Shortly before Monday night’s presidential debate, Jill Stein — the Green Party candidate — was escorted from the grounds of Hofstra University, where the event was being held. The incident perfectly illustrated the shortcomings of a campaign in which independent thought — and sometimes thought of any kind at all — has been largely absent.

Also missing from Monday night’s event was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, who should have been on stage with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Unlike the Republican and the Democrat, Johnson has stuck to issues and ideas rather than character attacks and personal sniping. He would have added considerable depth and a badly needed alternative voice to the proceedings. Johnson’s egregious gaffe about Aleppo in early September was embarrassing, and deservedly so. But it was nothing compared to the colossal ignorance, incoherence and boorishness Donald Trump displayed Monday night. At times the Republican — we use that word loosely — seemed to be doing an imitation of Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic” skit, shouting “Not!” and “Wrong!” as if that constituted a substantive rebuttal rather than a childish outburst.

The one point Trump scored concerned the 33,000 emails Clinton deleted because, she claimed, none of them was work-related. That statement, like so many others that issue from the Democrat, was patently false: At least 2,800 of the emails were work-related. FBI Director James Comey has lambasted Clinton’s “extremely careless” behavior that exposed her communications to “hostile actors.” The nation might never know the full extent of the damage to national security caused by such carelessness.

As we explained at length in our endorsement, Johnson is well-qualified for the Oval Office (his two terms as governor of New Mexico make him more experienced than, say, Barack Obama was in 2008). He comes with none of the integrity issues that undermine Clinton. His support for limited government is consistent: He supports free enterprise and social tolerance in equal measure. Unlike Trump and Clinton, he favors free trade. He brooks none of Trump’s bigoted nonsense on immigration — and in contrast to Clinton, for whom the answer to every question under the sun is “more activist government,” he has a healthy skepticism about the use of military force.

Johnson would balance the federal budget by cutting spending. Critics on both the left and the right recoil in horror at such a prospect, but fail to note that even in its most drastic incarnation, a Johnson budget would restore spending to where it stood in 2003. If memory serves, the poor were hardly dying in the streets that year, and the U.S. military was not raiding auto junkyards for spare parts.

Clinton and Trump share a boundless enthusiasm for more and bigger government; they differ only on how to wield its enormous power. Johnson is the only candidate to suggest Washington should do less, not more.

It is not too late for the Commission on Presidential Debates to invite Johnson — who has reached its arbitrary 15-percent threshold requirement in Colorado and Virginia — to the remaining two debates. Johnson also is doing exceptionally well among young people — he’s a close second behind Clinton among those 18-34, and among active-duty military personnel he ties for first place with Trump.

Johnson has racked up that support despite what is almost a complete media blackout. Had he been given equal time over the past six months, he might now be leading the race — which is precisely why the debate commission, which is controlled by the two establishment parties, may be loath to include him.

In this autumn of our electoral discontent, hope springs, as it so often does in the American republic, from unexpected precincts. Much of the country is distressed by the presidential candidates offered by the two conventional political parties. And for good reason. 

If the presidential debate commission refuses to allow Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson onto the big stage, tens of millions of Americans will miss an opportunity to form their own impressions of him and his policies.

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