This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After Ted Cruz dropped out of the Republican race for the White House, there was a sudden spike in online searches for the term "Libertarian Party."

It's something Gary Johnson, the party's 2012 nominee and a candidate again this year, said he has seen over and over on the ground, as Republicans cringing at the prospects of a Donald Trump candidacy or Sen. Bernie Sanders loyalists disenchanted with Hillary Clinton approach him looking for any other option.

"That's all I encounter," Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, said by phone from a campaign stop in Ohio. He maintains his campaign headquarters in Salt Lake City.

The distaste for both of the presumptive major-party nominees, combined with the fact that the Libertarian Party will be on the ballot in each state this year —┬áit missed out on Michigan and Oklahoma four years ago — could make 2016 a breakthrough year for the party, he said.

"I predicted that Trump was going to be the nominee for a long time. I just felt like that was going to happen, and, of course, it did happen yesterday," Johnson said. "Too bad for America, but if you were the only third-party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, it would probably bode pretty well."

Johnson said Trump is pitching himself as a successful businessman who will bring that experience to government, which Johnson said is similar to his message when he ran for governor of New Mexico in 1994.

"But when you start going down the litany of [Trump's issues], 'I'm going to deport 11 million immigrants, I'm going to build a wall along the border, I'm going to keep Muslims from coming into the country, I'm going to kill the families of militants,' " Johnson said, "There's nothing about what he's saying that is small government. There's no consistency, and it's just plain crazy."

Former state Rep. Holly Richardson is one of those steadfast Utah Republicans who is shopping for a new Election Day option.

On Thursday, during The Salt Lake Tribune's online interview program Trib Talk, she accused Trump of "fascism," called him a "misogynist" and said his rhetoric and policies are "horrid." She's not a big fan of Clinton, either.

"I'm one of the ones who can't vote for either one at this point, so I'm looking for a third option," Richardson said, though she did not mention the Libertarian Party.

"There are a lot of Republicans who are reconsidering membership in a party that no longer represents them," she said. "I also agree that it could be ripe for a reset with the political parties in the nation."

Juan Manuel Ruiz, of Utah's Latin American Chamber of Commerce, also is a Republican who's disenchanted with Trump.

"It's probably right now we're going to see [the emergence of a third party], if it ever happens," Ruiz said on Trib Talk. "Unfortunately, I can't really vote for either one of the two" major parties' prospective nominees.

Johnson touts himself as a small-government fiscal conservative, who cut taxes and vetoed more than 750 bills during his two terms as New Mexico governor.

But it's not just conservative voters he is courting. He said of all the non-Libertarian candidates in the field, he lines up most closely with Sanders on the issues.

"Obviously, Bernie and I go separate ways when it comes to bigger government versus smaller government, free market [versus] socialism," Johnson said. "But I think there is a real crossover with Bernie supporters, and I'm talking now about marriage equality, let's not drop bombs, crony capitalism is alive and well, and let's legalize marijuana."

Until recently, Johnson was CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc., a Nevada company that sought to market medical marijuana products. He made waves in 1999, when, as governor, he was one of the first politicians to endorse legalizing marijuana.

Now, he says, "to have 60 percent of Americans support it, I don't know about you, but the writing's on the wall. It's going to happen."

"I really think California is going to vote to legalize it at the ballot box in November, and I think overnight you'll have 20 state legislatures that will just pass the legislation," Johnson said.

Johnson is one of 17 candidates seeking the Libertarian nomination, but he is considered to be the front-runner, with computer security guru John McAfee his closest challenger. Johnson finished third in the presidential race in 2012. But, receiving just 1.27 million votes, he was more than 59 million votes behind second-place finisher Mitt Romney.

Fundraising will be a challenge for any Libertarian candidate, and Johnson raised about $279,000 as of the most recent disclosure report, filed last month.

But the biggest challenge facing the Libertarians, Johnson argues, is that the party's nominee, thus far, has been excluded from the presidential debates. The rules for the debate require a candidate to get at least 15 percent in a national poll to qualify to be on the stage, but the national polls have not included Johnson's name as a choice.

So Johnson's campaign is suing the Commission on Presidential Debates, alleging collusion with the Democratic and Republican parties to rig the rules and exclude the third party.

Johnson said he believes the public wants other choices. Trump represents 30 percent of the Republicans "who believe the scourge of the earth is Mexican immigration," he said, and Clinton is backed by 30 percent on the far left, leaving a wide swath in the middle that isn't represented.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke