Gary Johnson Excluded From June 13th New Hampshire Debate

Is it appropriate for news organizations to decide that the people don't need to hear from certain political candidates?

CNN, along with the Manchester Union-Leader and New Hampshire television station WMUR will be sponsoring a debate among Republican candidates for President, but one of the people who has actually declared his candidacy won’t even be there:

CNN, WMUR, and the New Hampshire Union Leader will host a presidetial debate on Monday, June 13th in Manchester. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, and Ron Paul will participate. In addition, unannounced candidates Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum will also take part.

Gary Johnson, however, will not participate. Why? Because he wasn’t invited.

This morning, we learned along with the rest of world that CNN and the other debate sponsors have decided to exclude Governor Johnson from sharing your voice in the debate.

(…)

In the latest Gallup poll, released one week ago, Governor Johnson’s level of support registered at 3% nationally. This is competitive with candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum, both of whom have been invited to participate. In fact, I’m not aware of a poll in which Mr. Santorum has out-polled Governor Johnson nationally.

Many of Johnson’s supporters are organizing a campaign to get the debate organizers to change their mind, but Johnson himself seems to accept the decision, although he’s disappointed:

“I respect the right of CNN and the other sponsors of the June 13 New Hampshire Republican presidential primary debate to apply their own criteria and invite who they choose.  It is, however, unfortunate that a significant segment of the Republican Party, and more importantly, millions of independent voters who might be Republican voters, will not have a voice on the stage in Manchester.

What will be missing is the voice of those who hold an undiluted view of individual liberty – those who believe that individual rights extend to women who face choices about abortion,  Americans who happen to be gay, and those who don’t place other asterisks on freedom.

Likewise, there will be no voice for the growing number of Americans who see the hypocrisy and failure of drug laws that condone alcohol at White House Dinners while incarcerating millions of Americans, including our kids, who choose to smoke pot.

I wish the participants in the debate well.  And I sympathize with the millions of Americans whose beliefs will not be on display in Manchester on June 13

For their part, the debate organizers say the decision on who to invite was based on objective criteria:

CNN, WMUR and the New Hampshire Union Leader created objective criteria to determine who would participate in the New Hampshire Republican Presidential Debate. The debate partners determined that the definition of a candidate was a person who was taking substantive steps towards a presidential run and reached a minimum threshold in national or state polls. Participants had three different opportunities to be eligible to take part in the debate:

  • A candidate must have received an average of at least 2.00 % in at least three national polls released between April 1 and April 30 that were conducted by the following: ABC, AP, Bloomberg, CBS, CNN, FOX, Gallup, Los Angeles Times, Marist, McClatchy, NBC, Newsweek, Pew, Quinnipiac, Reuters, USA Today and Time.
  • A candidate must have received an average of at least 2.00 % in at least three national polls released between May 1 and May 31 that were conducted by the following: ABC, AP, Bloomberg, CBS, CNN, FOX, Gallup, Los Angeles Times, Marist, McClatchy, NBC, Newsweek, Pew, Quinnipiac, Reuters, USA Today and Time.
  • A candidate must have received an average of at least 2.00 % in polls of New Hampshire voters conducted by the UNH Survey Center released between May 1 and May 31.

It’s true that Johnson hasn’t met that criteria and, as always, the debate organizers are free to set any criteria they want. However, is it really proper for them to be excluding candidates from debates this early in the race? I think the answer clearly no:

Moderators and interviewers can only do so much to get straightforward answers from candidates. The top tier candidates should actually be grateful to have candidates like Cain, Paul, and Johnson in the primaries to challenge them. The eventual nominee will be battle tested for the general campaign since s/he has already had to offer alternative answers to challenging questions about taxation, entitlements, foreign policy, etc.

