With the 2012 Presidential election in full swing all the attention is on President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, but there are others in the race, the most well-known, perhaps being Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Johnson is on the ballot in 47 states, but he is not included in the debates between Obama and Romney. The privet Commission on Presidential debates and both the Democratic and Republican parties are blocking Johnson from the debates and he has sued to be included. His chances are slim but he and others are asking the question, why? Why is it so hard fro a third party candidate to be taken seriously in our national politics?
It is very hard for third party candidates to be taken seriously in our national politics because of our history and traditions. The two party system in the Unites States developed primarily because of the electoral college system. In order to be President, a candidate must win in enough states to earn 270 electoral votes. With only two major candidates, one is almost guaranteed to win 270. If our system supported several parties, each with a chance to win various states, no one would ever reach 270 electoral votes and the who system would be thrown into chaos.
The Libertarian Party has been running candidates for President for decades and Johnson is a well-known former governor who ran in the Republican primaries in 2012. When that bid proved unsuccessful he accepted the Libertarian nomination and immediately began to request to be part of the presidential debates. The Commission on Presidential debates requires participants to meet three criteria. 1) they must be eligible to be President, 2) they must be on the ballot in enough states to achieve a theoretical electoral college majority and 3) they must have at least 15% support in major polls. Johnson meets all but the third requirement as most polls show him in the low single digits of support.
Johnson argues in his suit that the Commission and both parties are colluding to keep him out of the debates and that violates the Sherman Anti-Trust Act because collusion limits competition and does injury to both him as the candidate and the American voter. The suit has little chance of success. Other third party candidates have tried and failed in the past to force themselves onto the debate stage. What the suits will do though is generate publicity for Johnson and allow him to reach more people with his positions of limited government, reductions in federal spending and withdrawal of troops from foreign lands.