Whatever you do, don’t call Gary Johnson a ‘job creator’

Chris Moody

It's not every day a politician makes a point to correct a news outlet that dubs him a master job creator.

When National Review magazine called GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson "the best job creator of them all," the former New Mexico governor blasted the story out to supporters--but not in the way most campaigns would. Instead of basking in the credit, Johnson took issue with it: As governor, he insisted, he didn't create one job.

"Contrary to the news, I didn't create a single job," Johnson said in a statement. "Don't get me wrong. We are proud of this distinction. We had a 11.6 percent job growth that occurred during our two terms in office. But the headlines that accompanied that report—referring to governors, including me, as 'job creators'--were just wrong. The fact is, I can unequivocally say that I did not create a single job while I was governor."

For a libertarian-leaning GOP candidate like Johnson, renouncing credit for job creation is a key point of pride, and the suggestion that he'd been busy "creating jobs" as a public official a badge of shame, not honor. The best jobs, conservatives and libertarians contend, are the ones created by the private sector. The government shouldn't be in the business of "creating" jobs, Johnson argues, but rather should create a business-friendly climate permitting private employers to add new jobs.

In his own words:

In New Mexico, we focused like a laser on creating an environment in which real employers and job creators could produce job growth.

My priority was to get government out of the way, keep it out of the way, and allow hard-working New Mexicans, entrepreneurs and businesses to fulfill their potential. That's how government can encourage job growth, and that's what government needs to do today.

Of course, the problem for Johnson is that such semantic clarifications may not resonate in an age of three-second television sound bites and quick-hit blog posts.

While Johnson is being uncharacteristically honest for a national politician, his message could easily be lost on some--and opponents will no doubt misconstrue his words if he becomes a threat. No political operative will lose a moment of sleep over stripping those seven words--"I did not create a single job"--out of context for a TV spot.

Johnson, however, is betting that voters know better. With the rise of the tea party in reaction to President Obama's ambitious governing vision over the past two years, politicians do not boast (as much) about what they have done, so much as about what they have not done. For the time being, doing "nothing" is the new claim to legitimacy in the GOP primary field.

So perhaps Johnson's decision to push back against the job-creation claim means that he thinks he can get deeper traction among small-government conservatives--a critical primary constituency--by stressing his complete faith in the private sector. One thing's clear, at any rate: with his early approval numbers among GOP voters still in the single digits, the former governor can afford to take a risk .

(Johnson photo: Richard Shiro/AP)