Third Party Presidential Debate: Gary Johnson Crushes In Misfit Candidates Debate

On Tuesday night the final presidential debate took place in Chicago, and was moderated by Larry King. One might be forgiven for thinking the final debate was held in Florida on Monday, but it was not. While that debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was the last between the two major party candidates, Tuesday's debate featured four minor party presidential nominees: Rocky Anderson (Justice Party), Virgil Goode (Constitution Party), Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party), and Jill Stein (Green Party). The debate was hosted by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation

The biggest problem with the debate was King. It was clear from the very beginning that he was completely unprepared for the debate, as he had to ask for clarification on the rules. The former CNN host treated this not so much as a debate, but an informal discussion. Furthermore, he skipped over the candidates' opening statements, and launched right into the questions, which were drawn from social media. It wasn't until Johnson pointed this out some 20 minutes into the debate, when the candidates finally made their "opening" statements.

One more issue with King: instead of referring to the candidates by their titles, as is customary in debates, he referred to them by their first names, with the exception of the few times he called Johnson, "Governor." King was a downright awful moderator. 

All four candidates agreed that there is too much money and corporate influence in politics. Stein went so far as to say that a constitutional amendment is needed declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech. Johnson said politicians should wear NASCAR-type suits displaying the corporate logos of their donors. Goode said he wants to get rid of super PACs — pools of campaign contributions that are funnelled to specific candidates for office.

Goode was the least popular at the debate, as he was the only candidate who favored the continued prohibition of drugs. He also opposed the issuing of green cards and work permits to immigrants until the U.S. unemployment rate is brought under 5%. 

Johnson who had the most supporters in the audience (or at least the loudest), was the most articulate in advancing his positions. The former two-term governor of New Mexico featured a good balance of passion and deliberateness in his responses. His message of smaller government and anti-war position resonated with the audience. Stein and Anderson also called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan, as did Goode, who said the country should never go to war without a declaration from Congress, as called for by the Constitution. 

Johnson had the line of the night, when he talked about the common refrain that a vote for a third party candidate is a waste, saying, "Wasting your vote is voting for someone you don't believe in."

None of these candidates were allowed to participate in any of the three debates between Obama and Romney because none were able to garner 15% in an independent national poll as required by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). The CPD, which has monopoly on presidential debates, has come under criticism and been the target of legal action — most recently by Johnson and Stein — in an effort to be included in the Obama-Romney debates. 

Tonight's debate was highly unusual, if not unprecedented. At a time when a growing number of Americans are becoming dissatisfied with the status quo and the Democratic and Republican parties, many may be willing to entertain alternatives to the two-party duopoly that has prevailed in U.S. politics for decades. 

Although none of the candidates in Tuesday's debate will be elected to the White House, that hardly means they will not impact this election. Johnson, who originally ran for president as a Republican at the beginning of this campaign before accepting the Libertarian nomination, may succeed in siphoning enough votes away from Romney in swing states to cost him key electoral votes and even the election. The presence of Goode — another conservative — has rankled the GOP, particularly in Goode's home state of Virginia, where he was previously a six-term congressman as both a Democrat and a Republican. The state Republican party of Virginia unsuccessfully challenged Goode's inclusion on the presidential ballot in the state, where he has plenty of name recognition to cause problems for Romney. 

10:26pm: Candidates finish closing statements. 

10:20pm: Johnson on supposedly "wasting" your vote by voting third party: "Wasting your vote is voting for someone you don't believe in."

10:15pm: Stein's amendment would be one declaring that money is not speech and corporations are not people. 

10:13pm: Johnson also proposes term limits for his constitutional amendment. 

10:12pm: Goode wants to see an amendment term limiting members of Congress to 6 to 12 years in office.

10:10pm: Candidates are asked what amendment they want added to the Constitution. Anderson says he would revive the Equal Rights Amendment, and would include sexual orientation

10:09pm: Johnson calls Ron Paul, "my hero."

10:06pm: Anderson says we're on the road to totalitarianism. 

10:02pm: Candidates are asked about the NDAA and the president's indefinite detention powers. I expect all the candidates will be against it. 

10:00pm: Johnson and Goode come down against federal assistance for higher education. Anderson and Stein are in favor of more.

9:59pm: Goode seems to be relishing his role as the least popular candidate at this debate.

9:56pm: Stein says higher education should be free. Free!

9:54pm: Johnson attacks student loans. Says the ample availability of student loans from the federal government has inflated the cost of higher education. He's right. However, the federal government could always set a ceiling on the costs it would be willing to cover for each student. 

9:51pm: Goode says he wouldn't go to war unless Congress makes a declaration of war, in accordance with the Constitution. 

9:49pm: Anderson cites Dwight Eisenhower's admonition against the creeping influence of the military-industrial complex. Says Eisenhower had originally called it the "military-industrial-congressional complex." Interesting factoid. 

9:46pm: Johnson speaks of the "unintended consequences" of propping dictators and supporting unknown rebel groups in places like Syria. 

9:44pm: Johnson says the biggest threat to U.S. national security is that "we're bankrupt."

9:42pm: King doesn't know the rules of his own debate. It's clear he just showed up tonight without doing any research whatsoever. Atrocious moderating job. 

