“Let Gary debate. Let Gary debate.” The chant rang around the recent rally held in Seattle by Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld. Alas, Johnson’s supporters were to be disappointed.
On Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that both Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein had failed to make the cut for the first presidential debate, due to be held on 26 September.
Johnson responded by describing the presidential debates as a “rigged game”, going on to say, “Democrats and Republicans make up the presidential debate commission, 15 percent is not the law. It’s Democrats and Republicans not wanting a Ross Perot on the stage again.”
He’s got a point.
The American Presidential electoral system conspires against third-party candidates, perhaps more than any other system in the world. Johnson certainly has some right to feel aggrieved at his exclusion from the first debate.
As a libertarian, Johnson has views that span the political spectrum. As such, it is difficult to predict whether his popularity is more of a danger to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Johnson is fiscally conservative — he wants to abolish the minimum wage, abolish income tax and replace it with a national sales tax, as well as submitting a fully balanced budget. Yet, he is also very socially liberal — he favours the legalisation of marijuana, same-sex marriage, and abortion rights. With this melting pot of views he clearly has the potential to prove dangerous to both Clinton and Trump, whilst his socially liberal views give him the chance to court the young voters who are so far proving rather elusive to both candidates. Given Johnson’s potential to prove dangerous to both Clinton and Trump, there is little to gain from allowing him into the presidential debates. Consequently, it seems highly unlikely that he will make a debate.
Johnson says this is unfair, citing the case of Ross Perot who was allowed to take part in presidential debates during the 1992 Presidential Election. Johnson claims that Perot was granted permission to take part in the debates despite polling in single figures at the time. This isn’t strictly true. Throughout the early autumn of 1992, Perot was generally polling around 10 to 20 per cent. This was despite him having dropped out of the race between June and September due to various campaign difficulties. Prior to this temporary drop-out, Perot had been polling as high as 39 per cent. Therefore, for Johnson to compare his case to Perot’s is bending the truth a little. Perot clearly enjoyed a significantly higher level of nationwide support than Johnson currently does. In terms of the precedent set by previous presidential elections, the campaign of Gary Johnson has no divine right to be featured in the presidential debates.
However, that being said, this is no ordinary presidential election.
The 2016 Presidential Election has been particularly notable for the fact that this is the only occasion in recent times where both the candidates selected by the two major parties have proven to be quite so unpopular. Whilst both Clinton and Trump are adored by their base supporters, in the minds of swing voters they leave a lot to be desired.
Bearing this in mind, it seems fair that Gary Johnson be allowed to take part in the Sept. 26 Presidential Debate. In such a divisive election, allowing voters another option is definitely the right thing to do.
And yes, I know that as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are on the ballot paper then voters nominally have the option of voting for them. But, the fact of the matter is that their lack of media coverage means that the vast majority of the electorate have no idea who they are.
That Johnson has managed to reach double figures in the polls despite this lack of media exposure, suggests that many voters are interested in what he has to say. He has reached this height in the polls despite a polling system that works against him. Johnson has been shown to be doing particularly well amongst millennial voters, yet the main polling method used is through landline telephone, something most millennials don’t use. What’s more, much of the polling doesn’t even include Johnson, with polling companies generally restricting their polls to head-to-head match-ups between Trump and Clinton. Given these circumstances, it seems almost impossible for Johnson to reach the mythical 15 per cent polling threshold, and to gain inclusion in the debates.
Therefore, it seems only fair to allow him to share his vision for the future of America on the national stage, as well as a proper chance to explain (and be interrogated about) his monumental “what is Aleppo?” gaffe.
So, let Gary debate!