Third-party candidates at the debate: Little heard, definitely not seen
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — For weeks, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein had invited her supporters to join her in handcuffs. There would be "civil disobedience" before the presidential debate at Hofstra University, and as in 2012, when she first ran as the Green's nominee, she would get arrested.
"We may decide to have supporters attempt to escort our candidates into the debates," her campaign said in an advisory note to protesters, which advertised a protest bus. "This situation may lead to arrest - it is possible but not definite."
There is a reason that campaigns do not usually make these kind of announcements before major media events surrounded by the Secret Service. Stein, who has edged down to the low single digits in polls, was repeatedly stymied in her effort to create a moment outside of the debate center. A perimeter much larger than anything in 2012, when the college last hosted a debate, kept political activity far from the area where more than 1,000 reporters were working. The Commission on Presidential Debates was also screening debate attendees to catch anyone who might be planning an outburst.
All of the highest-profile third-party candidates spent Monday in New York, riding along with the media herd. Stein's only media exposure came when she arrived for an MSNBC interview, walked away, and was stopped by security guards who told her she lacked proper identification.
By pure coincidence, independent #NeverTrump candidate Evan McMullin was watching from across the street as Stein and her staff packed into a van and sped off. Alongside a trio of strategists, he was waiting for the credentials that would let him roam around Hofstra for interviews.
"Getting arrested does sound like fun," McMullin said. "It's less work than having an actual policy discussion. We could actually get that done right now."
Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate, did not bother making a public appearance at Hofstra. "I don't think it's my style," he said in an interview. Instead, Johnson and running mate Bill Weld stayed in Manhattan for interviews, including a Facebook Live chat moderated by Reason magazine Matt Welch, and a forum at Twitter's offices that would run through the debate.
Johnson, like Trump, had jumped into politics after a career in business. "My approach was: I've never been in politics, but if you elect me, here are the certainties I'd like you to count on," said Johnson. "I will not raise taxes one penny. From a government employment standpoint, when I leave office, there will not be more state employees than when I took office. And I'll take a common sense business approach. If Trump took that approach in a debate, he might be in good shape. The problem is that his promises are insane."
As Johnson headed to his Facebook live chat, Stein held her protest; the Russian network RT was the largest media outlet that stopped by to watch. Her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, told protesters that they were standing against a "phony corporation that is excluding the voices of the people." Stein tried to make the most of the police-enforced distance between the gathering and the debate.
"This out here is what democracy looks like!" she said. "We are the real debate here - on the other side of the highway, we have the police state!"