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The Debatekeepers

The news came down last week: Gary Johnson will be excluded from the first presidential debate. Not as a product of a nefarious conspiracy, but because he didn’t meet the clearly outlined threshold of 15% in the polls. Fair is fair, as far as that goes. The question is whether a 15% threshold is a good criterion and, if not, what would be a better one?

Unfortunately, there are no unassailable answers to these questions. It’s a subjective judgment that balances two competing issues.

The first issue is that third party candidates distort outcomes in systems such as ours. They aren’t an issue where voters can delineate their choices either with Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) or a top-two runoff election. We not only don’t have either of those things, but we have no way to nationally institute them even if we wanted to, except through a very unlikely constitutional amendment. There are numerous examples in the US and abroad of people who apparently did not have majority support getting into office simply through opposition divided between multiple candidates.

Giving independent and third party challengers a debate platform would likely cause more problems by giving credibility to candidates whose only influence is to change the outcome between the top two candidates. That’s good for the person who wins in this event, but that’s not how we want elections decided.

The second issue, though, is that we don’t want to give the incumbent parties too much power. The system itself does a good job of limiting the number of viable parties to two most of the time. While a two-party system does not bother me, I am moderately troubled by the two parties being hard-coded in, rather than as part of a natural duopoly. Without the ability of new parties to credibly form and challenge current ones, parties can become excessively unresponsive both to their voters and outside voters. Primaries can help mitigate this, but they only go so far.

In Canada, outside parties have forced the two major parties to either adapt or die. The Progressive Conservatives became so inept that they were essentially overtaken by a “third party” and forced to merge with it as the minor partner. It appeared for a while that the New Democratic Party was going to do the same to the Liberals, but they realized it in time. In both cases, though, the PC’s and the Liberals were facing not just another lost election, but irrelevance or extinction. This forced them to improve. Dynamism is a good thing.

So I want to avoid giving third parties enough influence to throw elections, but at the same time allow the incumbent parties to be challenged and, if they respond poorly, replaced. I want to give third parties a platform to grow their support, but I also don’t want them to distract from the viable candidates when it comes down to it.

My preference is for an escalating threshold. The first debate is somewhat easy to get into. The second debate harder, and so on. By the end, the only people in the debate are those with a chance to win. If you’re an outside candidate and can’t grow your support, you lose your spot. If you can grow your support, then we’re simply going to have a distorted outcome. I don’t like it, but I don’t like preventing it simply by starving credibility to anybody but the two major parties.

Ideally, I prefer 5%/10%/15%/20% thresholds. That first one may be a little too low, however, and I’d be fine with a 10% threshold. I consider 15% at the outset to simply be too high. If you can’t get to 15% after the national publicity of a debate, though, I feel like you’ve had your chance to upend the system and the system was just not yet ready to be upended. The 15% threshold is a good way to leave out all but the most instantly viable candidates, most likely because either they are personally wealthy or entrenched in the system. That ends up lending too much power to the status quo and its stakeholders.

Which, one gathers, is kind of the point.

Ultimately, the Debate Commission was set up by the parties. A lot of people argue that makes it a private affair and freedom of association and whatnot. This is true, though that doesn’t relieve it from being criticized. And if they were so inclined, states could make their presence a requirement for ballot access. You couldn’t make them actively participate, but they’re not going to go and fiddle with their iPhone. There’s a reason the candidates almost always agree to debates even when they have little strategic reason to do so. Boycotts have their own costs.

Reforming the debates is an uphill climb, given the extent to which the people making the determinations are beneficiaries of the system as it exists. Unlike other system-opening measures which run into the same roadblocks (such as IRV), debate participation does at least does have a degree of public support.

So I hope that Gary Johnson and Jill Stein give them hell, because in my view they deserve it.

Feature Image by Gage Skidmore


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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116 thoughts on “The Debatekeepers

  1. Argument rests on a false premise that we do in fact have a stable two party system. We are currently in the process of a realignment, and I think both parties want to be the stalking horse for the same Powers that Be.

    Talk again once the adults have finished selling Acadia.

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    • We have a stable two-party system in the sense that in fifty years, we are likely to have a Republican Party and a Democratic Party, and the only question is what they will look like.

      This is not mutually exclusive with a realignment.

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      • It’s not, but I do think it’s hard to square with arguments about the excessive power of the two major parties. The flip side of all the institutional pressures that make the American political system a duopoly is that the parties are pretty amorphous, with very porous edges. This places some shocking practical/political limits on their power.

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        • This is true if we consider parties a sum of their policy preferences. The unresponsiveness I refer to can be a matter of policy or ideology, but it can also be a matter of administration, bureaucracy, bureaucratic leadership, etc. They hold a lot of power, and can shift with the ideological winds easily enough.

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          • Except all the administration, bureaucracy and power of the bureaucratic leadership provides very little control over the party platform or who runs for office on its ticket. It didn’t come close to stopping Trump, and the mere suggestion that it might be used to stop Bernie or stack the deck against him was cause for a lot of outrage.

            I think this is the flip side of the FTP thing we have going on. If you need more votes than the other guy or you get nothing out of the election, you have to be ultra-careful about alienating an important constituency.

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            • Another way of looking at Trump is that he is an example of a party breaking because it would not bend, and it would not bend because of its institutional power. Everything I’m saying about a Gary Johnson type I’m also saying about a Donald Trump sort running as an independent.

              And to a degree, party influence is like money influence. It doesn’t necessarily buy victories, but it buys victors. And party apparatus is very tightly wound up with money.

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            • Except all the administration, bureaucracy and power of the bureaucratic leadership provides very little control over the party platform or who runs for office on its ticket. It didn’t come close to stopping Trump

              I look at it a different way: if the conservative PTB would’ve thrown some actual bones to their base along the way instead of pandering and lying to them, Trumpism wouldn’t have been able to gain purchase to the extent it currently is. In other words, the ship would have remained in the Power Broker’s hands despite their concession to provide the deck-hands better food.

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            • “Who runs for office on the ticket” – The state and local chapters of the major parties can be more close held than you say (VA GOP used a convention to pick it’s most recent Governor nominee, as well as many other offices recently around the state). Plus, open vs closed vs semi-closed/open make a difference on who can be and is nominated (the primary a person votes in is also effected by what the other party’s race looks like at the time – and different again if they’re not on the same day)

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              • Yeah, that’s true, but even state-wide races have gone ridiculously wrong, mostly for the GOP [1]. It seems to happen less on in races that are done by district, due to gerrymandering and/or sorting.

