If I’m Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former co-chair of the Clinton campaign and now DNC Chairwoman, and I want Clinton to have as smooth a path to the Presidency as possible, I’d make damn sure that Lawrence Lessig was in the second Democratic debate.
Not because it’s the “right thing to do.” Not because to not invite someone who by every conceivable metric qualifies (or would qualify, if not for Schultz’s failure to recognize Lessig’s candidacy leading to him being left off as an option on the polls) makes a mockery of the small-d democratic process, and makes it damn clear to every school kid in America that you have to be part of a political or economic dynasty to be president.
No. Leaving him out would be dumb. It would be counterproductive to Schultz’s own goal of getting Hillary Clinton elected President.
If Lessig were to be in the debates, yes, Clinton would be forced to answer some hard questions about how she raised the money to run for President. She would have to explain her change from opposing a major bankruptcy bill which hurt the middle class as First Lady, to supporting that same bill as Senator from New York. She would have to explain why Uranium One’s chairman started giving multi-million dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation and President Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 to speak in Moscow right before her State Department approved the sale of American uranium reserves to Russian business Rosatom, which has close ties to Putin’s Kremlin.
She would have to make clear her plans -- if there are any -- towards giving the machinery of change back to the citizens of America.
But she would have to answer those questions eventually anyway in the general election against a Republican. There’s a case to be made that the sooner she deals with these issues, the less likely they are to hurt her. More than that, would Lessig be able to parlay two hours of TV time into a credible threat to her campaign? Especially with Bernie Sanders also still in the race? The chances of that are slim to none.
On the other hand, excluding Lessig from the debates gives Lessig the perfect excuse to run an independent campaign, as someone who “tried to play nice” and “tried to work with the Democratic Party” and was “not even given the opportunity to run as a Democrat.”
If Lessig were to run an independent campaign after being deliberately and maliciously excluded from the Democratic party, it shows determination, character, and a willingness to do what is right, not what’s politically convenient. It’s “presidential.” He wouldn’t launch an independent campaign if he was in the debates and lost to Clinton. He’d be seen as a sore loser.
Of course, what would happen if Lessig launches an independent campaign is that Clinton would lose. Handily.
In order to get elected, Clinton will eventually need to win back the Sanders/Warren wing of the Democratic Party. That can only happen if Clinton is the lesser of two evils - because she’s certainly not going to be the least of three. Lessig would almost certainly pick up enough Sanders supporters - supporters any Democratic nominee would need - to cause Clinton’s defeat in the general election.
And to tell the truth, even if it means (ugh) a President Trump, many, including myself, would be okay with that. After all, how much worse would a Trump administration be than a Clinton administration? They’re both willing to do anything and say anything in order to grab onto money and the power it brings.
Brian Boyko is the author of "Importing Democracy," and is one of the co-creators (along with Lawrence Lessig) of the Mayday PAC, a campaign-finance reform initiative that is the largest non-profit crowdfunding campaign to date. Boyko, however, is not a member of, nor coordinating with, the Lessig campaign.