You may remember hearing a story when you were growing up about Abraham Lincoln and his beard. The story goes that a little girl named Grace Bedell wrote to Lincoln and suggested that he grow a beard. Lincoln never had a beard before he ran for president, but of course he took this little girl up on her suggestion. Now it’s almost impossible for us to picture him without one today.
Lincoln replied to to Grace Bedell, writing, “having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?” Could Lincoln have had another reason for growing a beard beyond the suggestion of this little girl? Might it be that one reason Abraham Lincoln was so open to this little girl’s request to grow a beard, specifically one without a mustache, was to send a message to voters that he would be a pro-peace, anti-war president?
Before you call me crazy, please remember that Lincoln was from Illinois where he would have frequently encountered Mennonite and Amish communities. Men in these communities grew beards without mustaches. Seeing a man who had a beard without a mustache would have immediately been a signal that he was a pacifist. When Lincoln grew a beard without a mustache, he was doing more than responding to the suggestion of a little girl. He was sending a signal to an important constituency that he identified with them.
Lincoln is sometimes referred to as the last 3rd Party candidate to be elected president. The Republican Party was founded in 1854 and just six years later, in 1860, Lincoln was elected president. This was possible only because of Lincoln’s ability to build new political alliances that transcended traditional party lines.
Abraham Lincoln actually grew a beard to identify with one block of voters that comprised his winning coalition, but figuratively speaking, he grew a beard with many other constituencies.
In 1860, Lincoln was the Compromise Candidate. While Abolitionists called for an immediate end to slavery without compensation to slave owners, Lincoln supported ending slavery gradually by various means.
Today, Gary Johnson is running for president as the only 3rd party option on the ballot in all 50 states. He’s running at a time when the country is highly polarized and when the two major parties have offered up, simultaneously, the most unpopular candidates in modern history. In recent weeks his campaign has picked up steam as he and running mate Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, make a push to get to 15% in national polls so they can make the presidential and vice-presidential debates. If Gary Johnson wants to make the debates, he needs to grow a beard.
What’s Johnson’s winning coalition? What are the beards that Gary Johnson needs to grow? Who are the constituencies that could make up a winning coalition for Gary Johnson? Remember, these have to cross conventional political lines. In order to create a new, dominant political coalition Johnson must pull from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. All these groups need is some common ground.
Pro-Peace / Anti-War
Let’s start with why Lincoln grew that beard in the first place. Don’t want to go to war? Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton are a good bet. Both support the burgeoning military industrial complex. There is virtually no difference in the substance of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on foreign policy. Donald Trump is more rough around the edges, but their policies will be virtually identical. Gary Johnson should make the case that he is the only candidate for president who will not needlessly send American men and women to fight and die in foreign wars. Like Lincoln, pro-peace / anti-war voters should make up a significant part of a winning Johnson coalition.
Gary Johnson vetoed more than 700 bills in his two terms as Governor of New Mexico. They called him “Governor No.” He’s free market and free trade. Johnson should make the case to fiscal conservatives that he is a more reliable vote than Donald Trump who has demonstrated he has no philosophical understanding of limited government. Johnson could make inroads with this group by painting Donald Trump as a big government candidate. Trump’s nomination by the Republican Party leaves small government voters as political orphans. These voters could make up a significant part of a winning Johnson coalition.
Republicans will tell you they want the government out of your pocketbook. Democrats will tell you they want the government out of your bedroom. Gary Johnson wants the government out of both. Gary Johnson has long supported getting the government out of marriage entirely and leaving the business of “marriage” to religious institutions. Under the current framework, however, he came out in support of gay marriage long before Hillary Clinton. For Republicans who have drawn a line in the sand on the issue of abortion, is Donald Trump reliable on this issue? In the conservative National Review, Adrea Ruth wrote why Gary Johnson is the best option for pro-life conservatives even though he is a pro-choice candidate. Social liberals should have no problem supporting Gary Johnson. The long growing faction of the Republican Party who has believed the party needs to stop talking about social issues should find Gary Johnson to be a refreshing voice.
Instead of a beard, maybe Gary Johnson needs to grow a cool hipster mustache and go after the Bernie Sanders voters. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both represent the establishment. Donald Trump may be running as an anti-establishment candidate, but he’s the life-long beneficiary of the crony capitalism that both Republicans and Democrats have supported for a generation. He needs to make a case that he’s the only candidate in a position to break the duopoly of the two-party system, which is no longer representative of the American people. 42 percent of Americans identify as Independent today. It’s time for a 3rd voice in Washington to represent these voters.
End the Gridlock
If Donald Trump is elected president, Democrats in Congress will neatly line up against him. If Hillary Clinton is elected president, Republicans will neatly line up against her. It’s a predictable knee-jerk reaction. But what if Gary Johnson is elected president? The two major parties in Congress won’t be able to so easily fall into predictable patterns. Every four years candidates tout their ability to work with the opposing party and to end the gridlock. Candidates say this because they know voters want it, but no Republican or Democrat is ever going to end the gridlock. Only a 3rd party candidate can, and Gary Johnson needs to appeal to these voters.
These five groups of people aren’t necessarily accustomed to being in the same room, but the potential is there that Gary Johnson could build a new political coalition. He should start by growing a beard.
Can Gary Johnson actually win? It’s more possible than you may think. Check out my new book, Backdoor to the White House: The 2016 Election and the Crazy Story that Might Come True. Get it on Amazon or Kindle. You can also read the first three chapters for free here.
Special thanks to Dr. David Bartley of Indiana Wesleyan University for his assistance with this article.