9:41pm: Hey, Dr. Stein. We can hear you just fine. No need to yell. 

9:39pm: Stein says marijuana is dangerous because it's illegal, and that it's not illegal because it's dangerous. 

9:38pm: Johnson admits to smoking weed. Nice.

9:37pm: Johnson says 90% of the problems are related to drug prohibition. 

9:37pm: Trying to steer Goode back to the topic of the war on drugs, King says, "We're on drugs. We're on drugs."

9:36pm: Goode says he would cut federal funding for the war on drugs, and leave it to the states. Says he is not in favor of legalizing marijuana. 

9:34pm: Anderson denounces war on drugs again, calls it a waste of money. Says we need to end drug prohibition.

9:31pm: Johnson says he would bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan, favors marriage equality, legalization of marijuana, repeal of the PATRIOT Act, and the repeal of the National Defense Authorization Act that allows the president to detain American citizens indefinitely without charge. Again warns of a monetary collapse.

9:30pm: Goode says he would submit a balanced budget to Congress; would freeze all green cars issuances until the unemployment rates goes down; would eliminate super PACs, and impose term limits on members of Congress.

9:27pm: Anderson says if you like the way thinks are going, vote Republican or Democrat. 

9:23pm: It was just pointed out to King that he skipped their opening statements. I actually assumed I had misheard the opening instructions when King launched into the first question. So NOW they're making their opening statements nearly 20 minutes in. 

9:22pm: Johnson suggests candidates wear NASCAR-type suits with the logos of their corporate donors. Ha! Says we're facing a continued heightened police state. Slams drones. Johnson seems genuinely pissed about it. 

9:20pm: Goode opposes super PACs. 

9:18pm: Gary Johnson has spoken for two minutes and he's winning this debate so far. King refers to Johnson as "governor," but the other candidates by their first names. This is really poor form by King. 

9:16pm: Goode has one of the strongest southern drawls I've ever heard.

9:13pm: Anderson attacks the war on drugs, garnering applause from the audience. Stoners! King is referring to candidates by their first names. He should refer to the candidates by their titles. Dr. Stein, Congressman Goode, Governor Johnson, and Mayor Anderson.

9:11pm: Stein slams money in politics. Anderson denounces two-party "duopoly." 

9:03pm: Tonight's debate is hosted by Free and Equal Elections. 

9:02pm: Larry King has brought a very informal attitude to this debate. He doesn't seem to know what the rule of engagement are. Calls tonight's debate "a noble cause."

8:40pm: Now that Ross Perot has endorsed Mitt Romney for president, can we finally call Perot a sellout?

8:13pm: Rocky Anderson on the pre-debate coverage denounces the "imperial presidency." That may be something all four candidates agree on tonight — that successive presidents have usurped more power from an enabling Congress over the last several decades. 

8:04pm: Exclusive footage of Ron Paul's reaction when he found out C-SPAN would be broadcasting this debate, thereby giving Johnson some national TV exposure:

7:52pm: Don't know who Rocky Anderson is? Get edumacated!

7:39pm: One can't help but feel Johnson's popularity has been made possible in large part due to the efforts of Ron Paul and his loyal supporters over the last four or five years.

7:28pm: When he ran as the Bull Moose Party nominee in 1912, Teddy Roosevelt became perhaps the most famous third party candidate in U.S. history.

6:57pm: Gary Johnson at a campaign rally throwing out props to Ron Paul.

5:44pm: Jill Stein in a 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial debate, explaining to a skeptical Charlie Gibson the importance of third party challenges.

Rocky Anderson - Justice Party

Anderson is the former Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City and is the newly-formed Justice Party's first ever presidential candidate. He left the Democratic Party in 2011, citing that it has become beholden to the same interests that the Republican Party is. He believes that the Constitution has been largely ignored by both parties as evidenced by the continued existence of the PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo Bay, and undeclared wars. He opposes the death penalty, favors universal health care, and wants to end the "war on drugs."

Virgil Goode - Constitution Party

Goode is a former congressman from Virginia. He favors reducing regulations and replacing the current federal income tax with a national sales tax. He is staunchly pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and anti-civil unions. He wants to repeal Obamacare, and make English the official language of the U.S. Goode favors term limits for representatives and senators, and vehemently opposes international trade agreements that he says ship American jobs overseas.

Gary Johnson - Libertarian Party

Johnson is a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico. After the withdrawal of Ron Paul from the Republican race, Johnson became the natural choice for Paul's supporters. An ardent opponent of undeclared wars, the prohibition of drugs, and federal government involvement in areas not expressly mandated by the Constitution, Johnson believes that states are usually best at deciding what laws should be implemented at the local level. He opposed the war in Iraq, opposes the use of drones, and has called for a national consumption tax to replace the federal tax code.  

Jill Stein - Green Party

Stein is a physician from Massachusetts who has been a Green Party staple on the state ballot in several elections. Endorsed by Noam Chomsky, Stein favors withdrawal from Afghanistan, an end to the "war on drugs," and has proposed a "Green New Deal," which she says will create 25 million new jobs in the realm of green technology. She favors an end to corporate subsidies, bank bailouts, and has called for the nation's largest banks to be broken up.