MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We were able to speak with Gary Johnson on Friday, before the nominating process was complete. Governor Johnson, thank you so much for joining us.
GARY JOHNSON: Michel, great being with you.
MARTIN: So first of all, presumably you are running for president because you feel you have something to offer that is missing from the slate of candidates before the public so far. What do you think that is?
GARY JOHNSON: Just a combination of what the best of Democrats are supposed to represent - liberty and freedom and a person's right to be able to make decisions in their own lives. On the Republican side - look, smaller government. Government's too big. It tries to accomplish too much. For the most part, we as Americans are occupying the great middle. I think the great middle is Libertarian. It's just that people don't know it.
MARTIN: So let's draw a contrast with the other candidates. Let's start with the Republicans' presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. Can you give me one area of disagreement with him?
GARY JOHNSON: Well, let me give you a bunch - deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, building a fence across the border, bringing back waterboarding or worse. How's that for a start?
MARTIN: OK, so he's wrong on all those things?
GARY JOHNSON: Yeah, he's wrong on all those things and more.
MARTIN: What about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Give me one area of disagreement with her.
GARY JOHNSON: I think at the end of the day, Hillary is going to grow government. Look, when government takes taxes out of my pocket, that's money that I could be spending on my life, enjoying my life as I see fit.
MARTIN: What about Senator Sanders?
GARY JOHNSON: I really side with Bernie Sanders on about 75 percent of what he has to say. And I base that on the political quiz I Side With. When it comes to economics, obviously Bernie and I come to a T in the road.
MARTIN: Well, exactly, because it seems to me the rap on him on the Hillary Clinton side of the Democratic electorate is that he would grow the government the most and that that is her criticism of him, is that he has pie-in-the-sky proposals - like free college, for example.
GARY JOHNSON: Well - and all I'm saying is that when I take this quiz, I side with Hillary 63 percent of the time. I side with Bernie 73 percent of the time.
MARTIN: You said part of your task here is to - what? - educate Americans about what Libertarianism is all about. Can you just give me one example of how President Johnson would address, I don't know, the issue of income inequality?
GARY JOHNSON: Well, as governor of New Mexico, I may have vetoed more legislation than the other 49 governors in the country combined. A lot of that legislation gave people with money more advantage. What government can do is just create a level playing field. And as president of the United States, just count on me to sign legislation that will actually move us in that direction. Count on me to veto legislation that just makes crony capitalism more ingrained in everything that we come across.
MARTIN: Just in the time that we have, can we talk a little bit of politics? First question I had is as a former Republican yourself, how do you account for the fact that Donald Trump has done so well in your former party?
GARY JOHNSON: Well, what I have identified is that 30 percent of Republican voters believe the scourge of the earth is Mexican immigration. So he has tapped into this anger, which - you know, it's human nature. We all want to somehow justify why things aren't going right. And I think that Mexican immigration - legal, illegal - has taken that on. There's a real misunderstanding about illegal immigration. I mean, President Obama has broken up 3 million families by deporting and breaking up families here in the United States. So it isn't just Democrats and Republicans. But as a border state governor, I have to tell you this is a bad thing.
MARTIN: In two different polls you were matched up with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and you got about 10 percent of the vote. This is the best that you've polled. Why do you think that is?
GARY JOHNSON: Because I'm actually being included in a few polls. The only way that a third party can get elected president of the United States is to be in the presidential debates. The presidential debate commission says that you actually have to be at 15 percent in the polls. My record - I'm also running with Bill Weld - I think our records really shine.
MARTIN: OK, so what is your strategy for getting to that 15 percent threshold?
GARY JOHNSON: I need your help, Michel. I need you to be talking about this yourself. Shouldn't there be an outrage that when 50 percent of Americans right now are registering as independent - I think that mathematically, Trump and Clinton represent about 30 percent of the electorate. What does anybody have to fear hearing a different voice on stage? And I think I am saying things that neither one of them are saying.
MARTIN: That was former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. Governor Johnson, thank you so much for speaking with us.
GARY JOHNSON: Thank you.
MARTIN: As we reported, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson was chosen as the nominee of the Libertarian Party at its convention in Orlando, Fla. today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.