I think this is more of a “Let Bill Weld debate” message from Mitt than a “Let Gary Johnson debate” one, as he and Weld are chummy from their time in Massachusetts politics. Even so, let us take note that the last Republican nominee for president wants a third-party candidate on the right sharing the stage with the current Republican nominee:
I hope voters get to see former GOP Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld on the debate stages this fall.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) September 7, 2016
What a nice bit of hype for Johnson, huh? Well … I guess, but this feels more like a consolation prize to me than any sort of meaningful support for the Libertarians. Alex Burns makes a good point:
The thing is, if Romney really wanted to boost Johnson-Weld into the debates, he could probably get them to 15% by endorsing
— Alex Burns (@alexburnsNYT) September 7, 2016
Months ago, in mid-June, Romney told CNN that he’d have no problem supporting a Libertarian ticket if Weld were at the top of it. He’s been all but absent from the political scene since and hasn’t said anything meaningful about Johnson until now, although Johnson and Weld claimed in July that they’d spoken to him about a possible endorsement. Burns is right — if Romney really wanted to put Johnson on the map and give him a fighting chance at the 15 percent he needs to qualify for the debates, he should have endorsed him awhile back. As it is, this is too tepid and too low-profile a nudge to do much for him, and it almost certainly comes too late. Johnson pulled just seven percent in CNN’s new survey, which makes it prohibitively difficult for him to pull his average up among the “big five” polls to 15 percent over the next 10 days or so. Romney dropping this tepid statement of support at this late date is all but meaningless unless he wants the presidential debate commission to abandon, or dramatically lower, their polling cut-off with the debates just a few weeks away. And if that’s what he had in mind, he could have been more explicit in saying so.
Making this extra odd is the fact that Romney is the most conspicuously anti-Trump politician in the Republican Party and yet Johnson’s inclusion in the debates would almost certainly help Trump. For two reasons, as John Ziegler explained not long ago. Johnson’s speaking time would eat up some of the speaking time allotted for Trump in a two-way debate, which would reduce the amount of policy detail he’d be expected to provide in his answers. And right now Johnson is taking more out of Clinton’s share of the vote in polling than he’s taking out of Trump’s, which means that the higher Johnson’s profile gets, the better Trump’s chances of an upset become. It’s actually Trump, not Romney, who should be pounding the table in demanding Johnson’s inclusion. Roger Stone was smart enough to see that weeks ago but Trump hasn’t picked up on his cue, for reasons known only to him. Maybe he just can’t bear to share the spotlight in what’s supposed to be a big showdown between him and Clinton. Silly if true.
Here’s Romney discussing the Libertarians in mid-June.