Who Wins an Exclusionary Debate?

The Presidential election is just over a month away. Which means the scripted shows known as Presidential Debates will soon be televised. Of course, these so-called debates will only present two of the two dozen Presidential Candidates, despite the fact that four candidates will be on enough ballots to theoretically win the election. Ballot Access News reports, “On September 21, Gary Johnson, his running mate James Gray, and the Johnson-Gray Campaign filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the central district of California against the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the Democratic National Committee, and the Republican National Committee. The lawsuit alleges that the Commission on Presidential Debates and the two major parties are restraining competition. To answer the complaint that anti-trust law only relates to business, the complaint points out that the salary of the president is $400,000, and that Johnson is seeking to obtain the job of President, so economics is involved… The lawsuit says that any presidential candidate on the ballot in enough states to theoretically win the presidency must be included in the debates. The venue is proper because James Gray lives in the central district of California… The lawsuit was filed a few hours after the Commission on Presidential Debates formally said only President Obama and Mitt Romney may participate in the first two debates.”

Richard Winger writes, “There have been lawsuits filed by excluded presidential candidates against the CPD ever since 1988. Lenora Fulani filed the most lawsuits, in federal courts in both Washington, D.C., and New York. Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, John Hagelin, and others have also sued the Commission on Presidential Debates. I don’t believe any of these past lawsuits raised Antitrust.”

When alternative candidates are excluded from the debates, alternative ideas and a wider array of topics are excluded, as well. Ross Perot pushed discussion of the federal deficit, the hazardous influence of special interests, and the loss of manufacturing jobs due to trade agreements onto center stage. Just six years later, Reform Party Gubernatorial candidate Jesse Ventura was allowed to debate his major party opponents and went from 10% in the pre-debate polls to winning the election with 37% of the vote. If the Minnesota League of Women Voters and Minnesota Public Radio used the CPD criteria, Ventura would have been excluded. If Ventura would have been excluded, he surely would not have won and Minnesota voters would not have been exposed to alternative views. Exclusionary debate criteria harm the minor party candidates that are excluded, and voters are harmed by not being exposed to alternative views on topics.

I would like to see debates including every Presidential candidate on at least one ballot. However, I’m pleased that Free & Equal will be hosting a Presidential debate in which all candidates who could theoretically win the election have been invited to participate. Not surprisingly, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have yet to accept the invitation.