- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2016

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump said Thursday that he might want to debate Hillary Clinton more than the usual three times, even as third-party hopefuls say this could be the year they earn a place on the stage with the Democrats and Republicans.

“There are three scheduled, and I think we should perhaps have more than three, if you want to know the truth, [because] there’s a lot going on,” Mr. Trump said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Mr. Trump said Mrs. Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, is “not a bad debater,” but that he thinks the debates are going to be positive for him.

Last September, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced a schedule that includes three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate for the general election. Among other requirements, presidential candidates have to achieve at least 15 percent support in five recent national polls to get invited.

Ben Voth, a professor at Southern Methodist University and an expert in debate and persuasion, said that candidates who are behind in the polls are typically the ones asking for more debates, so the statement could be an acknowledgment from Mr. Trump that Mrs. Clinton really is the front-runner right now.

But Mr. Voth also said Mr. Trump has gotten more practice debating than Mrs. Clinton has this cycle, and that incumbent presidents have lost every single opening debate of the televised era because they don’t get the practice that comes with competitive primary contests.

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“In fact, the worst debate loss in history actually was President Obama in 2012 against Mitt Romney,” Mr. Voth said. “Romney did a ton of these Republican primary debates, and then he came in and just decimated Obama in the first debate.”

There have been 12 Republican debates this cycle and nine Democratic ones. Most of the Democratic debates have been one-on-one contests between Mrs. Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders, though, while Mr. Trump had to deal with nearly a dozen competitors in many of the GOP debates.

Meanwhile, Gary Johnson, who is seeking the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination this year, and others are challenging the 15 percent polling threshold the commission has used to determine which candidates to invite.

Mr. Johnson said the commission is what’s holding other candidates back from getting on the stage. The last independent or third-party candidate to qualify for a presidential debate was Ross Perot in 1992.

“Everybody wants to see a third party. They have no idea why there’s not a third party,” Mr. Johnson recently told The Washington Times. “Well, it’s really the Presidential Debate Commission and the fact that yeah, you got to be at 15 percent in the polls. But the polls don’t have the third party listed.”

But Bruce Fein, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit stemming from the 2012 debate process, said there’s no standing to challenge this year’s rules yet because the nominees haven’t yet been determined.

“Until we actually see what does in fact happen, we’re in kind of a holding pattern,” he said. “But that would be a possibility, to amend the complaint.”

Lawyers for the defendants in the case, meanwhile, said in court papers filed this week that the plaintiffs are engaged in “what is, at bottom, a political lawsuit.”

The attorneys said the commission’s 15 percent polling standard has been approved repeatedly by the Federal Election Commission and the courts.

“At bottom, Plaintiffs clearly would prefer that the CPD adopt candidate selection criteria that would advance their political interests, but have not identified a legal right to demand such relief,” the lawyers wrote.

Mr. Voth said it’s unlikely that the commission would change the rules that have been laid out.

“There’s not like a [Ross] Perot or something like that which I’m thinking about where there’s [an] on-the-field third party that can really say we can win, or we can even decisively throw the election,” he said. “I think it’s unlikely that they’re going to overthrow the CPD on adding other parties to the debate.”

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