. Fox chose to interpret the rules differently, counting the five polls I was in, which I think was fair!
Slate: You’ve missed two months of debates. You’ve missed some practice. What are you doing to prep?
Johnson: Going back to when I was governor of New Mexico, I debated my opponent 28 times. I’d like to think I’m in eight kinds of debates every single day with every person I talk to. On that stage, I’ll be as nervous as a human being can be, and if I wasn’t, i wouldn’t be a human being.
Slate: Often in these debates, the more libertarian-minded candidates get hypotheticals to draw out their philosophy. Last time, we saw Ron Paul get drawn in on a question about whether, with government totally out of the picture on health care, he’d let a man in a coma die. How would you have answered the question?
Johnson: I would have answered that there are people in need, and I’m of the belief that government is the only entity able to provide in some cases. I think we can cut what we’re spending in Medicare and Medicaid 33%. There are tough cases like this, and they should be dealt with by the states. But as the governor of a state, no, I don’t want to see this guy die!
Slate: Sort of unrelated: The House just voted down a version of FEMA funding, because Republicans wanted to attach spending cuts to the bill, and they couldn’t get Democratic votes. Do you want Republicans to stick to their guns and demand the cuts?
Johnson: I’m not hung up on that. One of the things government should be around for is to deal with catastrophes. It should do that well. To me, that’s a government function, and we shouldn’t be playing political games with it.
Slate: Have you brainstormed any questions for your fellow candidates?
Johnson: I would ask Mitt Romney: “What is your position on anything?”