When Jill Stein Debated Mitt Romney

Green Party candidate for president Jill Stein of Lexington was arrested near Tuesday’s debate venue while protesting her exclusion from the affair. In the magical land where Stein somehow forced her way on stage (or the mildly less magical land where the presidential commission on debates makes it easier for third party candidates to participate) she would have faced Mitt Romney for the second time in her political career. The two debated during the 2002 race for governor in a contest we revisited today to see how it things might have gone down:

How Romney would have played it: During the Massachusetts debate, Romney shared the stage with four women. His Democratic opponent, State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien, Libertarian Carla Howell, Independent Barbara Johnson and Stein. He mostly ignored the latter three and focused on O’Brien, and we assume he would have done the same, keeping his attention on his only practical competition, Obama, this time around. His answer to the first question, for instance, began, “My opponent Shannon O’Brien has consistently raised taxes.” No mention of his other three opponents.

When Romney did have to listen to or address the other three, he made that tight little smile you’ll remember so well from his face-offs with some less than plasuible candidates during last year’s Republican primaries.


He’d have to remember Stein’s name: In a sign of just how little he’d thought about the other candidates, when directly addressing Stein, he accidentally called her by the libertarian candidate’s name of “Carla.” (This was especially fun because Carla had spent the debate repeatedly speaking in the third person, presumably to up her name recognition.) This is the sad, eyebrow raised smile Stein gave him.


You can see a clip of the moment on CSPAN’s site. He apologized and corrected himself and Stein laughed it off. But on the presidential stage, we can only imagine the level of attention the press would have paid to this kind of mistake.

How Jill would have played it: Stein is not a bad debater. The New York Times notes that she did almost as well as Romney in an audience poll about which candidate won. (Those polls aren’t very scientific.) These days, Stein is portrayed as, if anything, a spoiler for Democrats. Her message about removing corporate influence from politics and making Keynesian investments in green energy seems far more likely to attract an Obama voter than a Romney voter. That said, she’d probably go after both parties’ candidates, as she did in the 2002 debate. “We have a crisis in health care, a crisis in housing, a declining economy that his shifted to a low wage economy without benefits,” she said at the time. The reason: “It’s the stranglehold of big money on our legislature.” That’s a mostly Democratic legislature, by the way.

She’d remember the binders of women: Romney, of course, has attracted some major attention Wednesday for his tale about trying to appoint women to his cabinet by commissioning “binders full of” qualified ones. While it is apparently not true that Romney asked for this binder himself, it is true that he ran on the promise of appointing women to his cabinet. He said in the 2002 debate:

Let’s answer it straight. I’m gonna make sure that my administration, from the highest levels on through, reflects the fabric of our society. I’ve already committed to have a goal that half of my senior people will be women.

Stein, had she been on stage last night, might have backed him up. Or she might have pointed out that the number of women in his administration declined as time went on.

Of course, Romney didn’t have to strain to remember Stein’s name. And Stein did not get the chance to push him on his record. She did get released from jail last night, and will have to settle for responding to the debate in a USA Today opinion piece this morning.