They are the kind of party we all want to attend, but the bouncers will only let in the people they know. I’m talking about this fall’s three scheduled presidential debates. The bouncers are from the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which since 1987 has rather successfully managed the logistics of these forums. The first debate of this new round is Monday, Sept. 26.
The debates, which are generally moderated by one journalist and viewed by tens of millions of Americans, tend to be decisive. They help voters determine which candidate is best prepared to take on the toughest job in the world.
However, because of tradition and inertia, the debate commission tends to defend the interests of the Republican and Democratic parties — effectively barring other candidates by raising an almost insurmountable hurdle to qualify.
The commission requires non-major-party candidates to show 15% of voter support across an average of five national polls. The upcoming election features two of the most unpopular candidates in modern American history. Wouldn’t it be advisable for the commission to include new faces?
According to the latest Gallup survey, a majority of voters view both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump unfavorably (by 63% and 55%, respectively). Are other candidates running? Of course, but they don’t have a high profile.
“Seventy percent of Americans don’t know who we are,” Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, told me in a recent interview. “Over the last couple of days we’ve raised several million dollars, which will go a long way toward name familiarity.” Currently Johnson has about 10% of voter support in some polls.
Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, is getting just 4-5% support, but she has vowed to show up at the debates anyway. “I will be there,” she told USA Today recently. She has also said that she’s willing to be arrested if she’s not allowed to take part in the debates. “I will feel terrible if Donald gets elected, and I’ll also feel terrible if Hillary gets elected,” Stein said.
In a recent interview, independent candidate Evan McMullin, a former operations officer at the CIA, told me that he regards Trump as a “fragile” candidate who might even withdraw before the Nov. 8 election. If not, McMullin hopes that his candidacy prevents Clinton or Trump from winning the necessary 270 electoral votes so that Congress will be forced to choose the new president (something that hasn’t happened in the U.S. since 1824).
But while the debate commission has yet to invite outsiders like Johnson. McMullin and Stein to its party, it has also neglected to invite Hispanic journalists to be moderators.
Hispanics are the fastest-growing electoral group in the United States — a bloc of about 27 million eligible voters. Their support is crucial in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida, so I’m not exaggerating when I say that no candidate can take the White House without Hispanics’ support. Yet a Hispanic journalist has never moderated one of the presidential debates. Why?
There are many highly competent Hispanic journalists who could do an extraordinary job: Maria Elena Salinas from Univision, for instance, or Jose Diaz-Balart from Telemundo, journalists Cecilia Vega and Tom Llamas from ABC, or Maria Hinojosa from NPR.
I get the sense that both major candidates are afraid of just what they might be asked. These Hispanic journalists, and many more, are part of a community seldom discussed beyond the single focus on immigration. Their questions could prove quite unconventional.
But it’s high time that a Latino journalist is invited to moderate. The nation is changing: By 2044, white residents will be a minority in the United States, according to census data. The presidential debates shouldn’t be managed like private clubs. They should reflect the nation’s growing diversity. This is our nation — as many ethnicities, accents and positions as possible should be represented.
So my message to the commission is this: Open the debates! Rest assured that if the debate party is more inclusive, many Americans will find their faith in democracy renewed. If not, don’t be surprised to hear some loud screaming at the door.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision and the host of “America With Jorge Ramos” on Fusion. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of several best-selling books. His latest is “Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.”