Currently, Hillary Clinton holds a narrow lead over Donald Trump in the polls. At the same time, two third party candidates are drawing somewhere in the neighborhood of 12% of the vote. Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson is around 9% and Green Party nominee Jill Stein is at 3%. Polling indicates that about half of Johnson’s support comes from potential Clinton supporters and virtually all of Stein’s support come from former Sanders voters. We may have the highest percentage of third party support in a Presidential election since Ross Perot carried 19% of the vote in 1992 and 8% in 1996. (Incidentally, the GOP contention that Perot cost Bush41 the 1992 election is wrong.)
Bernie Sanders responded to this voter interest in third party candidates by urging his supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton. “Let us elect Hillary Clinton as president, and the day after, let us mobilize millions of people around the progressive agenda,” Sanders said in a recent interview. The Vermont Senator correctly pointed out that a protest vote could lead to a Trump Presidency. As Sanders said: “I’m the longest serving independent in the history of the U.S. Congress, but I think that before you cast a protest vote, because Clinton or Trump will be president, think hard about it. This is not a governor’s race. It’s not a state legislative race. This is the presidency of the United States. And I would say to those people out there who are thinking of the protest vote, think about what the country looks like and whether you’re comfortable with four years of a Trump presidency.”
Sanders isn’t the only prominent Democrat who warned voters about casting a vote for a third party candidate. Former Vice President Al Gore – one of only two men in U.S. history who had the privilege of being elected President without the burdens of the office – issued a similar admonition: “First of all I understand their feelings and misgivings. But if they are interested in my personal advice, I am voting for Hillary Clinton. I urge everyone else to do the same. I particularly urge anyone who is concerned about the climate crisis, sees it as the kind of priority that I see it as, to look at the sharp contrast between the solar plan that Secretary Clinton has put forward, and her stated commitment to support the Clean Power Plan, and the contrast between what she has said and is proposing with the statements of the Republican nominee, which give me great concern.”
Al Gore certainly knows a lot about the damage a third party candidate can do thanks to his hard experience in the 2000 election. Ralph Nader obtained 2.7% of the vote from dissatisfied Progressives who were of the belief that the Clinton-Gore Administration had been too moderate. Nader’s supporters mistakenly believed that there wasn’t much difference between Gore and Bush. Nader’s presence on the ballot cost Gore the election by causing him to lose Florida and New Hampshire. If Gore had carried just one of those states, he would’ve been the forty third President and we would have avoided the disastrous Bush Administration that squandered a hard earned $5 trillion surplus, wrecked the economy and mismanaged two wars.
Another third party candidate who did great damage to the U.S. was John Anderson in 1980. Anderson was a liberal Republican member of the House whose running mate was Pat Lucey – a former Democratic governor of Wisconsin. Anderson obtained 7% of the popular vote and probably cost Carter 105 electoral votes. Anderson’s presence on the ballot didn’t cost Carter the election but it created the illusion that Reagan won a landslide and had a mandate. In the absence of Anderson, Reagan would have won a narrow 51% to 48% victory. However, Reagan’s big win in the electoral college provided momentum for his legislative agenda – which allowed him to blow up the deficit with a big tax cut for the rich and kick off the radical right’s thirty years war on the unions.
The presence of the likes of Gary Johnson on the ballot isn’t only hurting the Democratic nominee – his regressive agenda is the antithesis of what Bernie Sanders and other Progressives stand for and believe in. Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum recently summarized Johnson’s platform:
Green Party nominee Jill Stein is as unacceptable as Gary Johnson and the Libertarians. As a starting point, Stein has said that she doesn’t care if she helps elect Donald Trump. As Stein said: “Sometimes you have to lose elections to build your power.” Not only that but Trump has welcomed Stein’s presence in the race: “I think a vote for Stein would be good — that’s the Green Party,” the orange hued mogul said. “Because I figure anyone voting for Stein is gonna be for Hillary. So I think a vote for Stein is fine.”
Not only is Stein willing to help elect Trump, she is as woefully ignorant about policy as the GOP nominee. Stein has falsely claimed that the 2009 Recovery Act mostly consisted of tax cuts for the wealthy. That is a ridiculous claim since the Recovery Act didn’t cut taxes for the wealthy and was the largest middle class tax cut in history. It is the consensus of mainstream economists that the Recovery Act ended the Bush recession and began the current economic expansion which is still going strong after a record breaking 76 months. As the Nation Magazine recently wrote about Stein’s criticism of Obama: “That’s not criticism from the left; it’s a dishonest, scorched-earth campaign against the only party that can keep Republicans out of the White House.”
The reality is that the next President will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. A vote for a third party candidate is not only a wasted vote – it is a risky vote. No Progressive should even consider voting for Johnson since he would destroy all of the Progressive accomplishments of the 20th and 21st century. A vote for Stein is a vote for a candidate who – like the GOP – has disparaged President Obama’s accomplishments and who is in an informal alliance with Donald Trump. History clearly demonstrates that when Democrats are united we win elections and that Democratic Presidents make the country a better place. We must never forget that. As Harry Truman once said: “The only new thing in the world is the history you do not know.”