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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gary Johnson doesn’t have much of a realistic shot at the White House, but that’s not stopping him from trying. The newly-nominated Libertarian presidential candidate is betting the farm on the Super Bowl of political television: presidential debates.

That is, if he’s allowed in the building.

On Wednesday in an interview with Fox Business, the former New Mexico Governor, along with Libertarian vice-presidential candidate Bill Weld, laughingly refuted Donald Trump’s recent statement that the Libertarian was nothing but a “fringe candidate” — pot, meet kettle — but he did admit that he had no shot at winning the presidency without appearing in the debates, which have become one of the focuses of his campaign.

What’s stopping Gary Johnson from taking it to the Democrat and Republican nominees on national television? The Commission on Presidential Debates, a private, allegedly non-partisan organization that has produced the debates for every general election since 1988. In order for a candidate to qualify for these debates, Johnson has to poll at least at 15 percent nationwide.

This 15 percent rule often prevents lesser-known politicians from joining in the fray, as they aren’t included in polling in the first place. Since the establishment of the CPD, only one third-party candidate — independent Ross Perot, a truly self-funded billionaire’s campaign, in 1992 — has ever qualified for the debate stage. Also troublesome is the politically-charged leadership behind the CPD. Current co-chairmen are Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., former chair of the Republican National Committee, and Mike McCurry, former press secretary for Clinton administration. Its Board of Directors largely consists of preeminent politicians and businessmen from both sides of the aisle.

Try as it might to remain impartial, the CPD’s membership reeks of a partisan duopoly, as instituted in its 15 percent rule.

That’s why last fall Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein filed a lawsuit against the commission, claiming that its exclusionary policies were violating federal anti-trust laws. According to the Libertarian Party’s website, this case posits debate participation should be determined instead by a candidate appearing on enough state ballots to potentially win a majority in the electoral college.

Johnson and Stein each brought forth a similar suit in 2012, but these cases were dismissed on a technicality. There is little evidence that this year’s outcome will be any different. Ultimately, Gary Johnson’s greatest hope is to qualify for the debates the old-fashioned way, through polling.

As of now, the only major poll that includes his name is Fox News, where he currently sits at 10 percent.

Photo: Flickr user Gary Johnson

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