Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson worked to present himself as a viable commander-in-chief alternative to the major party frontrunners during a nationally televised town hall on Wednesday, pledging a foreign policy platform of "not isolation, but non-intervention."
The party's nominees have only cracked 1 percent of the popular presidential vote in the last 44 years, and Johnson as the party's 2012 presidential nominee drew only about 1.3 million votes of the 129 million-plus cast nationwide.
But recent national polls have put Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, as high as 12 percent among potential November voters, a strong statement of displeasure with the presumed major party nominees, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
That has drawn extra attention to Johnson and his vice presidential running mate William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts. Party officials said their national convention last month was the most heavily attended in party history, and insist they're on track to be the only third party to be on every state ballot in November.
Johnson acknowledged in the CNN event Wednesday that winning the White House is a formidable challenge, given the massive fundraising gap between his campaign and the networks of the two major campaigns.
But when pressed by an audience member on whether he'd prefer to see Trump or Clinton win, Johnson dismissed both options, insisting he is more than a potential spoiler for other hopefuls.
"There will always be a libertarian choice," he said. "I'm not going to give in to voting for one or the other."
Both Johnson and Weld have advocated cutting federal spending by 20 percent, including Defense Department funding. When asked if that could ruin military readiness, Weld said it would not.
"I've never seen a layer of government that didn't have 10 or 20 percent waste," he said. The pair referenced Congress' continued block of a new base closing round, something that Pentagon leaders insist is long overdue.
"But the baseline position of the Libertarian party is an invincible defense," Weld said. "That means projection of military supremacy around the world, but it does not encompass boots on the ground and American blood on foreign soil."
Johnson blasted the White House for its policies in the Middle East, calling military operations there a reason for the growth of Islamic State group militants' power. But he also pledged that "if we are attacked, we are going to attack back."
He also criticized Congress for its reluctance to weigh in on a new authorization of military force for operations in Iraq and Syria, saying lawmakers have abdicated their war responsibilities to the executive branch.
Johnson's web site promises to "move quickly and decisively to refocus U.S. efforts and resources to attack the real threats we face in a strategic, thoughtful way" but also states that "simplistic options of … dropping more bombs must be replaced with strategies that will isolate and ultimately neuter those violent extremist groups."
Party officials are hoping to be included in the presidential debates later this summer, but the Commission on Presidential Debates has established that only candidates that reach 15 percent in national polls will be included in those forums.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.