Hey, Rube! Why No Room for Others at the Biden/Trump Debate Circus?

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Will Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. participate in either of the two presidential election debates thus far announced by the Joe Biden and Donald Trump campaigns?

How about independents Cornel West and Afroman, Green party candidate Jill Stein, Constitution Party candidate Randall Terry, and whoever receives the Libertarian Party’s nomination over Memorial Day weekend?

The answer, at the moment, looks like a soft “no” for RFK Jr. and a hard “no” for everyone else.

Criteria for inclusion in the June 27 debate on CNN include polling a minimum of 15% in at least four “high-quality national polls,” and being on the ballot in states disposing of at least the 270 electoral votes required to win the election.

Interestingly, RFK, Jr. is closer to meeting that latter qualification than either Joe Biden or Donald Trump at the moment. He’s already on the ballot in six states and has turned in petition signatures for ballot access in five more. The grand total for Biden and Trump combined is zero states. Until and unless they’re actually nominated by their respective parties in July and August, well after the CNN debate, they won’t be on the ballot anywhere.

Kennedy’s campaign director, Amaryllis Fox, tweets that “We anticipate fulfilling all participation criteria” by the June 20th deadline.

But rules (or at least CNN policies) are, it seems, only for the little people. Axios reports that the Trump campaign claims CNN promised them “RFK will not be on that stage,” while the Biden campaign says its own criteria require “a 1:1 debate.”

Meanwhile, RFK Jr. himself claims — fairly, it seems to me — that “Presidents Trump and Biden are colluding to lock America into a head-to-head match-up that 70% say they do not want.”

He also claims that they’re doing so “because they are afraid I would win.” Probably not. RFK Jr. has a slightly better chance of becoming president than you or me, but that’s like saying someone who buys two lottery tickets has a better chance of winning the billion-dollar jackpot than the guy who just buys one.

The real fear for Biden and Trump isn’t that RFK Jr. might win the election. Rather, it’s that small but decisive numbers of voters might abandon one, the other, or both of them for a third option, with an unpredictable impact on which of the two “big players” wins.

Their “collusive” response, right out of The Naked Gun: “Alright, move on, nothing to see here.”

While presidential debates may feel like they’ve been around forever, the first general election debate — featuring John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon — occurred only 64 years ago.

After the League of Women Voters refused to rig debates to include only the two “major” party candidates, those “major” parties created the Commission on Presidential Debates in 1987 to do the rigging themselves. Trump and Biden dumped the CPD this year and went to direct personal election-rigging.

Why the “Hey, Rube!” collusion? Because the debates are really just  circuses, and “major party” carnies always stick together against outsiders — including the voting public.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.