Libertarian candidate looking for place in presidential debate

Libertarian presidential candidate Governor Gary Johnson ( right) and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, spoke with the editorial boards of the Inquirer and the Daily News on Monday. "Our whole future hinges on the presidential debates," Johnson says.

If Gary Johnson wants a shot at the presidency, he believes, he needs to get into the presidential debates.

That's what is required to boost his name recognition high enough to truly compete in the general election, the Libertarian presidential candidate told the editorial boards of the Inquirer and the Daily News on Monday.

Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, who is polling around 10 percent, needs to poll at least 15 percent to get onstage with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for three debates this fall.

"Our whole future hinges on the presidential debates," Johnson said. "If we're not in the debates, it's not going to happen."

He and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, told the boards that they are a sensible alternative to this year's "poisonous" major-party campaigns - and that they believe most Americans support the basic libertarian creed of fiscally conservative but socially liberal policies.

Johnson said that, given the choice, he would vote for neither Clinton nor Trump.

Weld said Clinton was "not chopped liver" - "she's an old friend" - but said her spending plans would expand the government. Trump, on the other hand? "Everything he says is maniacal," Weld said.

Johnson fielded several questions about foreign policy, a week after he asked "What is Aleppo?" on MSNBC in response to a question about one of the cities hit hardest by the Syrian civil war.

"There's no excuse regarding Aleppo," he said. He had "no idea what the context of the interview was," he added, and cited a grueling campaign schedule.

Then he rattled off a list of the major players in the Syrian conflict and their conflicting alliances.

"This is about as messed up as it gets," Johnson said. He said he was committed to defeating ISIS, but worried that another radical terrorist group would fill the void were ISIS eradicated.

On the home front, Johnson decried Trump's plan to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico - immigrants are "an absolute asset," he said - and would "utilize that bully pulpit" to speak out against discrimination.

"All lives matter, but black lives matter," he said. He said he had recently been struck by the ESPN documentary O.J.: Made in America, which looks at the O.J. Simpson trial in the context of race in America.

"Discrimination does exist," he said. "We've had our heads in the sand."

Weld said he and his running mate will try to do all they can to drum up support over the next several weeks, and get their poll numbers high enough to debate.

"We're trying to win this game," he said. "My fervent hope is that we can make Mr. Trump come in third place."

awhelan@philly.com

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@aubreyjwhelan