Ever since televised debates have played a part in presidential elections, they have been critical. A good performance in these debates is necessary to secure both the primaries and the presidency. These debates are often governed by a complex set of rules regulating who does and does not participate.
We have already run into this issue during this election cycle with the Republican primaries and the rules governing who got onto the “main” debate stage and who was in the “B” debate – as dictated by polling numbers.
Now, in the general election, we are running into the issue of whether Gary Johnson should be allowed to debate.
— Gov. Gary Johnson (@GovGaryJohnson) September 6, 2016
I hope voters get to see former GOP Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld on the debate stages this fall.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) September 7, 2016
The Commission on Presidential Debates has set the level of support at 15 percent of the electorate nationally in order to be approved to participate in the debates. The purpose of this level is stated such that leading candidates would be invited, but not so that candidates with “only very modest levels of public support” would be invited.
Gary Johnson is right on the edge of this threshold. Pew Research Center put out a poll on Aug. 18 which put Johnson at 10 percent nationally, while a more recent poll from CNN, which will be used in calculating the debate figures, leaves Johnson at 7 percent.
But setting the technicalities of rules and polling aside for a second, should Gary Johnson be allowed to debate? I believe that he should be. Both of the candidates of the major parties are deeply, deeply flawed. And neither of them has received very high levels of support nationally – it seems as if there are many people dissatisfied with both of their choices this election cycle.
So why not give a third party a chance at offering up their candidate to see if people will accept Johnson as a viable alternative – as many already have? Having a third player on the stage would add an interesting dynamic – hopefully taking away from the toxic Clinton-Trump smashing and opening up a viable policy discussion.
If Johnson performs well, current conditions considered, it would not be infeasible for him to have a strong run at some states. While it would seem unlikely for him to take the general election, with the current deadlock in support amongst Clinton and Trump it is possible that he would only need to take a few states in order to ensure that neither candidate would get a majority.
In short, Gary Johnson’s campaign seems viable enough, and considering the current election conditions, it seems most democratic to offer people a viable third option by including him in the debate. While Johnson’s path to the debate stage might well be blocked by rules and procedures – which in the end is fair because they were set out beforehand – it would certainly be a breath of fresh air into this campaign to see him on that presidential debate stage. The change and third option is sorely needed now.