Trump Shows True Colors When Asked About Debating Johnson
In an interview Tuesday with The Washington Post, Donald Trump fielded a number of questions about his presidential campaign. However, perhaps the most interesting answer from Trump came when the conversation moved toward the presidential debates. Three presidential debates will occur, with the first on September 26 at Hofstra University in New York. In October, two more presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate will also take place.
So far this cycle, many commentators have pondered aloud whether Gary Johnson will be invited to the debates. Johnson has come extremely close to the 15% threshold designated by the Commission on Presidential Debates as the qualifying point for candidates to be included in the debates. Johnson seeks to become the first third-party candidate since 1992 to accomplish this feat. Recently, at least one member of the CPD has suggested that the group would be willing to bend its criteria somewhat to allow for the inclusion of another candidate.
So then what does Donald Trump think of Johnson or perhaps even Jill Stein being included in the debates? Said Trump, “I’d rather have head to head and right now they’re not getting any numbers. She’s doing better than he is, but right now in some polls she’s actually not doing badly.”
Trump’s refrain of citing poll results as a qualification for debating may sound familiar to libertarians, as it was one of the many ad hominem attacks he used against Rand Paul in a September Republican primary debate. During Trump’s introductory remarks, he stated that Paul did not deserve to be on the stage, as he was in “eleventh place” and polling at “one percent.” After Paul retorted, Trump would insult Paul’s physical appearance.
Secondly, Trump’s statement that Jill Stein is doing better than Gary Johnson is factually wrong, as Johnson has thus far polled well ahead of the Green Party nominee. While Stein is polling at an admirable 3.2% in the RealClearPolitics average, Johnson is polling at over double that, with 7.4%.
This leads one to wonder: what is Trump afraid of? In the same way he has launched personal attacks against every other opponent he has encountered thus far, he is expected to do the same when he takes part in the presidential debates. It is perhaps possible that Trump is wary of that with which he is not familiar, like the Libertarian Party and Governor Johnson.
While Trump has gone to lengths to caricature other candidates, he has mostly stayed away from Johnson and his running mate William Weld. Some of his only mentions came when he offhandedly called Johnson a “fringe candidate” and Weld an “alcoholic.”
Most interestingly, the recent remarks from Trump are a serious shift from his previous position. In 2000, when he was a candidate for the presidential nomination of the Reform Party, he stated that it was “disgraceful” that third-parties were excluded from debates and that it was “amazing that they can get away with it.” On another occasion, referencing what was then a newly-heightened 15% threshold, Trump said he was “not surprised that the two-party political establishment wants to keep the American people from having a third choice.”
As with so many other politicians, what happened is clear: Trump disfavored such mechanisms when he was in the out-group, but decided that they were useful once he joined the established in-group. Given his trade and imigration policies, perhaps it should not be surprising that he is a fan of protectionism in debates as well.
Hopefully, even over Trump’s newly-vocalized objections, Governor Johnson is able to find his way through these arbitrary requirements and appear in the presidential debates. Only then can he inject some level of sanity into the conversation, and introduce Americans to the third choice for which they have been so far clamoring.