For once Donald Trump will be right if he claims that the presidential debates are rigged. The only thing is that they're rigged in his favor, as the nominee of the Republican party. Once again the people who organize the debates have excluded the most viable third-party candidates, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green standard-bearer Jill Stein, from sharing the stage with the major-party candidates. The Commission on Presidential Debates still acts on the assumption that a first round of elections has already taken place through opinion polls. It thus disqualifies Johnson and Stein because neither has yet won the consistent support of 15% of the electorate in polls. This has long struck me as bass-ackwards reasoning, since in our telecommunications age it seems unfair to judge the viability of third-party candidates until you've given them a chance to perform on television alongside the big two. The commission, I'm sure, will protest that there's no other objective way to admit viable candidates without also admitting every fringe or frivolous contender. Such a protest would be an abdication of responsibility. especially at a time when Clinton and Trump have increased demand for alternative candidates. These disgruntled people may have themselves to blame for not already supporting Johnson, Stein or some other candidate, but isn't there also an obligation on the part of the news media to call more attention to the existence of alternative candidates? If so, then there also remains an inescapable obligation to separate serious from frivolous candidates, especially given the method I propose for getting candidates into the debate. There ought to be an online petition site where people can demand the inclusion of one or more candidates into the debates. Reaching a threshold number of online signatures will entitle those candidates to consideration by some panel of disinterested experts whose first responsibility will be to eliminate the truly frivolous candidates who'll be promoted as someone's idea of a joke. There's no alternative to trusting the judgment of these experts, however they're appointed, though guidelines might be provided, e.g. adding two candidates at a time, one from the left and one from the right, so one major party doesn't accuse the debate commission of helping the other major party. The ultimate guideline is that the debate commission has no right, whatever the polls say, to tell the electorate that one of only two people can become President, so you'll only see those two.
Or you could give up on the debates altogether. I doubt I'll watch tonight's joint appearance by Clinton and Trump. I imagine most people, their minds already made up long ago, will be watching only to see whether one of the candidates makes a campaign-killing gaffe. If 2016 has proven anything, however, it's that Clinton and Trump are unkillable by conventional political means. Nothing either says really matters, for the simple reason that the other candidate exists. Nothing Clinton says from now to November will dissuade those who hate and fear Trump the most from voting for her -- and as I've suggested, her health scares may actually make more people willing to vote Democratic in the hope of a President Kaine within the next four years. Nor are Trump's true believers willing or capable of imagining anything their man could say that would disqualify him or break their faith in his character. Is it possible that anyone hasn't drawn a conclusion about Donald Trump before tonight? That someone will be meeting him for the first time? That anyone will make a decision based on what he says tonight as opposed to what he's said over the past year? It doesn't work that way. We like to imagine the demagogue betraying himself in a moment through some word or gesture, be he Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd or Oswald Cobblepot in Batman Returns. It's more likely that a demagogue's following is built on the understanding that he will say whatever's necessary to get power, and on his follower's faith that they know the true man and what he'll really do. This has never been more plain than with Trump, who is often quite openly cynical about this strategy without disillusioning any great number of people. Have you heard from anyone who supported him a year ago, or six months ago, who's changed his or her mind? Probably you haven't, and that's not all because of hate and fear of Hillary Clinton. There is a strange, apparently invulnerable faith in Trump that is the dominant fact of this campaign, and that I want to address in a separate post. That faith is part of what scares people about the Trump movement, since it seems immune to facts, to the frustration of critics on his left and right alike. I don't think anything he says or does tonight will shake that faith -- unless perhaps he and not Hillary faints on stage. The debate will matter only to the media themselves, of course, and those people who somehow haven't chosen among the three real options: #nevertrump, #neverhillary and #nevereither.