Oct. 1, 2012
Somesupporters like to view his 2012 presidential candidacy as being on roughly the same trajectory as Ronald Reagan’s successful 1980 challenge of then-incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
Setting aside the fact that most polls showed Reagan leading Carter and independent candidate Rep. John B. Anderson for most of the summer and fall that year, it is nonetheless time for Romney to do what Reagan did: Step up to the plate and debate, putting pressure on the incumbent to do the same.
Romney can get a huge boost after the three officially sanctioned debates, those sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, by taking his debating game a step further. The last CPD-sponsored debate between Romney and President Obama is Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla. Romney should get on a plane the next morning and fly to Chicago for the Free & Equal Presidential Debate Oct. 23 at the University Club of Chicago. As of now, it will feature Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and three other presidential candidates. Romney, of course, would be the center of attention if he chose to attend, and he would find himself in a position of strength by challenging Obama to join the debate in Chicago.
Would Obama risk being a no-show in his own hometown?
Thus far, four candidates have confirmed for the Chicago debate: Libertarian nominee Johnson; the Green Party’s Jill Stein; Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode; and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. Both Romney and Obama have been invited as well, according to a Sept. 27 article at the Free & Equal website, but it is doubtful that either will participate.
Assuming Johnson falls short in his historic antitrust lawsuit filed in hopes of being included in the CPD-sponsored debates, the voting public will be denied a chance to see the full range of presidential options.
The League of Women Voters gave up sponsorship of the presidential debates prior to the 1988 debates between Democrat Michael Dukakis and Republican George H.W. Bush, stating, “The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates...because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates' organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”
Romney could redefine American politics by showing up for the Chicago debates, citing the League of Women Voters as his inspiration. With a clever slogan about Obama continuing to perpetrate a fraud on the American people, Romney could seize control of the campaign in a way no one had envisioned, delivering an “October Surprise” in the truest sense of the word.
The debate will be broadcast online Oct. 23 at www.freeandequal.org.
A bit of political history
In the fall of 1980, with Anderson polling anywhere from 14 to 18 percent against Reagan and Carter, the incumbent president announced he would not participate in any debates that included Anderson.
Reagan, on the other hand, said he would not participate in any debates that excluded Anderson. Reagan, the eventual winner, had a winner’s’ attitude: He was more than ready to mix it up with Carter and/or the Illinois congressman, who had sought the GOP nomination only to turn independent after Reagan pulled away from the rest of the field relatively early on in the nominating process.
With Carter sitting out the Sept. 21, 1980, debate in Baltimore, Reagan more than held his own against Anderson. Polls in the aftermath of the Reagan-Anderson debate showed both Reagan and Carter gaining support as Anderson faded. The second scheduled debate was cancelled, as was the vice presidential debate between George H.W. Bush and Walter Mondale.
Finally, Carter and Reagan agreed to debate Oct. 28, 1980, in Cleveland, at the behest of The League of Women Voters. The League also sponsored the Reagan-Anderson debate but re-evaluated its decision to include Anderson, declining to invite him to the final debate.
Reagan’s polling edge turned into a landslide on Election Night, with Reagan pulling in 50.7 percent of the popular vote to Carter’s 41 percent and Anderson’s 6.6 percent. The 1980 Libertarian candidate Ed Clark pulled 1.06 percent of the popular vote, that party’s highest share ever in a presidential election. Recent polls show Johnson getting anywhere from 1 to 6 percent of the vote nationally, and a recent Ohio poll shows him with 10.6 percent in the Buckeye State.
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SOURCES AND RESOURCES
Presidential debates 1960-2012, UCSB, The American Presidency Project
The man who wasn’t there, Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 22, 1980
Reaction to the Reagan-Anderson debate, PBS, Sept. 22, 1980
Poll shows Reagan, Carter gain strength, Daily Union, Oct. 14, 1980
Carter-Reagan debate may yet be possible, Lodi News Sentinel, Oct. 16, 1980 (UPI)
Gary Johnson will debate Oct. 23 in Chicago, though Obama and Romney declined, policymic.com, Oct. 1, 2012
Gary Johnson, antitrust plaintiff, sues major parties for monopolizing politics, Huffington Post, Oct. 1, 2012