                [1] I doubt if it would have made a difference in the outcome of the race, but the whole kerfuffle around Specter and Sestak in PA six years back was pretty hilarious.

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  2. From the article, “Johnson and Stein had 8 percent and 3 percent, respectively.” With that kind of support they sound like fringe candidates.

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    • Unless one is a millionaire (Perot) or an entrenched player (say an independent Kasich or Romney run), it’s becomes self-reinforcing. Few support them precisely because few support them. They’re stuck off the side. That’s one of the things that debates can change.

      In the case of Stein, I have difficulty seeing much of an opportunity to let her in. The same applied to Johnson in 2012. But under the circumstances, 8% is a good showing. It’s only happened twice in recent history and is more than enough to get federal funding for the party in question.

      “We should only let in the people who come out of the gate with tons of support” is a good argument… if you’re interested in preserving the self-reinforcing advantage of the incumbent parties.

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      • “We should only let in the people who come out of the gate with tons of support” is a good argument… if you’re interested in preserving the self-reinforcing advantage of the incumbent parties.

        I’m interesting in “preserving” it in the sense that I’m interested in not pretending it doesn’t exist. Allowing third party candidates to participate in the debates provides a distorted picture of reality, and conflicts with the basic rationale for even having debates.

        I’m not saying this out of particular antipathy for Gary Johnson, who in a weird twist of fate seems to be about as good as the median major party candidate. But the dude ain’t gonna win.

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        • This is a great argument for why there should be two-person debates. I find it less convincing that *all* debates should be so. Unless Johnson or some other third party candidate) can pick up a lot of support, they would be dropped from the debates. Just not all of them.

          At 8%, I don’t have a huge problem with Johnson being left out. This post is only superficially about Johnson. A candidate who has 13% support is a factor in an election, and has the potential to escalating support. And on the other hand, a candidate who is polling at 17% by the time of his or her last debate had their opportunity, didn’t convert it into support, and should be left out.

          We live in a two-party system, but that the two parties we have are the Republican and Democratic Party is the result of a lot of institutional advantages we give the incumbent parties. Including stuff like this.

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        • I don’t find it a distorted reality. If a 3rd or 4th party can gain 5% or 10% of a polling before the first debate, that isn’t a distorted reality, it’s a sign that there is some degree of disenfranchised population who finds the duopoly dissatisfying. Even if the outlier can’t win, putting them on the stage can force the duopoly to pivot in some fashion.

          That’s not distorting reality, that’s accepting it. Denying 3rd parties is distorting reality.

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          • Is there evidence of this happening historically? There have been some high-profile 3rd party runs, most recently Ross Perot’s, but it’s not at all clear to me that Perot’s participation really got much in the way of concessions out of Clinton, Bush, or Dole.

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            • Here’re my stabs at an answer, but alas none of my examples really proves the point you’re asking us to prove. They’re more like happening that suggest 3d party runs helped inspire a pivot.

              First, regarding Clinton and Perot (not so much Dole), Perot seems to have placed the budget deficit as an issue that needed to be addressed. Whether Clinton and the GOP Congress would have balanced the budget without Perot I guess we won’t know, but it’s a possibility.

              Second, the George Wallace campaign in 1968 probably made it apparent to both parties that there was a faction of racist or at least reactionary voters whom it might be worthwhile (in electoral terms) to appeal to. Nixon was already doing that in the same election and for all I know would have done that with or without a Wallace run.

              Third, the Populists’ run in 1892–which secured a handful of electoral votes for their candidate James Weaver–may have helped the Dem’s pivot in 1896 toward bimetallism and reject Cleveland’s goldbuggery. I’m not saying it was necessarily thought out as “well, we need to steal the Populists’ thunder.” In truth, it was probably more that one faction took over and ousted the other. But the 1892 run at least had demonstrated it was an issue.

              Again, these examples don’t really answer your question, at least not in a definitive way. You could plausibly argue that they represent something different than a considered pivot in response to 3d party challenges.

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        • Or let me put it this way. By creating high barriers for participation for third parties, the duopoly is forcing the population to accept candidates that many might otherwise find unacceptable (e.g. I find Hillary only marginally more acceptable than Trump). By maintaining an entrenched duopoly, you are restricting participation of the electorate.

          I find campaigns to “Get out the Vote” to be unappealing if I am required to vote for a punch in the face or a kick in the nuts. Perhaps a slap on the back will never have a chance at winning, but at least I can support it.

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          • Yeah, and my general reaction is that this may well be true, but debate-participation-rules are just about the least of these barriers. I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel disenfranchised or dissatisfied, but I am saying that letting other candidates onto the debate stage isn’t actually a good way to fix the actual barriers that keep candidates you want to vote for out of the race.

            I’m more or less neutral on making those changes [1], but I think letting Johnson participate in the debates is like chopping down the sickliest, weediest little sapling in a big freaking forest.

            [1] In part because I don’t think they’ll actually give better outcomes or make the system meaningfully more democratic.

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            • Just to clarify, I do get that the debates are non-governmental, so access is up to the owners.

              Also, I agree with down thread, in that I’d like to see 3rd party candidates doing more to gain local and state seats, although to be fair, both Johnson & Weld were state governors, even if under the labels of the duopoly, so it’s not like libertarians can’t gain significant office, as long as it’s under the banner of the major players.

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              • Just to clarify, I do get that the debates are non-governmental, so access is up to the owners.

                That’s actually kinda my objection. Not that there’s necessarily something wrong with lobbying them, but that getting this barrier removed actually does little to advance your overall goal because it’s not the right sort of barrier.

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      • Aren’t Johnson and Weld as much of entrenched players as Romney? John Anderson and George Wallace were able to his 15%. The main issue for the third parties is they’re trying to build a skyscraper from the penthouse down. If you can’t build enough support to get a single House seat, you’re not ready for the show.

        Disclosure: I #FeeltheJohnson

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    • If I were on the commission, I wouldn’t say eight out of a hundred voters across the country preferring Johnson over all other candidates is a “fringe.” I’d put the threshold somewhere around five percent. 8% is far from a majority, to be sure, but a substantial enough amount that other people maybe ought to listen to what they have to say.

      If it’s lunacy, or hateful, maybe you disregard it afterwards on a qualitative basis. When do you allow lunatics or hatemongers on the stage? The voters want what the voters want, after all. But I’d want to see a whole lot of people — maybe one in three?* — at that point.

      As argues above, a too-high threshold for inclusion distorts reality; the worst that happens with a too-low threshold is that at least one of the two members of the the extant duopoly needs to pivot to maintain its hegemony. I’d put the threshold at 10% and use discretion to say “close enough” if, say, two or more well-regarded national polls are within their margin of error of that number.

