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Two-Party Tyranny: Ralph Nader on Exclusion of Third-Party Candidates from First Presidential Debate

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It’s official: When the first presidential debate takes place next Monday, a week from today, it will exclude third-party candidates from the debate stage. The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Friday that both Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party failed to qualify by polling at 15 percent or higher. This comes as polls show Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are among the least popular major-party candidates to ever run for the White House. We get reaction from four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who has previously been excluded from debates. He has a new book titled “Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s official. When the first presidential debate takes place next Monday, a week from today, it will exclude third-party candidates. The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Friday that both Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party and Libertarian Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, failed to qualify by polling at 15 percent or higher. Johnson is currently polling at 8 percent, has reached as high as 12 percent at some points. Dr. Stein is reportedly averaging about 3 percent and has peaked at 6 percent in some national polls. A recent poll by Morning Consult found more than half of registered voters believe Johnson should partake in the debate scheduled for September 26, and nearly half believe Stein should, as well. This comes as polls show Trump and Clinton are among the least popular major-party candidates to ever run for the White House. McClatchy recently polled voters under the age of 30 and found 41 percent backed Clinton, 23 percent supported Johnson, 16 percent backed Stein, and only 9 percent backed Trump.

In 2012, Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, were arrested as they attempted to enter the presidential debate site at Hofstra University, the same location where Monday’s debate will take place. Democracy Now! was there at the time of their arrest, when the third-party candidates were blocked by a solid wall of police before sitting down on the ground. They were then arrested.

DR. JILL STEIN: Well, we’re here to stand our ground. We’re here to stand ground for the American people, who have been systematically locked out of these debates for decades by the Commission on Presidential Debates. We think that this commission is entirely illegitimate; that if—if democracy truly prevailed, there would be no such commission, that the debates would still be run by the League of Women Voters, that the debates would be open.

POLICE OFFICER 1: Ladies and gentlemen, you are obstructing the vehicle of pedestrians and traffic. If you refuse to move, you are subject to arrest.

Remove them. Bring them back to arrest them, please.

POLICE OFFICER 2: Come on, ma’am.

POLICE OFFICER 3: Would you step up, please? Stand up, please?

POLICE OFFICER 2: We’ll help you. Come on. Thank you, ma’am.

POLICE OFFICER 3: Thank you, ladies.

POLICE OFFICER 2: Watch the flag.

POLICE OFFICER 1: Thank you, ladies.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Green Party’s presidential candidate in 2012, Jill Stein, seeking entrance to the presidential debate at the time at Hofstra. This year she’s continued to demand four-way presidential debates and said in a statement she plans to show up with hundreds of supporters outside that first debate. The debates are organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties. It’s said it will review the criteria for the second and third debates in the future.

In a minute, we’ll be joined by former third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. But first, this is George Farah, the founder and executive director of Open Debates, speaking on Democracy Now! about how the Democrats and Republicans took control of the debate process.

GEORGE FARAH: GEORGE FARAH: The League of Women Voters ran the presidential debate process from 1976 until 1984, and they were a very courageous and genuinely independent, nonpartisan sponsor. And whenever the candidates attempted to manipulate the presidential debates behind closed doors, either to exclude a viable independent candidate or to sanitize the formats, the league had the courage to challenge the Republican and Democratic nominees and, if necessary, go public.

In 1980, independent candidate John B. Anderson was polling about 12 percent in the polls. The league insisted that Anderson be allowed to participate, because the vast majority of the American people wanted to see him, but Jimmy Carter, President Jimmy Carter, refused to debate him. The league went forward anyway and held a presidential debate with an empty chair, showing that Jimmy Carter wasn’t going to show up.

Four years later, when the Republican and Democratic nominees tried to get rid of difficult questions by vetoing 80 of the moderators that they had proposed to host the debates, the league said, “This is unacceptable.” They held a press conference and attacked the campaigns for trying to get rid of difficult questions.

And lastly, in 1988, was the first attempt by the Republican and Democratic campaigns to negotiate a detailed contract. It was tame by comparison, a mere 12 pages. It talked about who could be in the audience and how the format would be structured, but the league found that kind of lack of transparency and that kind of candidate control to be fundamentally outrageous and antithetical to our democratic process. They released the contract and stated they refuse to be an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American people and refuse to implement it.

And today, what do we have? We have a private corporation that was created by the Republican and Democratic parties called the Commission on Presidential Debates. It seized control of the presidential debates precisely because the league was independent, precisely because this women’s organization had the guts to stand up to the candidates that the major-party candidates had nominated.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s George Farah, the founder and executive director of Open Debates.

For more on the Commission on Presidential Debates, who is excluded from the first presidential debate of 2016, we’re joined by someone who’s been through this before: yes, four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate and corporate critic, has a new book out, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think. He is speaking today here in New York.

Ralph, talk about this decision that just came down—no third-party candidates in the first debate. You know this well.

RALPH NADER: Well, corporations are deciding who debates, when they debate, who asks the questions. So, in the primaries, you had major corporations decide who gets on, who doesn’t. They excluded, for example, the former head of the IRS, Mr. Everson, former deputy of immigration service, the only man who had any experience in the federal government, because he didn’t have a super PAC sponsoring him. And you can see what they did with Dennis Kucinich in 2012.

Now we have the Super Bowl of debates, and we have another corporation, which is funded by other corporations, like Anheuser-Busch, Ford Motor Company, AT&T. They have these hospitality suites at the debate location. And this is controlled by the two-party tyranny that doesn’t want any competition, doesn’t want voices that represent majoritarian directions in this country, like living wage, full Medicare for all, crackdown on corporate crime, pulling back on empire, civil liberties advance instead of the PATRIOT Act. All of these are represented by our third parties, which cannot reach tens of millions of people. You see, it’s basically a terminal exclusion, because you can go and speak to the biggest crowds of all—I filled Madison Square Garden, the Boston Garden, the Target Center; I reached less than 2 percent of the people I could have reached had I been on one debate. And the polls, again and again, showed that a majority of the people want more people on that stage. They don’t just want the Republican and Democratic Party going through basically parallel news conferences. They’re not really debates.

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