The THIRD WAY

Last week, I interviewed former mayorand current University of North Florida president John Delaney.

Most of the topics discussed were local topics, but toward the end of the session, the interview veered into national territory.

I asked Delaney about the man being nominated by his Republican Party this week, Donald J. Trump, thinking that the presidential election leaves an establishment Republican like Delaney without a place to go.

Delaney had plenty to say about Trump, and not all of it was quotable. But he was clearly irked by how Trump managed to, in one year of operation, debase what was left of the Republican brand after seven years of Tea Party pyrotechnics.

The “baseness and coarseness” of Trump’s language, and unrealistic policy proposals, like deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, struck Delaney as absurd.

“I was a Jeb guy,” Delaney said.

But don’t think for a minute that Delaney is considering voting for the Democratic ticket; as he said, “the Clintons for 30 years have had grand juries” investigating them.

It’s quite possible that he could vote for a Gary Johnson/William Weld ticket in November, he said, though he didn’t endorse or even come close.

Yes. The most popular Republican in Jacksonville history is flirting with the idea of voting for the Libertarian ticket.

Later that same day, Jeb Bush was on MSNBC, doing a long interview with his former press secretary.

Bush’s aversion to Trump is well-documented, and some of that revulsion may be because Trump ethered him in the early primaries.

Yet like Delaney, Bush is struggling to support this particular Republican.

“The simple fact is, there’s a threshold past which anybody that steps into the Oval Office must go. And I don’t think either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump pass that threshold. In terms of temperament, character, trustworthiness, integrity. So what do you do?” Bush asked.

Bush added, “There’s other people running. There’s the Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld. I don’t know. They don’t get a lot of airtime yet.”

What is going on when two high-profile Republicans — legacies, people still admired — flirt with the idea of voting Libertarian?

Well, the political center of gravity has shifted. On all sides.

The Republican Party of the pre-9/11 era had its faults, to be sure. But that was the era in which Jeb Bush and John Delaney had their biggest political triumphs.

And the rhetoric was different. It was a time when Jack Kemp was the conservative hero for ideas like enterprise zones. There was no one yammering about “building a wall and making Mexico pay for it.”

There was a conservative wing of the party that dominated in the Sunbelt, tempered by actual moderate Republicans and even Libertarian Republicans who saw the word “libertarian” as more meaningful than code for “buy your assault rifle and take it to the mall with you because the Second Amendment and Stone Cold say so.”

William Weld, in 1990s GOP, exemplified the Northeastern moderate Republican, supporting medical marijuana and gay marriage, during an era of zero tolerance and “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

And Gary Johnson? The most Libertarian governor in modern American history, cutting spending and, by the time he got to a second term, was willing to say into a live mic that the War on Drugs was as catastrophic a failure as Prohibition.

He vetoed GOP bills and Democratic bills alike, eschewing political patronage for real cost-benefit analyses.

Both men were re-elected in Democratic states. Why? Because although they were Republicans, they governed in good faith.

Does Hillary Clinton, who skated away from an email scandal solely because a Democratic Attorney General has visions of reappointment in her head, strike you as a good-faith candidate? What about Trump, who managed to have three different positions on abortion in one news cycle? Is he a good-faith candidate?

The answer is obvious.

Many of the most politically savvy people in Jacksonville — Republicans appalled by Trump, Democrats exhausted by the Clinton carnival — are taking hard looks at the Libertarian ticket. Not because of the checkered history of the LP — there is plenty that’s odd about it — but because of the two pragmatists at the top of the ticket.

They will likely get screwed out of being able to appear in debates with major party candidates. And, barring an infusion of Koch Brothers money (which will not line up behind Trump), you won’t see national ads.

But in a year when two appalling options are the “electable” candidates, Americans will take serious looks at Johnson and Weld. Including many people you know. Maybe even you, in the end.

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