      That’s how I’d think if I were a commissioner. If I were a judge, hearing a lawsuit from a candidate trying to get in to the debate, I’d say, “Sorry. Political question. Not for the courts. As Candidates can debate who they want to debate because as citizens they have free speech and free association rights. I’m not going to force anyone to do anything.”

      As a voter? I’m voting Johnson to protest the poor choices the duopoly has given the nation, and hoping for Clinton to win because while I think she’s an unsatisfactory choice, she’s at least unsatisfactory within normal parameters. (It’s not like Johnson doesn’t have his flaws too, not the least of which is a fogginess of thought about current events suggesting outright disinterest.)

      * Question mark to indicate that this is a SWAG.

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      • If I were on the commission, I wouldn’t say eight out of a hundred voters across the country preferring Johnson over all other candidates is a “fringe.”

        If I were on the commission, I wouldn’t even be looking at the national poll percentages. How many ballots are they on? Are there, say, 200 electoral votes in play? Johnson and Stein meet that test. Put ’em on the stage. Darrell Castle and the Constitution Party are at 204, so put him up there too. Maybe 200 is too high. But if you lack the organization and multi-state appeal to put some significant number of EC votes in play, you’re fringe.

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  3. “Giving independent and third party challengers a debate platform would likely cause more problems by giving credibility to candidates whose only influence is to change the outcome between the top two candidates. That’s good for the person who wins in this event, but that’s not how we want elections decided.”

    Wrong. I want third party challengers FOR JUST THIS REASON. Especially in a year where we have two of the worst candidates, I’d like to see the other contenders given some air time. It makes the leaders not only think about the most likely candidate they have to defeat, but keep a weather eye on those running behind them. Non traditional candidates bring differing perspectives, different approaches, etc. Err, isn’t that what diversity is all about? And if it makes it harder for the two main contenders, so much the better.

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    • That mostly alludes to the other side of the ledger. Third party candidates can be good for the process by challenging the first two. That’s a positive. The negative is when a right-side candidate wins because two left-side candidates are split, or vice-versa.

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        • If you want to actually expand choices for the voters, a lot of other things need to change. As it is, “Jill Stein” and “Gary Johnson” are just funny ways of spelling, “None of the above.”

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        • More choice seems better, especially to us, when we have only two real choices and both of them are varying degrees of bad.

          There may be a sweet spot beyond which the voters suffer from too much choice, and as a whole have difficulty expressing a preference. E.g.: Italy. Dozens of political parties, so many that even during the elections they need to consolidate into coalitions to campaign effectively, and their coalitions do not necessarily survive the hammock period between the election and the formation of a majority in Parliament.

          No one would credibly argue that Italian democracy is somehow undemocratic: it’s probably more democratic than the United States’ system in the sense that an informed voter can find a political party and candidate who very closely expresses that voter’s policy preferences. But the results of the hyper-fragmentation of the electorate into constantly amorphous parties renders government more difficult than it is in other political systems with more stable partisan institutions.

          The best realistically possible result of that has been what Italy has really experienced for the past two decades or so: two large political blocs that have essentially passed governing power back and forth like a rugby ball when the twin tacklers of exposing corruption and necessary resolution of an unpopular issue come up. Someone can do the research and tell me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s been a Parliamentary majority in Italy that’s lasted longer than two years since the 1990’s, and for some periods of time there they’ve had to make do with minority governments.

          Perhaps there’s a sweet spot between “stability” and “choice” where the voters can express their preferences meaningfully and still have a government that can actually govern.

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          • Spain has gone through two unsuccessful elections since December, with four reasonably large national parties unable to agree on one coalition, or even on allowing a minority government.

            The next (third) election is scheduled for December 25 (under terms fixed by Law).

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            • Either a) that’s another expression of the problem I identify in Italy, or b) it’s evidence that the real problem is voters just can’t decide on what they want no matter how many choices you give them.

              If it’s b) then the problem is with the voters, not the partisan systems available to them. Democracy doesn’t do so well with “Basically everything sucks, so pick the least bad option” kinds of decisions.

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  4. I’ve often said that I’d do away with debates as they’re currently conducted. I want to see a half-hour presentation from each candidate, with 10 minutes on foreign policy, 10 minutes on fiscal policy, and 10 minutes on domestic/social policy. There are no other conditions. It could be charts and graphs, a speech, Q & A, Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair, whatever. Each candidate puts their presentation on YouTube (with the comments section closed).

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  5. I’m all for allowing third party candidates the moment they actually hold significant power somewhere (as the NDP did in multiple provinces in Canada) or we shift systems to one that doesn’t make third parties a spoiler. I think 15% is a totally acceptable level for somebody who could have a shot to become viable as a replacement winner or 2nd place finisher, as Ross Perot did.

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      • I don’t see what Johnson in the debate would provide, except having some people say “Boy, I wish Johnson had run in my party’s primary”. The way the Constitution is written, you need 270 electoral votes. Getting 20% of the popular vote in every single state will give Johnson zero percent of the Electoral College.

        At the end of the day, either Clinton or Trump will be President. In so far as you vote Johnson you are not helping Johnson to become President. You are just enabling Clinton, or Trump. If you want, Clinton, or Trump, to be President, vote for them. If you don’t want Clinton, or Trump, not to be President, vote for the other.

        The place for Johnson in a debate is in the primaries. That’s where he has a chance to implement his policies. At this time, he’s just muddying the waters. Every minute he’s speaking is a minute less for voters to gauge the two real candidates’ programs and fitness for office.

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        • I think with four or five debates, we can afford it. Mostly, though, I’m taking the longer view. Building support over time.

          Parties have mechanisms to try to snuff out rebellions and have home field advantage. They aren’t always successful (obviously), but it’s a pretty big advantage.

          And this also excludes cases where ideology and preferences are not split cleanly. Blanket primaries could remediate this, though they cause other problems.

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          • I think with four or five debates, we can afford it.

            I object! If we allow Gary Johnson in we’d very likely have to allow Jill Stein in, and inflicting such a high level of psychological damage on the electorate would be bad for our democracy.

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            • Not unless she can get more support than she currently does.

              I did think briefly about one completely open debate for any candidate on the ballot in 45 states or 90% of the population, but determined that would create a clusterfish of bad incentives within four years.

              So I’d set it at 5% or 10%.

              Michael Drew wants Stein included specifically so people can see how terrible she is.

