It sounds surprising at first, but Vin Weber, the former Minnesota congressman and an advisor to the Jeb Bush campaign, is a strong supporter of changing the rule to open up the presidential debates to include an independent candidate in the fall of 2016.He told Steve Scully of C-SPAN on Sunday that he wants the Commission on Presidential Debates to drop it's polling hurdle and change the timing of the debate rule that guarantees only a Republican and a Democrat will be on the stage.
Here's a link to the interview with Mr. Weber.
Weber told Scully right out front: "I'm a Republican. I'm going to support the Republican nominee." So why does he want an independent in the debates? Because Americans are more sour on their political system than in modern memory - and that is a danger to our democracy.
Americans don't believe their voices are heard and, in overwhelming numbers, believe the political system and government are broken. Independents outnumber both Democrats and Republicans. Allowing a qualified independent in the debates would go a long way toward ending the alienation so many Americans feel. It could also lead to better policies.
Weber and Lee Hamilton, the former Democratic congressman from Indiana, co-authored an article in Politico last month that elaborated on these points. It concluded this way:
"The stakes are too high for the current system to continue. The debate commission must stop ducking and embrace reforms by early summer or we will be stuck with yet another "closed-door masterpiece" instead of dynamic debates that provide Americans with the political choice they are desperate for. This is stifling the kind of competition that our own parties need in order to move closer to the public mood on important issues."
Read the whole piece here.
Yes, There Are Great Independent Candidates Out There
Meanwhile, attorney Alexandra Shapiro, who represents the nonpartisan group, Level the Playing Field, which is also pushing to open the debates, was interviewed this week by the Orlando Sentinel. She was asked:
"Polls show Americans would support an independent for president, yet third-partyers fare poorly. Is there really an appetite for this?"
Shapiro replied: "Current debate access rules deter many potentially excellent candidates from running for president as independents. The rule effectively forces independents to run through the Democratic or Republican primary in order to gain the media coverage necessary to build national name recognition.
"But in today's polarized politics, where the primaries are often dominated by the extremes of both parties, there are many people who would make great presidents but would never run through a party primary. If a qualified candidate is allowed to participate in the general election presidential debates - with the vast media exposure and legitimacy they confer - more qualified independent candidates will consider running for president."
In other words, there is no doubt that great independent candidates are out there, but they won't emerge as candidates unless they think they can win an election - and that won't happen if the debates remain closed.
Level the Playing Field, by the way, is the group that is paying for advertising in the Wall Street Journal that calls on the Commission on Presidential Debates to end the duopoly it's been enforcing. If you would like to see the ad, just click here.
Editor's note: This issue of Presidential Debate News originally published on the organization's site on May 28, 2015.