Gary Johnson, newly emerging as a candidate for the Libertarian Party nomination for president, is upset at being barred from the Republican debates. He’s aiming at the wrong target, however. CNN reports:
Johnson blasted the inclusion of “candidates with no national name identification like Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman” as well as “candidates with no executive experience like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum” in presidential debates while he was “arbitrarily excluded by elitist media organizations in New York.”
Johnson was kicked out of the debates because the Republican Party had no interest in him, not because TV producers were out to get him. If any important constituency within the party had rallied to his banner, he would have had little trouble getting debate invites. Instead, even more so than Ron Paul, Johnson took policy positions which are opposed by virtually every important party group, and so no one cared if he was invited.
And that’s as it should be. Political parties in a democracy should be permeable, so that new voices can fight to change party positions on matters of public policy. But there’s no reason that parties should be neutral with respect to candidates for their nominations. To the contrary: parties should control their own nominations. It’s simply a mistake to believe that all candidates for nominations should be treated as equals. Those who have earned the loyalty of party constituencies and party leaders quite properly begin the campaign with important advantages over those who have not.
Elections in general, and nomination contests in particular, are not sports which are spoiled if they are not contested on an even playing field. Johnson appealed to the Republican National Committee for “basic fairness,” but fairness to candidates isn’t important. What matters is fairness to party actors and party voters. For Gary Johnson, it’s too bad that the Republican Party isn’t what he wants it to be. He could have chosen to stick around and fight to change it; instead, he’s marched off to the Libertarian Party and third-party irrelevancy.