JB: Thanks for that; I don't know that I was ever aware of the involuntary hand-over to the major parties. Hmmm. Cronkite hit the nail on the head. How has the takeover evinced itself over the years?
PT: Since CPD took over the debates, only one third party candidate has participated, and it was over the objections of the CPD which wanted him kept out.
In 1992, both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton felt having Ross Perot in the debates would hurt the other candidate more, so they instructed CPD to include Perot, who was polling 7 percent.
Four years later, Perot, a Texas billionaire, wanted back in the debates and he once again stood at 7 percent. But this time the major party candidates -- now Clinton and Bob Dole -- agreed to keep him out.
In exchange for agreeing to keep Perot out, Clinton got major concessions from Dole, including having just two debates instead of three and scheduling them opposite baseball playoff games when there'd be fewer viewers. As the frontrunner, Clinton wanted the debates to be "non-event," Clinton advisor (now ABC news anchor) George Stephanopoulos said shortly after the '96 election.
Likely as a result of public pressure, CPD no longer allows the Democratic and Republican nominees to determine third party candidates' debate eligibility via backroom wheeling and dealing. Instead CPD relies on pre-established criteria, including requiring candidates to average 15 percent in five national polls just prior to the debates. This barrier has kept out all third party candidates since it was established in 2000.
In this 'Year of the Outsider,' the 15 percent barrier is being challenged in ways we haven't seen before. Both Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party's Jill Stein are running well-ahead of where they were four years ago, but it's still a very uphill fight.
JB: In a way, you could say that the candidacies of both Sanders and Trump were outside the major party mainstream. One of them succeeded in capturing his party's nomination. Does that change the equation at all?