According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution (ajc.com), on the day of last week’s debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Libertarian Party, on behalf of their nominee, Gary Johnson, went to social media to convey just how unhappy they were that he was not going to be on the stage with the two major party candidates. One of the entries, a Twitter post, consisted of a meme that was captioned with this statement: “If they are on the ballot in all fifty states…shouldn’t they be automatically in the debates?”
For their parts, Johnson and his running mate, William Weld, were at Twitter headquarters in New York City on Monday evening, live tweeting the debate. At one point, Johnson sent out the following, rather snarky message about the proceedings:
“This is really inspiring, isn't it #America #debates”
Johnson and his Libertarian Party honchos think, of course, that he should be in the debates…and they all would be wrong.
In order to get a ticket to the big dance, the Commission on Presidential Debates mandates that a candidate garners at least 15 percent support in five national surveys leading up to the three debates; they also have to have earned places on enough state ballots so that they could actually be elected.
The state ballot requirement isn’t the problem for Johnson, obviously; it’s the matter of attaining the 15 percent poll support.
Let me start by saying that, when it comes to this election, I would LOVE to see another viable option available to consider….with the emphasis on “viable.” Enter the 15 percent polling requirement.
I actually like that rule. The figure itself may be a little arbitrary, but it seems high enough to require that a prospective debater has achieved some tiny level of critical mass in terms of support, and yet still low enough that a candidate need achieve really nothing more THAN that little bit of meaningful support to get a spot on the dais.
If the only requirement to becoming debate eligible is that that a candidate simply appear on enough ballots to theoretically be electable, then the debates could become accessible to several candidates each presidential election year who are, for all practical purposes, completely unviable in terms of genuine electability.
Moreover, there is the now-obvious fact that Johnson is clearly unprepared to deal in the realm of current global political dynamics. The sense you get from Johnson, in light of his recent gaffe on Aleppo, his inability to name another world leader in an awkward public moment the other day, as well as his suggestion that global warming can be addressed by colonizing other planets, is that, his historical political experience as a state governor notwithstanding, he just isn’t terribly astute about current events in the political context.
Oh, he has lots of ideas, plenty of beliefs, in the per se sense…but that’s just not enough. Anyone who might be theoretically only a handful of months away from overseeing the most powerful nation in the world has to have a better awareness of what’s currently going on around the globe than that which he has demonstrated up to this point.
The fact is that, based on how Johnson has acquitted himself thus far, challenged with nothing more onerous than answering off-handed questions from reporters, he would be positively savaged on the formal debate stage.
In fact, the grand irony at play here is that the more distant from a debate stage Johnson remains, the more appealing he will look; as we have seen, it is when serious, sober, “mainstream” lights are actually shining on him that his flaws become glaringly apparent.
No, Johnson should not be on the debate stage, and that is for his benefit as much as ours.
By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large