A Month Late With Its Rules, Debate Commission Still Denies Voters The Choices They Deserve

Created: 31 October, 2015
Updated: 18 October, 2022
4 min read

Update: On October 29, the Commission on Presidential Debates released its criteria for the 2016 fall debates. It maintains its 15% polling threshold for candidate inclusion. What polling agencies the Commission will use are still unknown.

Senator Jim Webb, one of the five candidates in the first Democratic primary debate, dropped out of the race for president, but left the door open for a run as an independent. Here's what he said:

"Poll after poll shows that a strong plurality of Americans is neither Republican nor Democrat. Overwhelmingly they're independents," Webb said. "Our political candidates are being pulled to the extremes. They are increasingly out of step with the people they are supposed to serve."

Sen. Webb said that his own views were not "compatible with the power structure and base of the Democratic Party." Indeed, the tendency in both parties is for candidates to be pulled toward the political edges, where party orthodoxy prevails.

Americans - all of us - have different views on different issues, but the political system next fall will offer us just two choices.

This disconnect is reflected in the fact that, as Sen. Webb says, Americans overwhelmingly identify themselves as political independents. A Gallup poll last month found that 43% of voters are independents, compared with 27% Democrats and 27% Republicans.

On the same day as Senator Webb's announcement, Rasmussen Reports revealed the results of their survey on head-to-head matchups and found:

"Republican Donald Trump picks up 38% of the vote against Democrat Hillary Clinton, who draws 36%. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds a sizable 22% would prefer some other candidate given this matchup."

And it's not just Trump. In a matchup between Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina --  21% would still prefer some other candidate.

And who would that third candidate be? An article by Andrew Ross Sorkin in the New York Times - also published on Tuesday - explored the likelihood of Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, running. Mr. Bloomberg has said he won't. Since his views don't match the credo of either party, he could not win either nomination. Mr. Sorkin writes:

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"That would leave him as an independent. He could easily afford to self-fund his campaign. He also could easily get on the ballot in all 50 states, and private polling he conducted years ago suggested he might be able to win a plurality of the popular vote, according to people close to him."

If he runs, Mr. Bloomberg will run to win. But the main reason he - or any other potential candidate like him - won't run today is because of the unchecked power of the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Since the surprise showing of Ross Perot in 1992, the Commission on Presidential Debates has set rules to prevent another independent from getting into the final general election debates. And if you aren't in the debates, you won't get elected. Bloomberg is certainly smart enough to know that.

The Commission promised to announce its debate access rules for 2016 at least one year before the first contest, which is set for Sept. 26 in Dayton, Ohio. The CPD is now four weeks late - and that's no surprise. Since its leadership is invested in perpetuating two-party rule, this outrageous delay is a great tool for keeping independents off the ballot.

Bill Ackman, the financial executive, is quoted by Mr. Sorkin as saying that Mayor Bloomberg "is all the best of Trump without the worst of Trump." The truth is that there are many such men and women out there. A change in the debate rules would see them emerge - along with candidates who might be "all the best of Hillary Clinton without the worst of Hillary Clinton." Or maybe not. We will see. That is what an open system for choosing the best possible person to be president of the United States would do.

A closed system - the one we have now - is producing choices that a large part of the voting public does not want. The debate commission - if it behaved in a patriotic fashion - could change all that and make our democracy healthier. Instead, it continues to perpetuate a fraud on the American people.

Editor's note: This article originally published on Presidential Debate News and has been slightly modified for publication on IVN.