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              • Well, no. In this case that would (perhaps?) be a benefit of inclusion (But what if she was great on the night? I heard an interview of her that I was very impressed by… and then she keeps saying these things at public appearances that are… ugh.). But that’s not the reason. Or, at most, it’s an instance of the class of reasons. More below in short order.

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  6. I think you are ignoring a very important difference between the USA and other natural duopolies like Canada or the UK: The Electoral College.

    It doesn’t matter if the third and forth candidate clear 5-10-15 or 20% of the national vote. The possibility of any of them getting a single electoral vote is extremely, extremely, low. At most, a third party candidate with a strong regional basis (hypothetically, retirees in Florida) might, perhaps, not likely, but perhaps, capture one single state. But there’s no reasonable way they will capture 270 electoral votes

    The way parties in the duopoly are replaced is through the new party slowly eroding the position of one of the old ones, they get one, then five, then 20, then 200 MPs, and suddenly they are into the executive. But even if the Libertarian party could capture one, or five, or twenty House seats, unlike Canada or the UK, there’s no mechanism to translate House seats into executive power.

    I don’t like it, but then I’m a parliamentarian and dislike the concept of divided government. And I don’t know how to square the circle, absent replacing the Electoral College with direct popular vote (which I think should happen nevertheless)

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    • If a 3rd party could get 150 house seats (the US equivalent of 200 MPs), they would definitely be peel off electoral votes. Especially if those House seats had a higher regional concentration (the Mountain West seems ripe for something like this).

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      • I think the possibilities for Congress are under-investigated. If a third party managed to control the balance of the houses, that would do wonders.

        But legitimacy tends to be viewed through the presidency and having a candidate. And it’s hard to get money without legitimacy. Congressional races cost money.

        Still, though, it’s not obvious the presidency tactic works.

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        • I think it’s obvious the presidency tactic does not work. A good strategy would be focused on winning House seats on off cycle elections and then leveraging incumbency after that. Those elections tend to be cheaper and have lower turnout. So they can be won by smart targeting and creating an enthusiasm gap. Time your big pushes for 2018 and 2022 until you get the ball rolling.

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      • I agree

        Then let’s have the Libertarians or the Greens start running House candidates. Start winning enough votes in one state to actually have a chance in one state.

        Then a replacement party might start to come out.

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    • The EC is a major enforcer of the duopoly (moreso, I would argue, than FPTP for Congress), but parties have been replaced before. What’s changed is the formal and informal institutional power gained since. And the existence of primaries, of course.

      My guess is that a third party that reached success would likely be coopted before becoming *too* successful, but that in and of itself would be important. Like Perot, except without having to have the big advantage Perot had right out of the gate, and being more able to build support.

      Debates alone would still leave this as a huge uphill battle to climb, but would help a bit. Which is part of the reason they’re allowed into the debates to begin with. I just favor changing the thresholds up and down.

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      • The last time a “formal” party was replaced (Whigs) was 150 years ago.

        Parties can be completely taken over, like Southern Conservatives and Dixiecrats took over the Republican Party, getting rid of the Rockefeller Republicans that dominated it for decades.

        Parties can also be shifted: Bill Clinton was successful in moving the Democrats towards the right. Bernie has probably moved the Dems to the left, at least in the mid term. Trump, is moving the Republicans towards a nationalistic populism.

        But, replacing the “Shell”. I don’t think we can’t anymore. Change must now come from the primaries.

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        • I’d argue that the Dixiecrats are another (if ugly) example of a lowercase-d democratic success. They were never positioned to become a national party, though.

          Most likely, short of implementing more substantive reforms (runoffs or multimember districts) a third party attempt would eventually be gobbled up before it overtakes the first two. But that’s only because they had the leverage to force another party to pivot. Leverage gained through disruption.

          The primary route is usually going to be the better way to go, but it’s going to be variable depending on a given set of circumstances such as party distribution and how a party responds (such as by closing primaries or eliminating them).

          The mere threat of a viable disrupting third party is a powerful weapon though.

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  7. Okay, this is mostly by way of providing a counterpoint, though I do see this differently.

    Where to start. I guess the assumption I don’t share is that the big national televised debates should reflect the institutional structure of U.S. politics, or certainly the most likely outcomes, rather than the ideological structure. There also seems to be a view that the point of inclusion of third parties would primarily be the political development of said parties as options for voters and as potential governing or at least government-influencing institutions.

    To me that is all second-order. The point of these debates, in my view, should be to facilitate the best, most representative (within reason) national conversation about governing priorities as relates the upcoming election. In theory, this could mean anybody could be included – and any candidates excluded. But I think it makes sense to focus on candidates who have the nominations of parties, because parties are so influential in governing, and these are their designated spokespeople – and additionally, are themselves seeking office. But the precise structure of the debates still should remain, in my view, pursuant to the goal of a conversation that reflects the actual ideological diversity of the broad group of people being governed.

    In my view, there are two major axes in American politics right now – left versus right, and insider versus outsider. All cases are of course never perfectly accounted for in such schema, but I think that much is quite clear. There were strong outsider surges on both sides of the left-right spectrum this year; one won the nomination of a major party (which are insider institutions), while the other made an unexpectedly serious play for it. To my way of thinking, that basic structure of viewpoint distribution that we see in the country deserves to be represented on the stage at our highest-profile national political conversation (the general election presidential debates).

    To be quite honest, I really don’t understand the argument that they shouldn’t be. Because the two parties have the actual election results on lockdown – it’ll be one of those two in 99+% of races – for that reason we should limit the conversation that informs that voting to just having representatives from those parties? That seems to be the dominant argument – that those with no chance of winning have no place in the conversation, at least not on any kind of equal footing. But that just has no logical force for me at all. Even considering the possibility that the outcome could be swayed by their inclusion. These are real parties and real candidates, with real voters. If that changes outcomes, then that is what our politics is.

    To my way of thinking, we have a center-left major institutional party in this country, and a center-right major institutional party, and then we have outside-left and an outside-right critiques of those institutions from their erstwhile ideological fellow-travellers. I believe third-party inclusion in debates can serve as a useful means to allowing those outside critiques of institutions to be represented in the political conversation. The point is not to include the specific parties that would be included because they have done something to deserve it (or have failed to), nor to aid in their development as viable political options for strategic-thinking voters, but simply to create a more representative, inclusive conversation leading into national voting – and to make the major power-holding parties respond to the substantive critiques that so many Americans who do not identify with wither of them would like them to be challenged with.

