Officials in charge of the Commission on Presidential Debates say that due to the mood of the electorate, they are preparing for the possibility that a third-party candidate will emerge who obtains sufficient support to qualify for the 2016 general election presidential debates.
According to The Washington Post, in an interview that will appear on a Jan. 24 episode of The Open Mind, Commission on Presidential Debates co-chair Michael McCurry reportedly told host Alexander Heffner, “The dynamic in the electorate right now and the dissatisfaction with the two major political parties could very conceivably allow an independent or a third-party candidate to emerge, and we are very clear that they would be welcome in these debates.”
CPD co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., who said that he thinks “it would be great” if a third-party candidate were to qualify, said that the commission spent months considering a change to the rule that requires independent candidates to obtain at least 15 percent support in national polls in order to qualify to participate in the 2016 general election debates, but that it ultimately decided to keep it in place.
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Critics of the rule say that it has prevented any third-party candidates from qualifying for the general election debates since 1992, when Ross Perot took on former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
However, despite having chosen to keep that rule in place, the co-chairs of the CPD reportedly believe that, depending on who wins the Republican and Democratic primaries, 2016 might be a year in which a prominent third-party candidate responds to voter demand, enters the race, and qualifies for the general election debates.
Characterizing the CPD co-chairs’ views in the wake of his interview, Open Mind host Heffner told The Washington Post, “I think they’re aware of the Trump revolution, or whatever you want to call it — the microphone that the media has provided for Trump. The two-party system, to many Americans, has disillusioned them to the point of questioning whether this is a democracy. And these men have a role to play in determining who is on that stage.”
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Some pundits theorize that Donald Trump might defy his pledge to the GOP and run as an independent if he loses the Republican primary. A Trump primary win on the other hand might leave an opening for another right-leaning third-party candidate. A Bernie Sanders loss in the Democratic primary could leave a significant number of disaffected progressives up for grabs for a high-profile independent.
Meanwhile, the bench of apparent 2016 third-party candidates is already loaded with higher-profile candidates than in previous elections. Former U.S. Senator from Virginia Jim Webb quit the Democratic primary last year and is considering an independent run, and a University of Mary Washington poll found him at double digit support in Virginia as an independent in several match-ups against various combinations of possible Republican and Democratic nominees. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg recently hired pollsters to test how he might fare as an independent alternative to a Trump vs. Clinton general election match-up.
The Libertarian Party has gone from running lesser known activists as candidates, such as Michael Badnarik in 2004, to having serious candidates with executive experience, like former two-term New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, in its stable. According to CBS Minnesota, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is considering a run for the Libertarian Party’s nomination, meaning the party’s 2016 primary debates might involve a showdown between a group of candidates including more than one former governor.
In July of last year, the Truth in Media project released a Consider This video pointing out the fact that independent voters now outnumber Republicans and Democrats. For context, watch it in the below-embedded video player.