Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hidden Shame

Yes, it's entirely arbitrary that the Reagan Library debate rules include no-chancers Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman, while excluding Gary Johnson, Buddy Roemer, and Thaddeus McCotter. And I wouldn't be shocked if it turns out that there was an effort to keep Johnson off the stage, given that a debate with both Johnson and Paul is a rather weird representation of the Republican Party on national TV. It's easy for the party to treat Ron Paul as a crazy uncle, but a lot harder to ignore two such candidates.

The framing of this is usually all wrong, however. What you have to remember about this is that fairness and equal treatment for all candidates is not, in fact, a party goal. Or at least, there's no reason for it to be a party goal.

Instead, the party should have other goals. It should try to facilitate cooperation and competition over the nomination with as little excess bitterness and fallout as possible. It should, if it wants to be democratic, try to ensure fairness and participation for all party actors. It also makes sense for the party collectively to try to put an appealing face forward during those portions of the contest that might get highly visible and ugly.

What all of this means is that the point isn't whether they're being unfair to Gary Johnson and the others by excluding them; it's whether they're being unfair to significant and important party factions. And for the most part, I don't think that's the case. Meanwhile, I do think it is very much in the GOP's interest to keep the total number of candidates to a workable number, and especially to keep the ratio of real candidates to joke candidates (or protest candidates, or whatever you want to call them -- the ones who have no realistic chance of winning) as high as they plausibly can.


  1. The cutoff for the debate is 4% in a single nationwide poll, which is the highest that Huntsman has polled. The highest that Gary Johnson has polled is 3%, and I don’t think he’s been included in a nationwide poll for a couple of months now.

    The GOP clearly doesn’t want to encourage the libertarian trend within its ranks. If, say, Mike Gravel changed parties just to make a mess of things at the debate, I can understand why they’d want to keep him out -- but keeping Gary Johnson out is more about keeping the GOP as a private club where the leadership’s dogma is challenged as little as possible. This may be why a plurality of voters don’t want to have anything to do with the parties.

  2. These so called debates are such a farce. They have nothing to do with being President. In fact the skills you need to "win" a debate are almost the direct opposite of skills that make a good President. For instance Tim Pawlenty's campaign cratered in large part because he refused to attack Mitt Romney at a debate. But a President who acted confrontational in face to face meetings with foreign leaders or members of Congress would not accomplish much.

  3. Great article by Friedersdorf:

    Why the Press Loves Jon Huntsman but Ignores Ron Paul

    In sum: The press likes to challenge the orthodoxies of one party, but not both parties. “...Johnson and Paul are challenging orthodoxies of thought that are bi-partisan in nature and implicate much of the political and media establishment.” That pretty much says it all.


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