By Steve Rusakiewicz, News Writer
The presidential debates may be over, but the Johnson campaign is not going quietly into the night. In September of 2015, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein attempted to sue the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), saying the commission colluded with both the Republican and Democratic parties to block competition in the 2012 election cycle. This could be considered a violation of both antitrust law and the First Amendment. The anti-trust lawsuit was eventually dismissed in August of this year by federal judge Rosemary M. Collyer who said the claims made by Johnson and Stein “fail[ed] as a matter of well-established law.” Judge Collyer went on to say that the First Amendment argument did not apply to the case because the commission is a private nonprofit, and not a government entity. The decision upheld the fifteen percent polling threshold established by the CPD for entry into the debates, effectively excluding Johnson, Stein, and a host of other lesser-known third party candidates from the prime-time debate stages. The CPD’s nonprofit status will be challenged in a hearing scheduled for January 7, 2017 in the U.S. District Court of Washington D.C.
Despite these setbacks, however, the Johnson campaign has continued to gain support as Election Day draws closer. Recent polls by NBC/Survey Monkey have shown Johnson topping both Clinton and Trump among “pure independents,” with thirty-one percent of respondents within that demographic supporting Johnson compared to a twenty-four percent tie between Clinton and Trump. Among the armed forces, Johnson and Trump lead the way with about thirty-seven percent support each, with Clinton significantly behind at only 16.3 percent according to an exclusive survey conducted by the Military Times and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. Additionally, a poll released by the Albuquerque Journal on October 2 shows Johnson enjoying nearly twenty-five percent support in New Mexico, placing him within striking-distance of Clinton’s thirty-five percent and Trump’s thirty-one percent. Six percent of respondents were undecided. Johnson is also polling at twenty percent in key central plains states, seventeen percent in Clinton’s “home state” of New York, and twelve percent in mountain states.
Johnson himself has publicly stated he believes winning the election would be impossible if he were excluded from the debates. Since the conclusion of the debates, Johnson’s campaign is focused on reassuring his supporters that their votes are more important than ever, despite his actual chances of winning. If Johnson is able to win just five percent of the popular vote, the Libertarian Party will achieve “major party” status, which will qualify future Libertarian campaigns for federal funding and guarantee their candidate receives ballot access in all fifty states. Such an event would bring “competition that any Republican, true to their ideology, should invite, and any Democrat, true to their name, should expect,” according to the Johnson campaign website. Other analysts, such as Nate Silver, have publicly speculated on the possibility of Trump and Clinton being denied two hundred seventy electoral votes if Johnson (or anyone else) were to win even a single state in the general election.
If that scenario did play out, most pundits and experts believe the Republican-controlled congress would vote to install Trump as the next President. However, some optimistic Johnson supporters believe that the recent anti-Trump sentiment from many Republicans could lead them to vote for Johnson instead of Trump or Clinton. Republicans who have distanced themselves from Trump would be unlikely to support him for President if asked to choose, and would almost certainly commit career-suicide if they crossed the aisle for Clinton. Johnson would offer these Republicans an alternative that would allow them to vote against Trump without being perceived to betray their conservative constituents.