The Green Mile

Yesterday, I speculated about the possibility of Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson qualifying to appear in the fall presidential debates alongside Republican Party nominee Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. There’s another third-party candidate who could perform strongly enough in national polls to merit inclusion in the debates–and if so, that candidate could inflict some damage on Clinton.

Two weeks ago, I noted that the “Bernie or Bust” movement could harm Clinton in the general election, since disgruntled devotees of Senator Sanders are unlikely to ever drop their hostility towards the woman they see as the ultimate “corporatist.” There is a strong likelihood that the “Bernie or Busters” will shift their allegiances to presumptive Green Party nominee Jill Stein, who is openly attempting to woo support not only from pro-Sanders progressives but from Sanders himself.

Stein and Sanders are ideological twins, both faulting America’s financial, political and energy elites for blocking common-sense policies that would improve our economy, strengthen our democracy and heal our ecology. Stein is arguably even more passionate than Sanders in her call for political revolution; it is a call that many of Sanders’s supporters will hear immediately following the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention.

Just as anti-Trump interests on the right will provide a boost to Johnson’s campaign, so too will anti-Clinton interests on the left–including the progressive online news organizations that have spent the past several months depicting Clinton as the daughter of the devil–relentlessly hype Stein’s campaign once Sanders is forced to conclude his bid for the Democratic nomination; such hype will include efforts to ensure that the Green Party will appear on the ballot in as many states as possible on November 8.

Agressive promotion by the progressive media could be enough to get Stein over the national-poll threshold that would qualify her to appear in this fall’s presidential debates. In fact, it’s entirely possible that both Stein and Johnson could hit that threshold, leading to four-way debates in the fall.

Wouldn’t a four-way debate be far too chaotic? Not at all; the 2006 and 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial debates were four-way affairs that were fascinating to watch, a idea buffet for the policy-hungry. (Stein, who ran in the 2010 gubernatorial race, acquitted herself well back then.) So long as strong moderators were handling matters, four-way presidential debates would be equally captivating–and would allow viewers to hear perspectives that Democratic-vs.-Republican debates might not incorporate.

Of course, not all of those perspectives would be positive–and Stein would presumably use the presidential-debate platform to tear into Clinton as the embodiment of all things “corporate” and “establishment,” attacking the former Secretary of State for her Iraq War vote and her refusal to embrace progressive revisionist history about the Bill Clinton presidency. Stein could continue the politics of personal destruction that Sanders has embraced–attempting to do to Clinton what Ralph Nader did to Al Gore sixteen years ago.

How will Clinton respond to such a high-profile attack? Can she fight off a rhetorical assault from Stein while also defending herself against criticism from Trump and Johnson? The anti-Hillary crowd–on the right and left–would love to see her succumb to a three-on-one attack in the presidential debates. What will they say if she survives–and thrives–in the face of such an attack?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.