"Everybody that I've met in my life prior to today emailed me, I think," Johnson said. "Everybody had a suggestion for what I was supposed to do."
The mission: Get taken seriously for once. Johnson was supposed to be the Next Ron Paul of Republican politics. Ron Paul realized that he had gotten pretty good at that job. Johnson impressed nobody at a May debate in South Carolina. He had not debated a political foe since 1998, which led to word-salad answers like this one: "I'm in the camp that believes that we as individuals, we need a bit of help, so government helps out but at the point at which it runs out, that's when we really deal with the problems that we have and as individuals that's when we deal with those problems."
Candidates who poll around 1 percent are rewarded if they make debates more exciting. Johnson was punished. He missed the cut for every other debate, flunking the ad hoc tests of polling strength, becoming a nonperson. In his last finance report, he had around $6,000 to campaign with. The one Republican who backed legal marijuana, opposed the death penalty, and wanted to cut 43 percent from the military budget had become invisible.
Libertarians have more intellectual sway in the Republican Party right now than they've had in … well, give me a couple hours, and I'll think of another time. Johnson's vanishing act annoyed them. On Wednesday, before I got to Florida, a libertarian friend who owns a comic book store (no jokes!) asked me why Gary Johnson kept getting stiffed in the debates. For the first time, I could say that he wasn't being stiffed. Thursday, as Republican delegates and legislators and hangers-on kibitzed, I ran into FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe. "Gary Johnson's going to come out swinging," he predicted. Then I ran into State Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a mainline conservative Republican, and asked him if he was ready for Johnson. "What was his name?" said Haridopolos. "God bless him for showing up."