Let Gary Debate? Johnson Supporters Plan Rally

Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson October 23, 2012 in Chicago.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Gary Johnson supporters plan to protest at a “peaceful assembly” outside the offices of the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates this Wednesday from 11 am until 3 pm.

The protest is not sponsored officially by the Johnson-Weld campaign, though some of its state campaign directors are involved. Vans and car pools are bringing Johnson supporters from South Carolina, southern Virginia, Pennsylvania and other surrounding states.

Rally organizers are aiming for 1,000 people, but report that by Monday they only knew of a little more than 300 who were confirmed for the mid-day, working week, rally. The official Gary Johnson campaign has asked them to call themselves an “assembly,” and not a protest, perhaps trying not to burn bridges in case the Commission deigns to invite Governor Johnson to the second or third debates.

Organizers also say they have been told they can only say their rally is “campaign tolerated” and not campaign endorsed or organized — an ironically Clintonian regulation of language given that Johnson left to his own devices is not as glib as either the carefully constructed, expert fabricator Clinton or the immediately responsive, TV practiced, Trump, and has been given to a few minor campaign gaffes.

The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates released its decision late last Friday afternoon — in something akin to the common late Friday data dump technique used by Presidents and other elected officials who want to avoid press coverage — that Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein would not be invited to participate in the first presidential debate.

In a Quinnipiac poll in late August 62 percent of respondents said they wanted Governor Johnson included (42 percent wanted to include Dr. Stein).

Libertarians and Greens had earlier filed an antitrust law suit against the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private corporation whose board members are entirely former and current politicians, staffers, and consultants from the Democrat and Republican parties, with no independents or representatives of other parties.

The lawsuit, led by Constitutional law expert Bruce Fein, was eventually thrown out of court this summer by Judge Rosemary Collyer, a George W. Bush appointee to the federal courts and a judge on the FISA court that authorizes NSA surveillance. Collyer argued that the $2+ billion campaign industry that supports well-healed political consultants like Karl Rove or Bob Shrum is not a marketplace that could be investigated for anti-competitive behavior.

A chorus of newspapers, celebrities, and former Republican governors endorsed Johnson in the past two weeks or called for his inclusion in the debates, including actress Melissa Joan Hart, actor and governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and former governors Mitt Romney, Christine Todd Whitman, and Mitch Daniels.

The bipartisan Commission had announced a rule that candidates must have at least 15 percent in the most recent polls to be included. In the latest Quinnipiac poll last week Johnson was at 13 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 3.2 percent so some libertarians argued that that meant Johnson could be at 16 percent.

Johnson had earlier complained that if he Trump and Clinton were listed in polls in random order, instead of his always being shunted to the third choice, he would be more likely to poll higher.

The Green Party organized a small protest outside the same office building at 1200 New Hampshire Avenue NW last Wednesday. The building was the former address of The New Republic magazine and of the conservative public interest law firm the Becket Fund, and currently has tenants including both the Susan B. Anthony List and Al Jazeera television.

Al Jazeera is said to have footage of last week’s Green Party protest, that has not yet been produced or broadcast. The only other coverage of the Green Party event was a brief mention on local DC WMAL radio that unidentified protesters had interfered with afternoon rush hour traffic near Washington Circle. There are reports that Al Jazeera will be filming the “LetGaryDebate” event Wednesday, since doing so only requires aiming a camera out of their second floor windows.

The Johnson campaign continues to air TV and radio ads and rise slowly in the polls. Last week Democrats announced a multi-million social media push to combat the desertion of millennial voters to Johnson — wise perhaps to prospect there, since the tens of millions of dollars the Clinton campaign has spent attacking Trump seem to have failed.