Gary Johnson to the RNC: Help Me Get Invited to a Debate!

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In a plea to Republican Party officials, the former New Mexico governor lashed out against the media organizations that have prevented his voice from being heard

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After being shut out of most televised debates, presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, wants the Republican National Committee to rethink its role in the GOP nominating process. In a letter to the organization, he asserts that "allowing the national news media -- who do not have the best interests of the Republican Party in mind -- to pre-select the presidential field is nothing less than irresponsible." His argument is pretty compelling:

Having compiled a record as governor that, by any measure, demonstrates the ability to curb spending, cut taxes and create an economic and regulatory environment that will bring about real job creation, I entered the race for president with the belief that I bring to the table not only the credentials, but ideas that Republicans would like to see and hear.  Never did it occur to me that I would be excluded from the conversation; however, that is precisely what is happening -- and I believe the Republican National Committee bears some responsibility for what is going on.

Debates, such as the one this week in Las Vegas, are supposed to be opportunities for voters to see the candidates, hear their views, and judge their qualifications without the distortions of money, recognition and favoritism.  However, when organizing those debates is left to the national news media, the result has been an absurd Catch-22.  Invitations to participate in the debates are based upon arbitrary polling criteria decided in the conference rooms of media organizations such as CNN or NBC or the Washington Post.

Of course poll performance in the early stages of a campaign is almost entirely a function of money and name recognition -- those same distortions debates are intended to eliminate. Even worse, the same organizations who organize the debates are the ones who conduct the polls upon which their invitations are based. In my case, most of those organizations do not include me in their polling. The net result is that a handful of media executives have largely denied Republicans the opportunity to hear from a former governor whose record clearly merits their consideration.

The problem with this approach is that the RNC isn't likely to treat a libertarian like Johnson any more fairly than the news media, as the candidate appears to understand elsewhere in the letter. "It is no secret that not all of my views, particularly on some so-called 'social issues' are shared by certain elements of the Republican Party -- elements who frankly exert inordinate influence within the Party," he writes. "Many of my supporters who are Independents - and even Democrats - are quick to suggest that the Republican 'establishment' doesn't want my voice heard.  I hope that is not the case.  To the contrary, as I travel the country, I find a great number of Republicans who not only share my views, but who feel disenfranchised by a vocal minority that has become the face of the Party." I'll bet the RNC likes it that way.

The news media, however, should take Johnson's critique to heart. Especially now. Under the status quo approach, a candidate like Michele Bachmann, who surged in polls and then went into irreversible decline after debate watchers got to know her better, keeps getting invites based on her former standing, even though the American people have had an opportunity to evaluate her closely and don't like what they see. Isn't future debate time, in a year with so many televised contests, better spent on a candidate that Americans haven't gotten to know yet?

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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