Toward the end of the 2000 U.S. presidential election campaign, when George W. Bush and Al Gore were running neck and neck, an ad hoc group calling themselves “Nader’s Raiders for Gore” asked their former candidate of choice, the Green Party’s Ralph Nader, to withdraw from the race. “It is now clear that you might well give the White House to Bush. … We urge you to ask your supporters, as we do now, to honor your ideas and to vote for the man who is most likely to put them into action – Al Gore,” read their open letter.
But it did no good; Bush won the election by 537 votes in Florida, where nearly 100,000 votes were cast for Nader. Diehard Naderites still refuse to take responsibility, blaming the Supreme Court and pointing out that there were a lot more Democrats who didn’t vote, or who voted for Bush, than there were who voted for Nader. Fine. The Supreme Court was to blame. And the Democrats who didn’t vote, or who voted for Bush, were to blame. AND the 97,421 Floridians who voted for Nader were to blame.
But what makes the Nader voters (or anyway the huge chunk of them who knew in their hearts that Gore was the better choice than Bush) more galling than these other culprits is precisely that: They knew that by voting for the candidate they considered the best, even though he had no chance of winning, they risked actually electing the one they considered the worst. Which is what they did.
This brings me, naturally, to Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate in the current presidential campaign. With less than two months to go before the election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aren’t running as closely as Bush and Gore did, but that’s the direction they’re headed. Clinton’s lead is narrowing by the day. On Friday, the benchmark RealClearPolitics average of polls shows Clinton ahead in the popular vote by 1.1% over Trump in the four-way race that includes the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and Stein.
The Stein effect
But what counts, of course, is the winner-take-all statewide contests for electoral votes, with 270 needed to win – and here the RCP average of polls shows Clinton leading Trump 200 to 164 in the states where one or the other has a clear lead. Among the “toss-up” states, there are four – Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18), Georgia (16) and Nevada (6) – in which Trump is leading Clinton by tiny percentages that are smaller than the percentages supporting Stein. In Arizona (11), Trump’s percentage lead and Stein’s percentage of support are the same – 2.2%.
In North Carolina (15), RCP showed no poll results for Stein, but Clinton’s lead there is only 0.6%.
Stein’s name is on the ballot in 45 states including Washington DC, and in three other states her name can be written in. Here’s my proposal (and I’m sure it’s not just mine): She doesn’t have to drop out of the race nationally, she just has to drop out in the “battleground states” mentioned above (and any others that turn into battleground states) where her candidacy could mean the difference between Clinton and Trump winning the state and, very possibly, the White House. And in those battleground states, she has to throw her support to Hillary.
If Stein doesn’t do that, and if she and her supporters end up nuking this election like Nader and the Greens did the one in 2000, it will be so much more of a malicious act than the one before. Sixteen years ago, 9/11 hadn’t happened yet, there was no war in Iraq, no “war on terror.” Plus, Bush was running as a moderate Republican, a “compassionate conservative,” so it wasn’t entirely irrational to think that the difference between him and Gore wasn’t so tremendous, and to see that election as an opportune one to vote for “the best,” as Naderites saw their man, even if he couldn’t win.
But today, between Clinton and Trump? I’m not going to go into the differences between them, or how large they are, or how much larger they are than the ones between Bush and Gore in 2000; it’s not a serious subject.
One other thing I don’t get about Stein’s supporters is why they would risk a Trump victory for the sake of voting for a third party. What have third parties accomplished in modern America except to distort a presidential election or two? What was the lasting effect of George Wallace’s third party? Or John Anderson’s? Or Ross Perot’s? Or Ralph Nader’s? Zero. After the election’s over these parties have nothing to do; their causes may continue, but they’re pushed forward by other movements. A third party exists to run a glorious, hopeless electoral campaign, and that’s it. America has a two-party system, plain and simple, and third parties have no useful place in it.
In July, Stein told Truthdig.com, “I will be horrified if Donald Trump is elected. And I will be horrified if Hillary Clinton is elected. And I think the greatest terror of all is that we have a political system that says to us, here are two deadly choices: Now pick one.” But that was before, when people on the Left didn’t take seriously the possibility of Trump getting elected president. Everybody takes it seriously today.
There’s a famous line spoken in the ‘70s by an Israeli politician trying to talk sense to his intemperate, overly demanding colleagues: “Lunatics, get down off the roof!” This is what left-leaning Democrats and independents ought to be shouting up at Jill Stein and her millions of supporters. Maybe the folks on the ground will be more successful than “Nader’s Raiders for Gore” were in their time. After all, now we know the consequences of the 2000 election. And this time, the man who must be stopped isn’t anyone’s idea of a compassionate conservative.
“Truthdig sits down with the Green Party’s Jill Stein,” Truthdig.com, July 11, 2016
“Ralph Nader presidential campaign, 2000,” Wikipedia.com
“Nader’s Raiders for Gore,” BlackElectorate.com, October 26, 2000
“Nader elected Bush: Why we shouldn’t forget,” Politico.com, May 31, 2016