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Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?

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Is it ever the time to run a third party campaign for president to the left of the Democratic Party?

That question’s been on my mind a lot recently as supporters of Hillary Clinton work themselves into panic attacks over the prospect of a Trump presidency. Of course, trying to consolidate voters who are open to hearing their message but have reservations- like supporters of independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders- isn’t on the agenda.

No, the agenda so far appears to be to tilt right and if the more liberal wing of likely Democratic voters don’t follow the Trump presidency will be the fault of third party candidates like Jill Stein, Gloria LaRiva, Monica Moorehead, or Mimi Soltysik (not Gary Johnson, of course- the Dems only punch left).

The Democrats are mostly worried about Stein, whose message of anti-imperialism and ecological economics is resonating with disaffected Sanders supporters not bending to their former candidate’s will. So, already, the call is going out across news and social media.

“Trump is too dangerous. The time isn’t right for a third party candidate.”

This got me wondering. When is the right time for a viable third party challenge- from the left- in American elections?

I went back 16 years, and it’s never been the right time for a challenge- and in particular the rage against Nader and the Greens is nothing new.

2000:

Where it all began. A week before the election, an antiwar.com blogger named Justin Raimondo predicted the outcome for Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader if Al Gore lost:

Gore goes down to defeat, and Nader can be plausibly blamed. Yesterday he was a saint, the man who gave us seat belts – the next day he’s practically the second coming of Hitler.

Of course, Gore didn’t “win” and Democrats, furious that their candidate was terrible and too afraid to call out the blatant voter fraud that put Florida in play for W in the first place, focused their anger on Nader immediately for Gore’s poor showing nationwide:

Liberal Democrats today angrily threatened retribution against Ralph Nader and his Green Party allies if Vice President Al Gore was declared the loser in the too-close-to-call presidential election.

The Guardian gave an overview of the reaction to Nader’s candidacy and pointed out that his impact was lessened because of Democrat pleading in advance of the election:

One theme among Nader supporters has been that Al Gore cost Mr Nader vital votes rather than the other way round. Many who would have voted for Mr Nader in marginal states such as Washington, Oregon and Pennsylvania and, not least, Florida were persuaded at the last minute to vote for Mr Gore. This, says the Nader camp, means the Green party fell well short of its own target of 5% – needed to get federal funding for the race in 2004 – and that Gore’s siren song derailed the Green party of its immediate hopes of being an effective third force.

2004:

In February, Nader announced he was running again and immediately faced opposition from the Democrats and their media surrogates such as New York Times writer David Rosenblaum:

In Florida, Mr. Nader received 97,488 votes, 1.6 percent of the total, and Mr. Bush carried the state by 537 votes. In New Hampshire, Mr. Nader won 22,198 votes, 3.9 percent of the total, and Mr. Bush carried the state by 7,211 votes. Had Mr. Gore won in either state, he would have become president.

Luckily POLITIZINE’s Tony Schinella was there to correct Rosenblaum on the deceptive math:

Even if the Nader vote was split 60-40, there is still no gain for Gore:

Here are the official New Hampshire results:
Bush: 274,290 – 48 percent
Gore: 266,121 – 47 percent
Nader: 22,188 – 4 percent

Results had the split been 60-40:
Bush: 283,165
Gore: 279,433

Again, even Rosenbaum’s figuring with the figures doesn’t add up to a Gore victory. As well, in a hypothetical two-way race, there would be no Buchanan candidacy, awarding thousands more votes to Bush.

The same chart, showing a two-way race, the results would have been the same – Bush 48 percent, Gore 47 percent, with 4 percent not voting. Somehow, Rosenbaum forgot to mention that! Again, a Bush win.

Undeterred by reality, the Democrats took extreme action to stop the Green Party from ballot access in Arizona:

“We could understand his right to run, but we were just convinced after the meeting that this was just about Nader,” Cummings said. “First of all, he can’t win, but he can be an aider and abettor of four more years of President Bush’s regressive leadership.

Feelings were raw, I get that, but it’s worth remembering that by the time voters went to the polls, Kerry had adopted most positions held by Bush, in particular over the war in Iraq. As Kevin Zeese told Norman Solomon in a debate hosted by Democracy Now! in October of 2004:

You guys have — you guys have failed to demand John Kerry stand up for workers, stand up for women, stand up for African Americans, stand up for Latinos, stand up for peace. Nothing. You said, “We’ll give you a blank check.” As a result, John Kerry has moved to the right. He’s become more of a war hawk, more of a militarist, more of a corporatist. He’s called for no more — no redistribution of wealth at a time when we have the greatest wealth disparity in our history. He’s called for minimal support for workers. He — you know, in the 2000 election, twenty percent of all Democratic voters voted for Bush. Twelve percent of liberals voted for Bush. Why? Because Gore left the base behind, and the anybody-but-Bush mentality has allowed John Kerry to do the same.

