Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson has pushed back on a rumor that his running mate will quit to prevent a Republican victory in November, telling an audience in Texas that it was best described by an unprintable word.
“Occasionally you get a question that is just so out of left field that I answered it with: Bull----,” Johnson said at the annual Texas Tribune Festival.
Friends of William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts whose ticket has given boosts in fundraising and gravitas, have said for days that Donald Trump’s recovery in the polls had given him second thoughts about running as a “spoiler.” In a CNN interview on Sept. 18, former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein said “there could be some pressure brought on” Weld by his friends, warning him that he could pull votes from Hillary Clinton and hand the presidency to Trump.
“Bill Weld does not want to be Ralph Nader, and help elect a president of the United States such as Nader did in Florida in the case of George Bush,” Bernstein said, referring to the 2000 election. “There’s a real underlying story here, and I think in the next few days we’re going to have a chance to look at it.”
Weld quickly dismissed the story as “wishful thinking” and said in a statement that “under no circumstances will our energies be diverted from our goal of winning the election and serving our country.”
On Thursday, he stumped for the Libertarian ticket in Jacksonville, Fla., and according to the campaign, he would be in New York on Monday, when he and Johnson will engage in a media blitz over their exclusion from the presidential debates.
But one of the factors that made Weld valuable for the Libertarian ticket is behind the drumbeat of rumors. Weld, who met Hillary Clinton when they were young lawyers, won Democratic votes in two gubernatorial races and an unsuccessful bid for Senate. There’s overlap in Clinton’s and Weld’s circles of friends; that’s led to steady pressure for Weld to quit if it looks like it would stop a Trump victory.
In an interview, Johnson said he had talked to Weld on Friday about the “bull----” rumor, and knew he was brushing off the pleas to quit.
“What happened was that The New York Times came out with an article, saying that somehow we’re a threat to Hillary,” Johnson said. “Overnight, there was an Internet troll army unleashed on our campaign. Not only that, but a whole bunch of political pundits somehow came out of the woodwork. It was all very coordinated and it all happened, amazingly, right after that article.”
The article, which ran on the newspaper’s front page, found Clinton operatives worried that Johnson was polling strongly with millennials, dividing what might have otherwise been a solid anti-Trump vote. Balanced Rebellion, a super PAC run by the longtime tea party activist Matt Kibbe, has directed most of its spending to millennial outreach and scored millions of views for a video in which the sarcastic ghost of Abraham Lincoln tells young voters to reject both parties.
That ad was part of a push to get Johnson and Weld above the 15 percent polling threshold that the Commission on Presidential Debates uses to determine the lineup for its televised events. It didn’t succeed, meaning that Johnson definitely won’t appear at Monday’s debate and that Weld won’t be onstage at the sole vice-presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 4.
Johnson had previously said the election was winnable if voters got to see him and Weld debate the major-party candidates, and un-winnable if they didn’t. But he denied that Weld might walk as a result of their exclusion.
“He’s not mentioned that,” Johnson said. “I don’t think that’s a concern.”
At the festival, Johnson stayed on message, rejecting the premise when pollster Matthew Dowd asked him to choose if his ballot only featured Clinton and Trump.
“I’ve had nightmares about me dropping out,” he said.