    My proposal, then, would be fairly straightforward. We would do away with the silly façade of party-neutral polling thresholds that nearly always produce debates with exactly two candidates from the same parties cycle after cycle. We would instead recognize the left-right/inside-outside structure of the U.S. political space, and include four representatives in each presidential general election debate. (If it’s a deal-breaker for some for there to be no debates with just the two major-party candidates, I would certainly take two debates on my specs followed by one or more head-to-head in exchange for the support of those who want at least one head-to-head.) These spots would be specifically designated as Major-Party (Left), Major-Party (Right), Outside Party (Left), Outside Party (Right), or something along those lines. I would then utilize polling averages to determine who would be included in each of those spots, with parties officially making themselves eligible for inclusion by declaring themselves Left or Right (you have to choose one, or forfeit consideration). So, you’d get the Ds & the Rs, and then the other spots would be determined by the next-highest-polling candidates from parties declaring themselves to be Left or Right. Obviously “Left” and “Right” are not perfect labels for any parties’ politics (certainly not third parties’), but the purpose of these labels is just to manage this function, not convey (much) political meaning.

    To me it is irrelevant that either a Democrat or a Republican will win, and if Gary Johnson were polling at 16% and Stein at 4%, that would also be irrelevant. To me, the structure of opinion distribution in this country is quite clear, and I’ve laid it out: left-right, inside-outside. That’s what deserves representation and inclusion. The primary arguments against this seem to be 1. lack of winning viability, and 2. lack of apparent popular support as demonstrated in the polls. I haven’t seen a logically or ethically convincing argument for why those are strong arguments for exclusion of the Outside view of U.S. politics from these debates; I’ve just seen it taken as a given that they are. If someone would like to offer a fuller argument for that, I’m willing to hear it. But right now I’m not feeling it.

    Lastly, a note about Dr. Jill Stein. Dr. Jill Stein, by her own admission, is clearly the (at best) second-choice representative of the Outside Left contingent of the U.S political world. She has offered to step aside as the representative of her party in case the first-choice representative wanted to fill the role. And she’s fairly clearly pretty loony (though not as loony as one of our major-party candidates). I do not think it should be held against the interests of the Outside-Left sector of our politics that the party that would be in the pole position for representing its voice in the debates has thrown in (because many of them are loons) with a loon for a couple of cycles. There are many in that sector who are not members of that party and not loons, and, anyway, even the loons deserve to be collectively represented in the American political conversation (i.e., their particular parties individually don’t, but in their status as roughly parts of the Outside Left of American politics, they do. We shouldn’t be excluding the outsiders, pretending they don’t exist. Similarly, Gary Johnson doesn’t (as we’re finding out) represent very well the whole of the Outside Right. But he’s in the pole position as head of the Libertarians right now. Fights over who would occupy these Outside spots on each side of the left-right spectrum would be, I think, valuable, and are certainly not reason to exclude the Outside views systematically from being represented.) …Anyway, so Jill Stein should not be held against the entire Outside Left as a reason to exclude them, especially as so many of them were tied up with Sanders this cycle. Moreover, if she’s as bad on the debate stage as she can be while appearing in public with various unsavories, having that revealed could spur the Outside Left to get on the ball a little more and try to advance someone, or some party, that better speaks for it (even if that’s hard because there is necessarily so much more diversity of views on the Outside than on the Inside.)

    So… that’s my wild-eyed alternative vision. Take it for the value of the pixels it’s scrawled on.

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      • The major parties are still the major parties. But, like I said, there would be a scramble to rep that Everyone-Else slot on each side, and this year it could have been entirely conceivable for Mitt to get that spot at the top of some kind of temporary establishment-in-exile outfit – if one had bothered to form up.

        More broadly, ‘Look, Trump won one of the nominations, so everything must be fine with the debates!’ is another of these non sequiturs that don’t reach me. We’re living the outlier year; we should be considering the norm.

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    • Without pixels where would we be?

      But by my way of thinking opening up the debate to different viewpoints weeks before the election when the system is essentially rigged for two is like having the conversation after the field has been planted.

      I think the only reason to open the debate at this stage to third-parties is if they are potential spoilers, and if one believes in informed spoiling. I tend to think that informed spoilage will make the parties better/stronger and one of my underlying preferences where I assume we differ is that I want the two parties to be better/stronger.

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    • “The point of these debates, in my view, should be to facilitate the best, most representative (within reason) national conversation about governing priorities as relates the upcoming election.”

      The time to have a significant, and useful, conversation is not six weeks before the election. Whatever good ideas Johnson or Stein might bring to the table, it’s already too late. Hillary is not watching over her shoulder to see what Stein is bringing to the national conversation. And whatever Stein would contribute, it won’t affect Hillary’s positions at this time. Likewise (hypothetical) with Trump and Johnson.

      The time was before and during the primaries. I would say that (surprisingly) Sanders was able to affect the Democratic Party and Hillary’s platform and program by running the primary. The Hillary we have today is not the pre Sanders Hillary, but one that has slightly pivoted towards the left. That’s a good outcome. Perhaps four years from now, another primary challenger can push Hillary even further. That’s when she’s watching over her shoulder, that’s when all the voices can be heard, and everything is on the table.

      Right now, the system we have is the system we have. Whatever Johnson or Stein could say in the debates would not affect the next presidency. At best, it would have to be saved four years, and remembered again (haha) in the road to 2020.

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      • Now that I come to think about it, this is how we got Trump.

        We had fifteen conventional Republicans (more or less), and Trump. Trump brought new ideas to the table (figure of speech), ideas that convinced the electorate, and the outside candidate won.

        But then, any of the sixteen could have won.

        Now, only two can physically win. So let’s focus on them

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        • Now that I come to think about it, this is how we got Trump.

          We had fifteen conventional Republicans (more or less), and Trump.

          Trump surely brought new ideas (his declaration consisted in saying he’d build a wall to keep out the rapists and murderers Mexico was “sending” to the US). But it’s the other part that I think is important. The 15 conventional candidates.

          I’m not saying the GOP ought to tighten up their primary (…clears throat…) as much as the logic of 15 candidates meant that Trump could work his way thru a winnowing field until the point where his poll numbers established him as bonafide.

          I’m also not saying that there was an Establishment GOP silver-bullet candidate who coulda stopped Trump this year. I don’t think there was. The GOP has basically been stoking their own political Trumpfire for several cycles, even tho most of em still don’t realize it.

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          • Adding to that: If Trump wins, future historians will write glowing treatises about the political acumen and nuanced genius of a man who both recognized and appealed to the body politic’s obvious and demonstrable discontent with the political status quo when no one else did. And they’ll write that irrespective of whether his preznitcy was a success or an unmitigated disaster.

