Something red, something blue, something’s missing?

At the first presdidential debate on September 26th, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had a battle for the ages in front of a record-setting audience. It was quite a performance from both candidates. Trump used his traditional style of aggressive and combative tactics, scoring points with some great one-liners, but coming off as completely unpresidential. It was a forgettable performance from Mr. Trump. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton looked every bit the polished politician that she is. She stayed above the name calling, showed a degree of substance, and won the debate. As CNN put it, “Hillary Takes Round One.”
The biggest story of this election cycle, however, is simply how much America dislikes both candidates. According to a Reuters poll, “a majority of American voters have an overall “unfavorable” view of both main candidates, with 46% of Clinton supporters and 47% of Trump supporters saying their top priority when voting will be to stop the opposing candidate from reaching the White House.” With this in mind, you would think that the debate commission would offer up an alternative to the candidates.
For a candidate to make it into debates, they must have a path to winning the election (be on enough states’ ballots to win). They also must average at least 15% in 5 national polls.
Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson met the first criteria, but just missed the second one. When I had the opportunity to chat with David Von Drehle, Editor-At-Large of Time, and the esteemed best-selling author of Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year, he said, “[The debate rules] put a guy like Gary Johnson in a tough spot. He needs a lot of support to get in the debates, but he needs the exposure of a debate to win more supporters.” It is, as Mr. Von Drehle would go on to note, a classic Catch-22.
The Commission is not entirely opposed to the idea of a third party candidate making the debates. Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University, Former Indiana Governor, and member of the Commission on Presidential Debates, said in favor of Johnson, “People are so obviously shopping and wishing for some other choice [than Trump or Clinton].”
This year, the Libertarian Candidates, Governor Gary Johnson and Governor Bill Weld are attempting to challenge the legitimacy of the 2-Party system. They are both two-term ex-governors who are “fiscally conservative, and Socially Liberal.” Their message has found an audience, polling at 13% nationally in one recent Quinnipiac poll.
The Commission on Presidential Debates organize and certify debates in this country.. Its stated mission is “to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners.” It is a superb idea and generally a wonderful non-profit, non-partisan way to organize the debates.
In this case, unfortunately, the rest of the commission is failing the American public. The rules are keeping the American public from hearing the lone credible voice. Now, more than ever, America is hungering for new ideas and trustworthy, charismatic leadership. Debates without a third voice in the form of Gary Johnson are an entertaining but saddening spectacle in a time when our country desperately needs strong leadership.
Gary Johnson and Bill Weld deserve to be heard during prime time. Gary said it best himself in a NYT Op-ed, “the America I know wasn’t on the television screen on Monday night.”