Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Showed Us All What a Presidential Debate Should Look Like

Created: 05 November, 2016
Updated: 17 October, 2022
5 min read

This week, third party candidates Gov. Gary Johnson and Dr. Jill Stein took part in a candidate forum that aired on PBS over two nights. There were no interruptions, no personal jabs, and candidates spoke only to the questions and issues. The candidates' podiums stood next to each other. They were given about 90 seconds to answer each question, and both Johnson and Stein appeared committed to a real discussion on real issues.

This is what a presidential debate or forum should look like. Debates are not supposed to be the public airing of each candidate's dirty laundry. The media has done that enough off the debate stage. Presidential debates and forums should serve one purpose: educating voters about these candidate and where they stand on the biggest issues facing the nation, so voters can make an informed choice at the ballot box.

So, what did Johnson and Stein talk about? Chances are you probably missed the two-night forum. Here is a brief overview of the issues that were covered:

Night 1: Domestic Policy

In response to the lack of success in their individual campaigns, Stein attributes it to the two-party system that shuts out third party candidates, despite all of their hard work and dedication. Johnson on the other hand sees his campaign as a success for a third party ticket, citing endorsements from 6 major newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune.

Minimum wage

Johnson: "How is it that government can assign a wage to begin with? I just think that the market should prevail... We're restricting jobs. The more you raise the minimum wage, the more automation occurs."

Stein: "I see $15 only as a beginning, but it's an essential beginning. And we know that when we are priming the pump of the economy by putting more dollars into the hands of consumers, we actually grow the economy."

Gun Control

Stein: "We're calling for insuring that the gun show loophole closes, that there are background checks, and that we get automatic weapons, basically military-scale weapons, off the streets and that we get rid of this impunity to gun manufacturers and distributors so that they are held accountable."

Johnson: "I support the Second Amendment. Having said that, should we be open to a discussion and a debate on how we keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill... out of the hands of would be terrorists? Absolutely!"

"Currently semi-automatic weapons, the weapons -- many of which are now labeled assault rifles, there are about 40 million rifles in that category. So if you are going to make those semi-automatic rifles illegal, you're going to make a new category, I think, of criminal in this country..."

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Health Care

Johnson: "What we need to do is to bring a free-market approach to healthcare...I just think there are so many ways that the government could create real competition in the health care area."

Stein: Denies reports that she is currently investing in pharmaceutical giants, saying, "I have divested... from all the bad actors out there, and predominately invested in index funds and mutual funds that are broadly distributed into an economy that is very problematic, and which is dominated again by pharmaceuticals, by health insurance, by war profiteering, by the fossil fuel industries..."

Spending and Debt

Stein: Saying austerity is the wrong path, she adds, "We're calling for prudent investments to recreate a productive economy. What I am calling for, a Green New Deal, is the antidote to NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the trade deals that are basically crony capitalist trade agreements..."

Johnson: Denies rumors that he increased the debt in New Mexico by almost $3 billion during his governorship. "I left New Mexico with a billion-dollar surplus."

Climate Change

Johnson: "I am open to any discussion that I think might make things better, costs less, works better."

Stein: Recommends a "nationally subsidized program to create these jobs in clean renewable energy and ... ensure that the cost is affordable."

Affirmative Action

Stein: Explains that under the Green New Deal, "jobs are targeted first to the communities of greatest need."

Johnson: "I think this is an example of crony capitalism. Crony capitalism, when the government picks winners and losers. I think affirmative action, for the most part, is gamed, and those who know how to game it, game it, and I think I we've grown beyond affirmative action."

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Night 2: Foreign Policy

Both candidates claim that they would pardon Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, considering them more as heroes rather than enemies of the state.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

Johnson: Acknowledges that it isn't perfect, but claims it advances free trade. Overall, "TPP is positive, it would result in more U.S. jobs it would eliminate many of the tariffs that exist right now."

Stein: "It's clear what we're getting; this is NAFTA on steroids. This is not a good thing...It's very important that we stop it."


Stein: "I'm calling for a new kind of offensive in the Middle East, a peaceful offensive, which begins with a weapons embargo.

Johnson: "We should stop with supporting regime change. If we are attacked, we should attack back. We should have an invincible national defense."


Johnson: "They really don't need our assistance at all. They are best able to determine their own outcomes."

Stein: "I call for an even-handed foreign policy across the board," further stating that we "cannot continue to sanction" Israel and their human rights violations.

Syrian Refugees

Johnson: "I think we should increase taking in Syrian refugees, believing that there will be, and there is, an intense vetting process taking place."

Stein: "We need to take responsibility for these refugees...we need to take a large portion of the Syrian refugees that we have largely played so large a part in creating."

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Military Spending

Johnson: "A 20% reduction in military spending will not compromise an invincible national defense."

Stein: "Our bloated and dangerous military budget is not making us safer, it's making us less safe, so we need to cut back."

Watch the full debate here, including the web exclusive Part 3.

With Election Day just days away, this debate came just in time to remind American voters that there are other options besides Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Overall, the professionalism and maturity of the debate serves as a refreshing reminder of how a presidential debate is supposed to be.

Photo Credit: PBS

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