2008:

Nader entering the race once again was met with whining by then candidate Hillary Clinton:

Calling Nader’s move “very unfortunate,” Sen. Hillary Clinton told reporters, “I remember when he ran before. It didn’t turn out very well for anybody — especially our country.”

“This time I hope it doesn’t hurt anyone. I can’t think of anybody that would vote for Sen. McCain who would vote for Ralph Nader,” she said.

And by hysterics by New York Times blogger (and former Al Gore staffer) Ron Klain:

Even Mr. Nader must know in his heart that he was wrong about Mr. Gore eight years ago. And yet, as far as I know, Mr. Nader has never retracted his earlier statements, never apologized, never admitted error. Why any voter would listen to a candidate today who was so profoundly misguided before is beyond me….

Ralph Nader should heed that same advice now and abandon his futile and convoluted 2008 campaign. And whatever else he does this year, an apology for the misguided direction he gave in 2000 is the very least he owes the nearly three million voters who supported him.

Once Obama was elected, Nader offered the following critique, using a less than artful turn of phrase:

“To put it very simply, he is our first African-American president and we wish him well,” Mr. Nader said. “But his choice, basically, the question is whether he is going to be Uncle Sam for the people of this country, or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations.”

Wonkette‘s Jim Newell crowed as Nader’s poorly worded criticism of Obama landed the independent in hot water:

[Nader] really does have some psychological attention-craving disorder, the end.

I suppose that was easier than confronting any of the issues or criticisms of president-elect Obama Nader brought up.

2012:

David K Sutton warned the left not to go against Obama:

If you are considering a vote for a third party presidential candidate like Jill Stein of the Green Party, or if you are thinking of not voting at all, I would like to remind you that the Supreme Court already leans conservative 5 to 4.

CNN positioned third party bids as problematic for the two main candidates and not as campaigns with the headline, “Little-known candidates could harm Romney, Obama bids,” while The Washington Times Editorial Board argued that only the two party system could solve the issues it had created:

Change from within is effective, but voting for a third-party candidate never pays off. Hard-left voters learned this in 2000 when they decided uncompromising Green Party candidate Ralph Nader better suited their values than establishment Democrat Al Gore.

Slate‘s Dave Wiegel danced on Stein’s electoral grave after her loss:

In the Post-Nader era, left-wing third-party energy is limited to dilettante white leftists with no real interest in or ability to organize beyond their affinity group.

2016:

Iraq War cheerleader, bodyshamer, and The Stranger contributor Dan Savage used his sex advice talk show to rail against Jill Stein for not stepping aside for Hillary Clinton:

You are essentially, if you’re voting for Jill Stein, helping to potentially elect Donald J. Trump president of these United States. Which would be a catastrophe…..

Don’t do it. Don’t throw your vote away on Jill Stein/vote for, bankshot-style, Donald Trump.

NYMAG neocon Jonathan Chait smeared Stein recently by bringing up the (disproven) idea that Nader delivered the White House to Bush in 2000:

[Bill Clinton’s presidency] did lead to a Republican administration, but it wouldn’t have if it weren’t for, among many factors, a Green Party candidate who siphoned off enough votes in Florida to tilt the outcome.

But it was Ben Jealous who summed up the Democrat’s position this election year perfectly. This year the stakes are even higher than before, he said to Democracy Now! and Stein herself:

Well, you know, we came through a primary, and now we have 105 days to keep a madman out of the White House. And we went—you know, we know what happened in 2000. And the reality is that we cannot afford to end up with having an Iraq War because we narrowly lose the White House to somebody who should not be in there, as we did with Bush. So, the reality is, you go through a primary, you come into a convention, and you come out one campaign, in this case to hold onto the White House and keep a neofascist from becoming president.

Does it matter that “what happened in 2000” was not Nader but Gore being incapable of winning the majority of voters from his own party? Not Nader but Bush stealing the election? Not Nader but the faulty voting machines?

No, it does not matter.

All that matters is that the Democratic Party never has to face its deficiencies nor acknowledge its failure to court its nominal base instead of taking it for granted.

More articles by:

Eoin Higgins has a master’s degree in history from Fordham University. He lives in New York.

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