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            • “…of a man who both recognized and appealed to the body politic’s obvious and demonstrable discontent with the political status quo when no one else did. ”

              But this is true. It doesn’t matter if he wins or loses the general. He did this. If he loss, the Republican elites might try to turn back the clock and act as if he hadn’t changed the party. But the party has changed. The nationalist populism is here to stay for a while.

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          • “Trump surely brought new ideas (his declaration consisted in saying he’d build a wall to keep out the rapists and murderers Mexico was “sending” to the US).”

            No one says that the new ideas have to be good ideas.

            The argument was about bringing forth new ideas that the electorate would prefer to the business as usual of entrenched politicians. The fifteen Republicans (and other members of the GOP PTB) should have been looking over their shoulders and hearing the grumbles of their base. They didn’t, and the outsider captured their electorate’s heart and imagination.

            It’s what Will says he wants happening by bringing Johnson and Stein to the debates. My argument is that the time to bring new ideas is before the general, and that both Sanders and Trump succeeded in bringing forth new ideas, and changing their parties.

            Again, new ideas are not necessarily good ideas.

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        • Anyone can focus on them who wants to. Expanding the range of opposing views they’re confronted with in a representative way doesn’t do anything to blur anyone’s focus on how the leading candidates respond, who wants to focus on that.

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      • The time to have a significant, and useful, conversation is not six weeks before the election.

        This may or may not be true, but it bears very little on who should be included in the one we’re going to have at that time regardless.

        Whatever good ideas Johnson or Stein might bring to the table, it’s already too late.

        Too late or what? Too late for the conversation, whenever it occurs, to be more representative of the structure of U.S. political opinion? No, that’s wrong. Too late to have an effect on the outcome? Who can say? Too late for the major candidates to paper over and for the public to forget any effect that their inclusion may have on the race? Yes, very possibly.

        Hillary is not watching over her shoulder to see what Stein is bringing to the national conversation.

        Not as much as she might if she had to face her in a debate, no. If she had to face her, maybe not much. But so what? My concern is that the conversation be more reprentative, and that the candidates have to face outside critiques, not that they be more or less concerned about having to do so beorehand.

        And whatever Stein would contribute, it won’t affect Hillary’s positions at this time. Likewise (hypothetical) with Trump and Johnson.

        In this case, that might be right, in others it might not. The point is not necessarily to move the candidates, but to give the American people a fuller debate at the time when they are maximally focused on their political life (primary debates aren’t when maximum numbers of Americans are tuning in to these decisions).

        The time was before and during the primaries. I would say that (surprisingly) Sanders was able to affect the Democratic Party and Hillary’s platform and program by running the primary. The Hillary we have today is not the pre Sanders Hillary, but one that has slightly pivoted towards the left. That’s a good outcome.

        I agree that it was a good outcome. But you’re not making any argument about why it should be enough. Why Bernie Sanders’ decision to challenge the Democratic establishment from within the party should mean that the entire outside left is then excluded from general election presidential debates, despite there being a potential representative for them who could participate. Same with Trump (even though he won) and Johnson. Trump now represents the Inside Right (even though he also kind of represents the Outside Right). I don’t see any downside – and you’re not presenting any that holds up – why there shouldn’t be representatives of the outside in these debates. That the parties were able(!) to attract and co-opt certain representatives of the outside at the earlier stage doesn’t mean there aren’t large groups of people no aligned with one of the major parties who deserve to be spoken for at these debates. That I can see, arguments not to do this just come down to efforts to protect the privileged position that the two major parties hold with respect to being included, because that’s what’s they prefer.

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        • “That I can see, arguments not to do this just come down to efforts to protect the privileged position that the two major parties hold with respect to being included, because that’s what’s they prefer.”

          The (my) argument not to include Johnson and Stein in the debates is that there’s a snowball chance in hell they will win a single electoral vote. In the system we have, five percent of the votes mean the same as not one vote, ten percent of the votes means exactly the same as not one vote. In 1992 Ross Perot won 19% of the national vote AND EXACTLY ZERO ELECTORAL VOTES.

          So let’s say Jill Stein wins ten percent of the votes. Two things might happen:

          1-Hillary still wins, but in her next campaign pivots even more to the left, to cop the Stein votes (and perhaps lose the right of her party to the Republicans. Or perhaps stays where she is because she calculates the loss of the right is larger than the gain on the left. When will this decision happen; in four years, in the next Democratic primary.

          2- Hillary loses (Nader vs Gore) and those who voted for Stein made the Trump presidency happen. Will the Stein voters really, really, prefer Trump to be president? Obamamacare will be dismantled or reduced, the Supreme Court will pivot to the right not just culturally but also in economic matters, reversing the environmental gains from decisions favoring EPA. Unions will be further weakened. The Consumer Protection Agency will perhaps be dismantled.

          Did a vote for Stein move the country towards the Green Party preferred policies? I argue that it would not.

          Regretfully, until the Electoral College as it exists now is toast, only two people in each presidential election have a shot at winning. Every vote not for the Republican candidate is a vote for the Democratic candidate, and vice versa.

          If you are outside left or outside (or inside- it’s not clear) right, your decision today is “which of the two candidates that the law has given the ability to win will implement policies closer to and in the direction towards my preferred policies, and which one will move the country further away from them?”

          Tl/dr if you want the policies of the Green Party to ever become the law of the land, why are you voting to make Trump president?

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        • “That the parties were able(!) to attract and co-opt certain representatives of the outside at the earlier stage doesn’t mean there aren’t large groups of people no aligned with one of the major parties who deserve to be spoken for at these debates. ”

          This is an argument for better debates, and not necessarily for treating Johnson and Stein as candidates with a chance to win, instead of vanity projects.

          Yes, Hillary and Trump should be grilled in the debates, confronted, their BS called. Their policy proposals challenged. You know, they should be debated.

          I would, for instance strongly support Stein and Johnson as moderators grilling the two candidates. That way the outside parties ideas get a hearing, and Hillary and Trump get to argue on the record about what they accept or reject of the Libertarian or Green platform.

          But no one but them two can become president. So no one else should be in that debate. I don’t care what Jill Stein would do if she gets a call at 2 am. She won’t get a call at 2 am.

          I’ll be glad to open the debates to anyone who polls as if he/she can win a single electoral vote; that means at least 25-30% in at least one state (or in Omaha or wherever in NE you can get a lone EV). Johnson was a governor of New Mexico. Get him to poll 25 or 30% of the NM vote and I can believe he might get the New Mexico EVs in a three persons race. Then he’ll be welcome to the debate as a legitimate candidate in the Electoral College.

