A small but vocal contingent of military veterans is lobbying one of the nation's largest advocacy groups to invite Libertarian presidential hopeful Gary Johnson to its nationally televised forum with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America announced last week that it has secured agreements from the Republican and Democratic nominees to attend the hourlong event, which promises to focus exclusively on national security issues, military affairs and ongoing challenges facing the nation's veterans. It's scheduled for Sept. 7 in New York City, and will be aired on NBC and MSNBC.
Johnson, who served as New Mexico's governor from 1995 to 2003, has become a source of intrigue during an election season in which many potential voters say they are unhappy with the major party choices. Recent national polls show Johnson receiving between 9 and 12 percent of the vote come November, and his popularity is surging among active-duty military personnel and those who've served since 9/11, according to Dylan Milroy, a Marine Corps veteran who is leading the cause to have Johnson added to IAVA's Commander-in-Chief Forum.
"I would understand," Milroy said, "if Johnson was on just 30 or 40 state ballots and had no experience or chance of winning. But that is not the case."
Johnson, he added, "is the only candidate with a sane foreign and intervention policy. There is nothing American about these massive government policies and programs that the Clintons want to fund with trillions of more tax dollars. There is also nothing American or honorable about Trump wanting to carpet bomb anyone that throws a pebble at our boots."
Milroy estimates that, so far, he's rallied more than 100 fellow veterans via the social networking site Reddit. He and others have contacted IAVA repeatedly with their request but have received no response thus far.
A spokesman for IAVA said the organization is looking into the issue but declined to address additional questions.
Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for NBC, told Military Times that the network plans to invite Johnson to participate in a separate event to be aired on MSNBC "in the near future." It will address "the same set of issues related to national security and veterans," Kornblau said.
Johnson's campaign has not respond to inquiries.
It's unclear just how popular the Libertarian is among current troops and veterans. In a survey of nearly 2,000 active-duty service members, reservists and National Guard personnel, conducted by Military Times in July ahead of the Democratic and Republican national conventions, more than 13 percent of respondents said they intend to vote for Johnson. Those results, while not a scientific sampling of the armed forces as a whole, are representative of more senior and career-oriented troops, the men and women who run the military's day-to-day operations and carry out its policies.
Also unclear is how welcome Johnson would be at the IAVA event. Organizers spent months trying to secure agreements from Trump and Clinton. Changing the lineup now could prove challenging logistically.
Moreover, as dissatisfaction with Trump and Clinton has grown more palpable, there is no shortage of speculation that Johnson could swing the election by siphoning votes from one or the other in key battleground states.
IAVA is a nonprofit consisting of nearly 190,000 members, according to its website. The organization says it is nonpartisan.
Milroy, who worked as an aviation technician in the Marines from 2010 to 2014, said he does not have an official role within Johnson's campaign but acknowledged that his "frustrations and passions" are fueling his motivation to see the Libertarian added to IAVA's event.
Salvador Perez-Palma, a Navy vet who served five years on active duty as a machinist repairman, noted that the voting public typically has to choose between "the lesser of two evils." But this year, he said, "the two options are so bad we are desperately pushing for a third."
In June, Johnson and his running mate, former Massachusetts governor William Weld, were invited by CNN to appear at a televised town hall event. They attacked the Obama administration's Middle East policies, and blamed the Islamic State group's rise on what they called the White House's poor judgment on military matters. Johnson also faulted Congress for refusing to formally address the issue of military force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, saying lawmakers have abdicated their war responsibilities.
Like Milroy and Perez-Palma, Air Force veteran Louis Honeycutt said he has petitioned IAVA with hopes Johnson will be allowed to join Trump and Clinton in New York. "America," Honeycutt added, "needs to know his stance on national security, military affairs and veterans issues."
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