USA Today's editorial - like much of the commentary we've been seeing in recent weeks - instead focuses on a "modest change in how presidential races play out." The change would "make it easier for a third-party candidate to participate in the debates in the weeks before each election."
The editorial board at the newspaper, which has the largest circulation in America, likes the idea: "A third person in the general-election debates would make it harder for the major-party candidates to stick to talking points and platitudes. The proposed change would also make it easier for third-party candidates to raise money and be taken seriously earlier in the process." In addition, if the third candidate is a centrist, it would be "harder for the major parties to cater to their extremes."
But USA Today worries about "unintended consequences" - specifically, that the "third debate participant might be on the far left or right."
In fact, the change that is proposed by the four-dozen current and former public officials, CEOs, and military and academic leaders would favor candidates with a broad appeal. That is, the more than 40 percent of voters whose views are largely in the center. The proposal calls for determining the third candidate based on the time-honored method of gathering valid signatures, used in every state for ballot access.
The four-dozen leaders, whose group is called Change the Rule, has repeatedly asked the Commission on Presidential Debates to engage with them in a genuine dialogue about the best way to go about determining the third debater. So far, of course, the commission is not responding - for the obvious reason. Its membership is dominated by stalwart partisans of the Democratic and Republican parties. They don't want pesky competitors for the major party nominees.
The USA Today editorialists recognize not only that opening the presidential debates could hold the key to repairing our fractured political system but also that the CPD's composition is a major barrier.
"Focus on the commission itself," the editorial urges. "The people pushing for a rules change argue that having the panel so closely identified with the two major parties feeds the impression that it is designed to keep third parties out.... The commission's configuration certainly creates an appearance of a political duopoly designed to limit independent voices."
So the editorial urges a change in the CPD's configuration.
All well and good, but it is not hard to imagine some public-spirited members of the current CPD to start pushing for change right now. Otherwise, as more observers wake up to the true nature of the CPD, there will be more demands either to revamp its membership or to create a new institution entirely.
We understand the sentiment. But members of the CPD are in a unique position in American life. The 17 of them have the power to improve the health of our politics with one small change. So far, they have decided to stonewall, as you can see from their response to the USA Today editorial, right here.
It's a response filled with boilerplate and jargon and still makes the outlandish statement that the commission is "non-partisan" - even though its members put on fundraisers for candidates, donate large sums to one party or the other, and even though its co-chairs are the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Frank Fahrenkopf, and the Democratic activist Mike McCurry.
The good news is that pressure is building for reform, and a clear way forward is on the table.