How Bernie Sanders could be the Ralph Nader ‘spoiler’ of 2016

Sanders Nader

Some blamed hanging chads, others confusing ballots, but the man many Democrats blame for Al Gore’s 537-vote defeat in Florida is Ralph Nader.

The consumer advocate and Green Party nominee, as many Gore supporters tell it, snapped 97,488 votes out of the hands of the former vice president.

Never mind those butterfly ballots that may have led to thousands of inadvertent votes for Pat Buchanan in Palm Beach County, nor the exit polls that showed more of his supporters would flock to George W. Bush than Gore.

Bush’s 2000 victory was Nader’s fault.

During that election, Nader needled Gore and the Democratic Party for not going far enough to left. He pushed for single-payer health care, giving more power to labor unions and decried the large role special interests had in campaign finance. He even refused to take any soft-money contributions, not that many Wall Street firms were knocking down his door, check in hand.

Nader’s campaign 16 years ago wasn’t big time, but it certainly wasn’t a novelty. He got endorsements from a couple of labor unions: National Nurses United and United Electrical Workers. Celebrities such as Susan Sarandon, Dr. Cornel West, and Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen enthusiastically supported his candidacy.

He even got the nod from the Vermont Progressive Party, founded by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who himself fretted laboriously over whom to endorse in the 2000 contest before ultimately settling on Gore one week before Election Day.

Sanders toyed with supporting Nader, and even publicly mused on whether it was “the right decision to vote for the ideologically weaker candidate, in terms of Gore” to “make sure that a guy like George Bush does not get elected president.”

Not that the endorsement would have made any difference for Nader’s campaign. He wasn’t playing to win, he was trying to build a liberal, progressive third party and he only needed 5 percent of the popular vote to secure federal funding for the Green Party four years later.

The final tally put him at 2.74 percent.

Sixteen years later, Sanders seems to be following the Nader 2000 campaign blueprint from inside the Democratic Primary.

He’s gotten endorsements from National Nurses United, United Electrical Workers, Susan Sarandon, Cornell West and Ben Cohen, among many others. He’s pushing single-payer health care, against trade deals, and is calling for radical campaign finance reform.

The Vermont Senator even followed Nader’s pledge not to accept soft money, though that hasn’t stopped PACs from spending millions on his behalf.

The similarities don’t end there. Sanders’ press secretary, Symone Sander, was pulled directly from Nader’s Public Citizen organization and his national field director, Phil Fiermonte, played an influential role in getting Nader on the Vermont ballot back in 2000.

Unlike Nader’s campaign, however, Sanders’ isn’t running to play spoiler on Election Day. He’s aiming to change the makeup of the Democratic Party from within with a “political revolution,” and Ralph Nader is not unaware of his longtime friend’s strategy.

“What is emerging is the reaction of millions of Sanders supporters who will feel repudiated, not just left behind, as the Clintonites plan to celebrate at the Democratic Convention in July,” he wrote on his blog last week.

“Sanders’ voters want to define the Democratic Party by how good it can be for the people. And these Sanders voters may not go back into the Democratic Party fold.”

Such an exodus of electors — energized by Sander’s “outsider” position — could prove a substantial blow to the Democratic Party just as Nader did with Gore. And it could also be one that ushers Donald Trump into the White House.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


  • Che odom

    March 9, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    Sanders is a far stronger candidate than Nader was. He is winning or very close in states that may go to the Democrat in the general election. Sanders has mainstream appeal. Polls show he may actually do better against all the Republican candidates than Clinton would. So who would be playing spoiler if the weaker Democrat winds up facing the Republican nominee and losing?

  • Wesley

    March 10, 2016 at 5:18 am

    Yes I would leave the Democratic Party if a 3rd party was started. A new progressive party crowd funded by the people for the people. Bring back the bull moose!

  • Citizen Zen

    March 10, 2016 at 5:33 am

    it’s 2016 and i’m quite tired of hearing that lie being repeated by supposedly informed and intelligent and honest folks…the Dems blaming Nader for their losses is like a street walking hooker blaming their v.d. on Mother Theresa, so to speak (ha ha)…it’s well know that Gore ran a crappy campaign…he couldn’t even win in his home state!…there were 6 third party candidates in FL all of whom got more votes than the # of votes that Gore “lost” by… and i say “lost” because why not blame the supreme court or the other 5 independent candidates… which makes no sense because anyone can run for president if they’re of age and a naturally born citizen and there is no blame for the votes they get… but the Dems quite successfully made a scapegoat out of Nader… quite undeserved and dishonest! typical Dem behavior… they cop out and lie… face it, since 1980, they went along with practically *everything* the Reaganites wanted… very sad…and i’m a third generation card-carrying democrat!

    and if you actually read Nader’s book on the election, “Crashing the Party,” you’ll see that Gore dropped the ball not once but three times:

    a. he gives a rousing acceptance speech at the Dem National Convention where he states: “i will be my own man—i will take on big banks, big business and big pharma…”… sad to say, by the next morning, before the convention hall was even cleaned, Lieberman was on the phone to the wall street journal and was quoted in a published story there saying “don’t worry; he didn’t mean it!”… so why blame Nader?

    b. everyone knows he did not fight hard enough for the supreme court case… he even admitted it! So why blame Nader?

    c. in Michael Moore’s film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” you see the congressional black caucus demanding justice in the debacle in FL and it is Gore himself (!) that shouts them down on a “point of order” (!!)… that is like saying that if you are mugged in a hospital quiet zone, you cannot scream for help…so why blame Nader?

    i’m sorry about what happened but get your facts straight and don’t blame Ralph Nader, who is responsible for almost 300 laws to protect our rights, our money, our health and our environment…
    (can you even name THREE?!?!) he saved 100’s of 1,000’s of lives with his auto safety work alone… and you think the car manufacturers wanted that? See the documentary “an unreasonable man” for the TRUTH of how that went…
    put the blame where it is due— on the Dems, who by the way, went along with the Reaganites reversing of practically all of those 300 laws… and do yourself a favor and actually read nader’s book, “crashing the party”…and stop spreading lies, please… it does no one any good…
    PS: there is now evidence that “problems” with electronic voting contributed to all this…

    • Bruce G.Robinson

      March 10, 2016 at 10:18 am

      Thanks for the credit to Ralph Nader.He deserves more than he gets credit for, improving life in America.

  • Michael C

    March 10, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    These are some spurious arguments.If Clinton doesn’t win the election it will be her fault for not energizing her voters. Sander’s has gone out of his way to not be a spoiler. If he wanted to be one, he could run third party once the primary is over — which he won’t do. If anything, Sanders is too nice to Clinton and too deferential to the Party.

  • Nick D

    March 10, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    Hillary Clinton lacks the charisma of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama and has no chance of beating the Republicans. She should drop out of the race and ask her supporters to vote in the Republican primaries for Cruz, Rubio or Kasich, otherwise Donald Trump will become president.

  • Melissa

    March 11, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    Jill Stein is the Green Party nominee for President. There needs to be an organized push among independents if Bernie is denied the Democratic nomination to vote with the Green Party. The days of holding our noses are over, the Democrats needs to understand that we will play spoiler in the general and the GP will get the 5% needed in this election so we can turn our eyes to 2020 and take this country back from the establishment. All Democrats need to be aware of this, we will not vote for Hillary in the general and she cannot win without the independent vote since we now make up more than 40% of the electorate. A vote for Hillary is a vote for the Donald.

Comments are closed.


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