Good grief, Ralph Nader is doing it again

     Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is shown speaking at the National Press Club in 2014. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, file)

    Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is shown speaking at the National Press Club in 2014. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, file)

    While scanning yesterday’s New York Times, I chanced upon a letter to the editor from Ralph Nader. Naturally, he was touting Bernie Sanders and attacking Hillary Clinton. He said that Hillary is unacceptable because she’s “a war hawk” who “voted for the disastrous war in Iraq.”

    This, from the guy who did so much to elect George W. Bush. Who paved the way for the hawkish neoconservative cadre that concocted that disastrous war in Iraq. What gall.

    And now Nader is at it again.

    Just like in 2000, when he lured a fatal number of liberals to his third-party candidacy by attacking Al Gore as insufficiently liberal, by insisting that Gore was no different from Bush (because, supposedly, they were partners in a “two-party duopoly”), now he’s attacking Hillary as insufficiently liberal. On behalf of a purer candidate who can’t win a national election. Is Nader a mole for the GOP, or what?

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    When I read that Times letter, I flashed back to the spring of 2000. Nader was preparing his candidacy, and I sought him out for an interview. We met in his townhouse, and he told me: “The Democrats are turning into a crypto Republican party.” I detailed all the ways that Gore was clearly more liberal than Bush, and thus an acceptable choice for Democratic voters, but he didn’t buy it. He said that Gore was merely Bush lite, that Democratic voters needed some place to go, and “we’re going to give them some place to go.”

    I tried to point out that Bush was beholden to the GOP’s conservative interests, but, nah, Nader didn’t buy that either. He confidently predicted that if Bush became president, “he would have to take into account a broader range of issues and some much more liberal constituencies. And he’s a conflict-avoidance guy.”

    Even in that spring of 2000, long before the “conflict-avoidance guy” warmongered by smearing reluctant Democrats as threats to national security, plenty of Democrats knew that Nader was off his rocker. David Leland, Ohio’s party chairman, told me: “There’s no question that Al Gore, far more than Bush, would stand up for the issues that Ralph Nader cares about — yet here he is, with the potential to siphon off votes. For those of us who have admired Nader, it’s a real tragedy.”

    I opened my story by writing: “Ralph Nader may prove to be Al Gore’s worst nightmare.” Six months later, he was.

    Bernie fans have somehow convinced themselves that their man is electable, that a democratic socialist who wants bigger government and higher taxes wouldn’t grease the skids for a Republican win. That’s clearly what Nader thinks. But the quest for purity can backfire. Didn’t liberals learn that lesson in 2000?

    Some of Bernie’s fans parry that point by insisting that Nader didn’t grease the skids for Bush in 2000. But the empirical evidence says he did. In pivotal Florida, Nader got 97,000 votes — roughly 20 times the size of Bush’s winning margin. In New Hampshire (people forget this), Nader got 22,000 votes — roughly three times the size of Bush’s winning margin. If either of those states had gone to Gore, Gore would’ve won the election.

    Some of Bernie’s fans parry that point by saying that Nader’s voters wouldn’t have gone to Gore, had Nader not been on the ballot. Maybe they would’ve stayed home, or voted for Bush, or found a different third-party candidate, or whatever. But two political scientists, Michael Herron of Dartmouth and Jeffrey Lewis of UCLA, crunched the numbers and concluded in an ’06 study that roughly 60 percent of the Florida Naderites would’ve chosen Gore — easily enough votes to turn Florida blue and keep Bush in Texas.

    In their words: “How do our results stack up against the conventional wisdom, which holds that Ralph Nader spoiled the 2000 election for Gore? We find this common belief justified.”

    Their study essentially confirmed what we’d already learned, from the 2000 Voter News Service exit polls. If Nader hadn’t been on the Florida ballot, 47 percent of the Naderites would’ve voted for Gore, and 21 percent would’ve chosen Bush — a spread that would’ve easily erased Gore’s loss.

    In March ’01, I again sought out Nader to hear how he felt about the election that had ended in December. When I brought up the New Hampshire results, he said: “Yeah, well, the Gore people did get the rest of New England.” And when I brought up Florida, he said: “OK, but that was only one banana peel, out of 20 banana peels that Gore slipped on.”

    An interesting answer. He copped to his Florida mischief, while trying to blame Gore. It’s absolutely true that Gore wasn’t a great candidate — but that last banana peel, Nader’s banana peel, was the fatal one. And he had worked hard to place it at Gore’s feet by campaigning heavily in Florida during the final days of the autumn campaign. (Even then, in March ’01, on the eve of Bush’s tax cuts for the upper brackets, Nader was still insisting that there were scant differences between Bush and the Democrats: “If you stack up the similarities, they just tower.”)

    Fast forward to 2016, and here’s Nader talking to Newsweek about Bernie Sanders: “Sometimes I think he’s plagiarizing me.” Gee, I was thinking the same thing. The GOP would love nothing more.

    In the spring of ’15, I wrote: “Rand Paul’s prospects of ever being president are on a par with the Phillies’ odds of winning the pennant. If he somehow makes it to the Oval Office, I will personally climb Mt. Everest and chisel his curly locks into the rocks.”

    Happy to save myself the trip.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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