“China has a much lower incarceration rate than the United States, they don’t spy on their citizens like we do with the NSA,” Johnson told The Daily Beast editor-in-chief John Avlon and senior editor Andrew Kirell during a Facebook Live interview on Thursday.
Pressed further on that controversial point, Johnson pointed to the National Security Agency’s widespread collection of metadata from private citizens. When told that the Chinese government monitors political dissidents, he replied: “What do you call the NSA and the satellites that are trained on us and the fact that 110 million Verizon users are having everything we do on our cell phones being data-collected?”
Bold claims like that undoubtedly are among the many things that set Johnson apart from the two presumptive big-party candidates in Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
The former two-term governor of New Mexico ran in the 2012 Republican primary until he realized his mix of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism had no place in the GOP.
“There was not one social liberal on stage [for the GOP] in 2012, and guess what, today, 2016, not one social liberal on-stage for the Republican Party,” he lamented. “Republican social dogma rules at the end of the day.”
And so he left the GOP and ran as the Libertarian nominee in 2012—“A giant ball and chain lifted off me,” he recalled—and garnered the highest total votes ever for the party. And this time around, several polls show him in the double-digits, and much media attention has focused on whether he and VP choice Bill Weld—a fellow two-term governor—play spoiler to either Trump or Clinton.
Much of the criticism of Johnson’s beliefs (he’s a former marijuana company owner and is pro-choice on abortion) come from conservatives desperate for an alternative to Donald Trump.
While open to voting for a Johnson-Weld ticket, Mitt Romney recently told CNN: "It would be hard to come to support someone that takes those kinds of views... Marijuana makes people stupid and it is just not a good idea to say let's have more people falling prey to that.”
“Are you any more stupid than the consumption of alcohol?” Johnson fired back to The Daily Beast. “Should anyone be denied to ability to get stupid for an hour or two, as long as that being stupid doesn’t harm anyone else?”
Johnson admitted that his preferred method of consumption is via edible marijuana goods—gluten-free brownies mostly, due to his celiac disease.
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, also of the #NeverTrump mindset, has called Johnson’s foreign policy ideas “naive.”
“We inject ourselves in other country’s affairs,” Johnson responded of U.S. dealings in the Middle East. “If you analyze it after we’ve injected ourselves into that horrible situation, isn’t it horrible or oftentimes worse?”
“I reject the label that libertarians are isolationist,” he added. “We’re non-interventionist.”
Asked how he’d deal with ISIS in the wake of terror attacks in Orlando, Paris, Brussels, and San Bernardino, Johnson said: “Involve Congress in a debate and discussion over how we proceed. And then recognize that ISIS is really, regionally, it’s very contained… The fact that we bomb them, the fact that we have this rhetoric, and the fact that we do have boots on the ground, we fly drones and kill thousands of innocent people—these are recruiting tools for ISIS.”
However, when it comes to how he’d directly address Omar Mateen’s rampage on an Orlando nightclub, conservatives may find more common ground with Johnson.
Asked whether he would support an assault weapons ban, Johnson said: “If you restrict assault weapons, then only the bad guys are going to have assault weapons.” And regarding a ban on terror watchlist suspects from purchasing firearms, he said: “Any time the government has a list, it’s subject to error. There are active members of Congress on the watchlist.”
He added: “All of what we’re talking about right now would not have prevented this perpetrator from having did what he did.”
“What really interests me is to find out what transpired within the FBI and the fact that they interviewed this guy three times,” he explained. “Why was that a failure?”