If Herman Cain says our government should replace the income tax with the Fair Tax, the other candidates have to explain why the income tax should remain in place or offer another alternative. If Ron Paul says that our government needs to stop policing the world and audit the Fed, the other candidates have to explain why our government should continue to police the world and continue to keep the activities of the Fed secret. If Gary Johnson argues that from a cost/benefit approach the war on (some) drugs has yielded much greater cost than benefit, the other candidates have to explain where Johnson is wrong in his analysis.**

Far from being a distraction from the important issues, Cain, Paul, and Johnson can focus the debate in such a way that would be otherwise not possible. Of course this assumes that the debate moderators give all the candidates a chance to respond.

Of course, debates themselves are far from the open exchange of ideas that some people like to pretend they are. More often than not, they are little more than an opportunity for candidates to get out their sound bites to make sure they get into the news cycle. Nonetheless, there is something particularly disturbing about a news organization deciding that certain candidates don’t belong in a debate when we’re still more than eight months away from the New Hampshire Primary.  While many Americans have barely started paying attention to the 2012 race at this point, some will use these early debates to get to know more about the candidates (especially the marginal ones who don’t get as much press coverage as, say, Mitt Romney). Journalists ought to have an interest in exposing the viewers to all the possible options, rather than limiting them.

I’ve made it clear here before that I am sympathetic to Governor Johnson’s campaign. Nonetheless, I recognize that he’s so far back in the polls right now that the odds of him becoming a major player in the race are slim. What’s slightly unfair, I think, is that it becomes impossible for a candidate to break through when the media decides, on its own, that he doesn’t deserve to share the stage with his fellow candidates. Open the debate CNN, what have you got to lose?

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    You’ve got to exclude vanity candidates, since there are dozens. But I’d stipulate that anyone who has been a governor, US Representative, or US Senator in the past decade should qualify.

  2. Hello World! says:

    Santorum is a vanity candidate so I wonder why they would do this. It really is a we pick ’em for the people to decide situation.

  3. TG Chicago says:

    What about Huntsman? Or Giuliani? Were they invited? Palin?

    While I’d prefer to see Johnson included, there has to be a minimum bar set. I think the bar they chose is reasonable. (Though I think excluding unannounced candidates would be quite reasonable. Not sure why they left that door open.)

  4. tom p says:

    You’ve got to exclude vanity candidates, since there are dozens. But I’d stipulate that anyone who has been a governor, US Representative, or US Senator in the past decade should qualify.

    Remind me again why libertarians almost exclusively vote GOP? You guys are the b*st*rd step children of the GOP.

    Why do you meekly except it? Because if you did not, nobody would like you?

  5. superdestroyer says:

    Who cares that there will even be a debate? Until someone comes up with a scenario where the Republican nominee will even be competitive, the media should just ignore the Republican primary season. Who the Republicans nominate is no more relevant than who the Libertarian Party nominates.

    Why not have a debate where experts debate the issues of the day such as the debt, the environment, employment, the legal system, or any relevant issue of the day.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Let everyone in. The longer the real candidates are bogged down dealing with the vanity candidates, joke candidates and OMFG candidates, the less time spent attacking Obama in any effective way.

  7. Jason says:

    If CNN et al. are providing the TV time (for free no less, unless my understanding is incorrect), why shouldn’t they be able to say who does and does not participate? Unless you are saying that TV exposure in debates is a public good, which opens up a can of worms I don’t think either of us want to get into. Is it proper for them to exclude Johnson? It’s their airtime. Is it fair? That’s a completely different question, and different people may see it differently. But CNN is under no obligation to provide airtime to someone whom they consider a marginal candidate, unless there is some legal groundwork here that I am not aware of.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Hello World! Santorum is at 2% in the RealClearPolitics average. I don’t see a path to his nomination, but he’s not a vanity candidate.

    @tom p: Neither of the parties is friendly to libertarians but most libertarians pick one of the parties, just like everyone else. Those more concerned with drugs and social issues tend to vote Democratic and those more concerned with regulatory and economic issues tend to vote Republican.

    @Jason: Doug explicitly stated that CNN has the right to do this. He’s raising a general question about the fairness of a process that doesn’t let serious candidates without name recognition get the exposure to obtain said recognition.

