On Sunday’s (Oct. 16) episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, host John Oliver quickly skipped over the usual objection to third-party candidates such as US presidential hopefuls Jill Stein and Gary Johnson—that they are spoiler candidates who could siphon off votes from the major-party nominees.
Instead, the late-night show host evaluated the third-party candidates as if they were “legitimate potential presidents.” After all, nearly a third of young voters in the US said they were considering voting for either Stein or Johnson, Oliver said, citing a New York Times/CBS News poll taken last month.
“It’s hardly surprising that some are seeking an alternative,” Oliver said. “When your main two options are depressing, any third option seems good.” Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are among the most disliked presidential candidates in US history, Oliver pointed out, citing a recent Gallup poll.
But upon closer inspection, the alternative candidates’ platforms appeared to be as flawed as the campaigns from their major party counterparts, Oliver pointed out.
He compared Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s flagship student-debt forgiveness proposal to Trump’s plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico. Stein’s proposal suggests a basic lack of understanding of how monetary policy works. For starters, Oliver points out that it is controlled by the US’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, not by the president, as Stein has suggested. As for her student debt proposal, Oliver explained, a president cannot fund a new law by printing money.
“When I said her student debt proposal was her version of Donald Trump’s border wall I meant it,” Oliver said, “because the only way that it could be any more unlikely is if she claimed Mexico was somehow going to pay for it.”
Oliver also dredged up jarring audio clips of Jill Stein’s 1990s folk-rock band Somebody’s Sister, which included a terrible rap about the virtues of bicycling. “I feel like we just found out who or what killed Biggie and Tupac,” Oliver deadpanned.
Libertarian Gary Johnson, who has been polling around 6%—the highest of any third-party candidate in the election, is similarly “prone to overly simple solutions that could have disastrous consequences,” Oliver said, brushing past recent blunders in which Johnson was caught in TV interviews not recognizing the name of the Syrian city of Aleppo and being stumped when asked to name a single living foreign leader.
Instead, Oliver focused on less widely reported displays of naiveté about government, including a CNN interview in which Johnson said he would eliminate income and corporation taxes and replace them with a federal consumption tax—a plan experts found would unfairly burden the middle class and cut the government’s revenue.
He also played a clip of Johnson being asked on MSNBC to name three federal departments or agencies he would eliminate, in which Johnson named the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development—while displaying only a vague understanding of what those agencies do.
The late-night host summed up with descriptions of the candidates: Donald Trump as a “lying, handsy, narcissistic sociopath”; Hillary Clinton as a “hawkish, Wall Street friendly embodiment of everything that some people can’t stand about politics”; Gary Johnson as an “ill-tempered mountain molester with a radically dangerous tax plan that even he can’t defend”; and Jill Stein as a “conspiracy-pandering political neophyte with no clear understanding of how government operates.”
“Look, I would love for there to be a perfect third-party candidate,” Oliver said. “But it is hard to make the case that that is what’s happening here. There is no perfect candidate in this race.”
Here’s Oliver’s full monologue: