December 16, 2011 8:34AM

The Debates and Gary Johnson

Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal that “the debates have allowed every potentially serious candidate to be seen by large audiences.” One thing that has generally made presidential candidates serious is experience in executive office, especially as governor. After voters elected Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush minor over a period of 30 years, it became conventional wisdom that governors make much stronger presidential candidates than senators. After senators swept the field in 2008, and Sen. Barack Obama won, that preference seemed in doubt. But now voices on both left and right are asking whether President Obama’s lack of executive experience is indeed a problem.

So it’s worth asking how much executive experience the Republican candidates have. Here’s what I come up with:

Rick Perry 11 years
Gary Johnson 8 years
Jon Huntsman 5 years
Mitt Romney 4 years
Michelle Bachmann 0
Newt Gingrich 0
Ron Paul 0
Rick Santorum 0

So Rove thinks “the debates have allowed every potentially serious candidate to be seen by large audiences.” And yet the Republican party and the big media have excluded the candidate with the second‐​most experience as governor. And so I wonder again, how does the establishment exclude a Republican governor who got elected twice—and served his full terms—in a Democratic‐​leaning swing state, had a successful record, vetoed more bills than all other governors combined, proposed the boldest policies in the country on both school choice and drug policy reform, and then left the state with a budget surplus?

As James Peron wrote at Huffington Post,

Johnson sees himself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Most polls show that a large percentage of voters fall into this category. A majority of voters supports depoliticized markets and balanced budgets, a majority supports gay marriage, and half the public wants to legalize marijuana, which is a plurality. A majority thinks sending troops to Iraq was a mistake and wants out. You’d think Gary Johnson would be a natural choice for them.

And you’d think that even Karl Rove would agree that a two‐​term Republican governor with that potential appeal would be a “potentially serious candidate” who ought to have a chance to debate the other candidates.