  9. I’ve started a petition to get him included. All valid candidates need to be heard! What more criteria do you need than being a fiscally conservative two term governor?

  10. Southern Hoosier says:

    I remember what Rush said ones, “We are guaranteed free speech, but not a podium”.

  11. @Southern Hoosier – That is true, but being this is nationally televised and CNN a news outlet is supposed to remain neutral, that alone brings this judge in to question. Huntsman was invited and he has not out polled Johnson and has better name recognition. Santorum (due to the meme of his name) has wide name recognition, but polls close to Johnson and was included. Candidates that have dropped out were invited. Candidates that have not even announced were invited (Palin, Bachman, and again Santorum). In April (one the the “criteria”), Johnson was not even included in most polls… As was said Republicans tend to vote on economic/regulatory issues (Johnson record stands on it’s own there) and Democrats on social issues (Johnson is the most liberal there among the GOP). Independents(like myself) tend to vote on which ever issue is most important to them at the time of the election (I’m a social liberal, but fiscal conservative hence my libertarian mindset).

    This cycle I care more about financial issues than social ones, otherwise I’d be looking at Ron Paul as I did last cycle. I thought Obama was going to pull us out of the wars, but instead has gotten us involved in more conflicts we can not afford. I opposed TARP, but also opposed the healthcare bill. Johnson matches my views 95% of the time. He is the first candidate I’ve seen that would not have me choosing the “lesser of two evils”.

    Vote to include Johnson in the N.H. Debate

    I will NOT stop. I will NOT surrender. The voices of liberty WILL be heard!

  12. hardy says:

    Criteria can be fair, but when CNN only includes Johnson in one of their polls in 2 months and in the poll they include people who aren’t even running for president, then they have a bias.

    How was Gary doing in polls that are realistic. He’s at 3% int he Gallup Poll. (See the second set of numbers that doesn’t include Palin. He’s ahead of Santorum in the poll.)

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/147806/Romney-Palin-Lead-Reduced-GOP-Field-2012.aspx

  13. Southern Hoosier says:

    Are any of the people being excluded a threat to Comrade Obama’s reelection?

  14. I’d say once his name recognition is up and people see his fiscal record that Johnson is a threat. His social views would pull a lot of Democrats away from Obama on top of Independents like myself. Obama has already cost me my job once during his Presidency and that is a fact! I work in the oil field.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    I don’t understand why they don’t let me in. I also don’t register in any of the polls, and I also have no chance of winning.

    Let me in! Liberty and whatnot. Yeah!

  16. Were you a former Governor? Member of Congress? Registering on any national poll at all?

    This isn’t about everyone it’s about valid choices being excluded. If you had done all the prerequisites, I have no problem advocating for you as well. In other words, form an exploratory committee, the do the public announcement, then do something substantive toward running and I’ll back you being there. He is literally the only one that has done all that and not been invited. Hell, I’d say they should invite the “naked cowboy” if he had done all that was required and properly registered for the Republican Nomination… (He is running as an Independent and never formed an exploratory committee.)

  17. Joe R. says:

    Remind me again why libertarians almost exclusively vote GOP? You guys are the b*st*rd step children of the GOP.

    Why do you meekly except [sic] it? Because if you did not, nobody would like you?

    You don’t know many libertarians, do you?

  18. I’m not a pure libertarian… but generally speaking the Democrats have been ballooning the size of government.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    Are any of the people being excluded a threat to Comrade Obama’s reelection?

    No…next question…

    …but generally speaking the Democrats have been ballooning the size of government.

    They’ve done this along with their partners in crime, the GOP…

  20. Cynthia says:

    A C-span interview of GARY JOHNSON – who served TWO TERMS as Governor of New Mexico – is available ONLINE via C-spans’ “Road to the Whitehouse 2012 ” section that offers interviews of prospective candidates for U.S. President.
    See http://www.c-spanarchives.org/program/Gary/Jo