The Gary Johnson Rule: Official Version

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 22 2011 4:12 PM

The Gary Johnson Rule: Official Version

Gary Johnson, two-term governor of New Mexico, can't make it in to any more debates. The polling thresholds manage to catch Huntsman, and exclude him, in no small part because a lot of polls don't ask about him. Johnson couldn't score an invite to one debate because the price of entry was attendance at three TV debates -- he's made it into two. So Johnson's started exploring his legal options, and today his campaign got a letter from the RNC explaining why it won't go to bat to get him behind those podiums.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Dear Governor Johnson:
Thank you for your letter to Chairman Priebus of October 20, 2011. As you know the Republican National Committee does not decide which candidates are invited to participate in every one of the presidential debates. Those decisions generally are made by the debate sponsors.
The RNC has, however, become involved in a limited fashion through the sanctioning of certain debates. Acting through the Committee on Presidential Debates, the RNC has set objective criteria to guide our decision as to which debates to sanction. Such criteria are necessary given how many individuals have declared candidacies for president. For example, 21 Republican candidates have filed in New Hampshire.
We simply have to have some minimum criteria in order for candidates to participate in these debates. Otherwise, the debates would be utter chaos and unhelpful to Republican voters as we select our nominee. The criteria chosen were aimed primarily at ensuring that only candidates exhibiting minimum indicia of viability would be allowed to participate. A candidate can establish that he or she has met this threshold by hitting certain fundraising targets or achieving a minimum level of support in public polling. The latter would allow candidates whose campaigns are more grassroots-oriented to still demonstrate viability even if they had not raised substantial money. The third quarter threshold for fundraising was one million dollars, and the polling threshold, based on the RealClearPolitics average, was three percent. Eight candidates met at least one of these criteria. We will strongly encourage the debate sponsors to allow those candidates that meet that requirement to be included. With respect to non-RNC-sanctioned debates, you have to meet the criteria of the debate sponsors.
I understand the problem you and others have had with respect to being excluded from certain public polls. The RNC will work with various pollsters to encourage them to include as many candidates as possible in the polling. We do not take your concerns lightly, and we appreciate your contacting us to raise the issues. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Sincerely, John R. Phillippe, Jr.
Chief Counsel
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Not to flack for Johnson more than I already have, but none of these factors are unrelated to the candidates' access to free media. Debates are more than that -- they're legitimizing media. You don't see a candidate onstage, and you assume there's something disqualifying about him. You don't float his name in a poll. You're a media organization, and you save money by keeping his name out. Heck, I can't even find a Getty image of Johnson. It's all very odd. The rules that allowed no-hopers like Tommy Thompson, Jim Gilmore, and Tom Tancredo into the 2007 debates would have let Johnson and Buddy Roemer in. So we're spared the presence of governors who last won elections in 1989 and 1998, and gifted with a senator who last won election in 2000 and a businessman who has never won anything. In the public interest. Or something like that.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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