          Not before. Debates should be for real candidates. Real candidates compete in the Electoral College, not in the popular vote, as President Albert Gore tought us in 2000.

          Ceterum censeo Electivi Collegii esse delendam

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          • But no one but them two can become president. So no one else should be in that debate.

            Over and over and over again with this assertion, but never any argument is made for why it’s true. I’ve made arguments for why outside views should be included; you haven’t made an argument for why their representatives not being able to win means they shouldn’t. You’ve just said it does. But it doesn’t.

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            • If you can’t hit 15% in a national poll, you’re not going to win in a FPTP system.

              The President in 2017 will be Clinton or Trump. (Or, should anything crazy happen, one of their VP candidates. Who get their own debate).

              You know it. I know it. Johnson and Stein know it. 15% is actually a gimmie, because 16% ain’t going to win either and we know it.

              You want a realistic bar, where you can say “Any one of these guys can win?” Take the highest polling candidate and anyone within 10 points can play. Be generous, make it 15.

              That’s realism. That’s a stage that covers everyone that might possibly win the election.

              Maybe we want candidates on the stage that only 5% or 10% of the country support — there’s arguments for that. But let’s not pretend it’s because they have a chance of winning.

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            • With respect, we’ve exchanged opinions

              You have said why you think (your opinion) they should be included. Because votes should hear Johnson and Stein ideas. It’s based on fairness, transparency, and openness

              I have said that in my opinion they shouldn’t.

              My opinion is based in that they cannot win a single electoral vote. To win an EV they need to win a plurality in one state or other, and they currently can’t. So at the end of the day, both are vanity runs. My opinion is based on the system we have, not the system I’d like we had.

              Should we make it easier for third parties to move to the fore? Yes. I agree. But running doomed presidential campaigns won’t do anything to bring the outside parties closer to winning elections. There are only two routes open for these parties: change the Constitution, or start winning local races.

              In the meantime, I don’t want a repeat of doomed President Gore.

              Today, September 22, 2016, your options have withered to only two, , no matter who you pull the lever for: you vote against Clinton, or you vote against Trump.

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                • If you vote for Stein you are voting for Trump. If you vote for Johnson you are voting for Clinton???

                  You can abstain, and vote for none, or you can tell yourself you are voting for someone else, and formally it’s true. But only two people will capture Electoral Votes in this round.

                  So whatever you do with your vote, remember: there are only two people running in the Electoral College. Who are you voting for when you vote?

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                  • If you vote for Stein, your vote has the same effect as not voting. That’s not a vote for Trump. A vote for Trump is a vote for Trump. At most, you have deprived a vote to Clinton (if that’s otherwise your preferred candidate), but that has only half the impact as voting for Trump.

                    Right now, I’m telling people who live in swing states “Please vote for Hillary. But if you just can’t vote for Hillary, then please vote for Johnson or McMullin.”

                    Because the latter is still better than voting for Trump.

                    Since I don’t live in a swing state, I am unburdened from a consequential vote. It simply won’t matter. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do in November. It may be to vote for Clinton to pad her margins. It may be a vote for Johnson in protest. Living in a solidly colored state, it’s pretty symbolic anyway.

                    But for people whose vote matters towards the outcome, the hierarchy is Clinton is better than Johnson and Johnson is better than Trump. Or, for Trump supporters, the other way around.

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                    • Basically, a third party vote says – as far as the winner is concerned – “I endorse what the electors of my state are going to do” As you say, it also says other things, e.g. that you’re not particularly enamored with the main choices. And if your vote won’t possibly impact the electors – as mine won’t either – signaling might be the best thing you can do. But no one should think that by only implicitly opposing the will of the people, they aren’t implicitly supporting it as well.

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                      • As President Gore proved in 2000, when a handful of Nader voters in FL secured the EC for the winner of the popular vote.

                        Oops. Not

                        (All the recounts I know of, after the fact, concluded that, if the counting had not been stopped, Bush would have nevertheless won FL. I hope someone can correct me)

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                        • Last I checked, 537 is still greater than 1.

                          If you’re planning to cast 600 votes in a swing state, I agree that you should put at least a bit of thought into tactical voting.

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  8. This idea that “Libertarians need to do more to increase grassroots support before stampeding off to a presidential election” is something I’ve heard quite a bit lately, but what can be more high-profile than a presidential election? I’ll just note that, according to Ballotpedia, every election in which I am eligible to cast a vote includes a Libertarian candidate, and seeing a candidate from the Libertarian party on a national stage has to be beneficial for these lower races, I’d think.

    But the thing that bugs me the most is this expectation that Libertarians and Greens and Constitutionalists and Worker’s Unionists and whomever else, in order to be accepted as viable candidates, have to pass these gates to inclusion which are controlled by the two dominant parties which both have vested interests in keeping them out and convincing the electorate that they are the only game in town. Doesn’t that seem wrong to anyone else? For example, doesn’t it seem a bit wrong that FEC commissioners are all representatives of either the Republican or the Democratic party, and that these are the same people who get to decide the threshold which determines which parties get funding and which don’t (and also, why do candidates get funding from the Federal government, but never mind that)? The process itself, which third-party candidates are expected to pass through, is controlled by the very parties who have a vested interest in limiting competition only to themselves.

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    • Libertarians are very good about getting names on ballots. The downside to this is you end up with people like Bruce Majors as nominees. On the whole, congressional efforts are a mile wide and an inch deep.

      If I were developing a strategy for the Libertarians, it would be to run people in as many places as possible with decent candidates as best you can, but to really focus efforts in particular places. The best districts are probably ones where the winning party isn’t used to defending, and the losing party has kind of given up. In a D+10 district, try to pry off enough disaffected Democrats and bring in Republicans. Or the opposite for an R+10 district.

      For that to work, the Libertarians would need to be able to let people run their district. Let the Libertarian in the Republican district hedge a bit on some social issues, and in the Democratic district hedge a bit on just how small they want the government to be.

      For the Greens it would involve focusing solely on safe Democratic constituencies. No Republican will ever win there, in some districts they won’t even run anybody, so try to become the alternative. This would apply to the Constitution Party as well. What they have in common drawing their support overwhelmingly from one side of the electorate.

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      • Yup. Why instead of wasting millions of dollars on let’s be frank, vanity Presidential runs, why aren’t the Green’s focused on running of dozens of well funded city council candidates in Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Chicago, etc. Hell, say what you will about them, the Socialist’s got a City Council member elected up here in Seattle.

        Same thing with the libertarians – start running for county commission, state legislature, and local seats in uber Republican Mountain West areas where the DNC has zero shot and send all that money for people who want legal weed and no taxes there. If in 2024, a Green or Socialist Left candidate can point to increased funding to this in Portland due to their candidates or a Libertarian can point to an end to police seizures or an expansion of property rights somewhere in Wyoming, that’s a lot more effective than saying, “well, we’d do this and here’s what would happen. Oh, evidence? Well, we don’t actually run anything, so trust us!”

        That’s why Governor’s are seen as better candidates than Senators – they can say “I successfully did x in y and it worked, so let’s do it all across America!”

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        • Well if you want to get technical Johnson and Weld were both governors who switched to libertarian. They can claim experience and Johnson is known for all his vetoes and all his accomplishments in New Mexico. Neither Clinton or Trump can claim they personally have executive experience in the government. And despite running for their party nothing holds them accountable to the platform. In fact that dem and rep approach of let’s do it because we’re dem or rep is flawed. The approach that worked once may not work again because if a different environment. What should be done first is research the long term consequences of such an action and consider a variety of approaches. We have bright minds in the U.S. use them.

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        • When what tends to really motivate people to want an alternative to Democrats & Republicans are Big, National (even Global) issues, they’ll tend to see local as small potatoes or missing the point.

          If your key issue is, say, ending the ridiculous, humongous amount of War the US engages in and subsidizes, you probably aren’t big on county commissioner races. Call it a strategy flaw if you want, but that such people have nobody to look at with a shot at representing their views on such there I’m more inclined to see as an institutional design of a deeply corrupt system.

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          • When what tends to really motivate people to want an alternative to Democrats & Republicans are Big, National (even Global) issues, they’ll tend to see local as small potatoes or missing the point.

            Which is why these people often get mocked as privileged. Because for them, who occupies the school board or Police Commission has no tangible effect on their lives.

            But it does- it really, really does- to millions of others!

            And refusing to make common cause with these millions in favor of a personal statement of virtue is not something that should be applauded.

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            • Not saying they don’t care. Maybe they don’t, or maybe the parameters of the usual local candidates are generally acceptable while they keep seeing national politicians generally agree on things they see as hugely offensive. I don’t know.

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          • Let me give the snarky answer, then the serious answer.

            Depending on how you word the polling, 10-30% of the country believes that 9/11 is some sort of inside job, either with the Bush Administration ignoring the warnings on purpose because of the political capital an attack would bring or some sort of actual false flag attack.

            Is the fact there is nobody for those people representing their views proof that the system is inherently and deeply corrupt? I mean, it’s a bigger number than Gary Johnson will likely get.

            The more serious answer is that the actual percentage of people who want a massive retreat by the US when it comes to foreign policy is actually vanishingly small – yes, people will say they want cuts to the military or for us to get less involved in the world. That is, until the 1st terror attack they hear about in Europe or here at home or if God forbid, some foreign leader out there says something unkind about America.

            We like our Empire. No, we don’t want to actually go to war and have Americans killed anymore, but we’re perfectly all right as a population droning brown people for decades. Do I like that? Not really. But, I don’t have this fantasy there is actually much of a constituency outside of think tanks and college protests for an actual retrenchment of American power.

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    • This is a totally different, and totally valid, argument. All those fifty states laws that essentially say Rs and Ds automatically get a candidate in every ballot, but everybody else needs to jump through hoops should be tossed out (and are probably unconstitutional).

      In addition, reasonable limits to “money is speech”, would hinder 4Rs and Ds drowning the airwaves and sucking any possible oxygen from the offer parties.

      But to invite people that have zero, none, nothing, chance to the presidential debate, so they can, perhaps, if lucky, have an effect on the politics of four years hence. That, I don’t support.

      The facts in the ground is that at this time in the calendar only two people have a chance to win the EC. We as voters need information about the two that might win, and how to differentiate between them. Whatever good ideas Johnson or Stein might have will not have a chance in 2016

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  9. I’d like to note since it hasn’t arisen in these comments that whatever arbitrary measurement you set for entry requirements into the debates that calls on polls is going to have problems, especially when any poll can be chosen. I’d advocate having the polls being scientific with transparent and clear methodology since it is important to know how the hell did you get to those numbers! I’m very much referring to the one poll which didn’t count millennials. Young folks apparently don’t vote or something. Better yet is if the debates commissions didn’t choose the polls since they themselves are biased but a separate committee was formed that would conduct the five polls. Said committee would be spearheaded by our research institutions since numerous academics believe in science and keeping it honest. Fraud or cheating would reflect badly on the institution.

    Of course my version will be susceptible to corruption and all that, but one day we may figure it out. That said and all done it’d be nice for the debates to not enforce a two party system because I hate to break it to people, unless you live in a swing state your vote is irrelevant. Letting Johnson or even Stein in won’t cause Trump or Clinton to win or lose unless a third party manages to steal one of their states. Third party contenders bring different ideas and force the other two parties to either compromise or lose ground to the contenders.

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  10. Forget percentages. Why not make being on the ballot in all 50 states the sole criterion for inclusion in the debates? This implies that you have a campaign that’s at least done the minimum, besides fielding a candidate, to have a chance at winning.

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    • Main concern I have with this is that’s such a big carrot that you’d probably have too many parties before too long. As a metric, it ceases being useful as soon as you use it as a qualifier.

      Standing in the way is Oklahoma, where it’s enormously difficult to get on the ballot (the Libertarians did this year, but usually don’t). My guess is that there would be lawsuits and that barrier would get knocked down.

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      • A candidate can get 270 votes in the EC without being on the ballot in every state. This year, didn’t Trump nearly miss being on the ballot in some small state because of a paperwork snafu? In most states, outside of “major” parties, ballot presence doesn’t carry over — the minor parties have to go through the process every cycle. If the threshold were, for example, states totaling 200 or more electoral votes, discounting write-ins, there would be three other parties this year, but they’ve been working for years/decades to build organizations to make that happen. To reach 200 requires enough money and organization in enough different places that they don’t look “fringy” any more.

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        • Not a small state. Minnesota! Where McMullin actually will be on the ballot, funnily enough.

          Anyway, I believe there is a requirement that you be on the ballot in enough states to get to 270 to participate in the debates, no matter how well you’re polling.

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      • Too many? How many is too many? Here we have a post complaining that 2 is not enough, and now you quibble about the chance for too many podiums.

        The more the merrier I say. Perhaps an actual debate might break out.

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