Third Parties, Fifth Wheels And Second Place

Third parties are the fifth wheels of American politics. They are the electoral hangers-on, the legislative lagniappe, the governmental gooseberries, the boobies on the commonweal’s boar hog. Their chances of winning any significant electoral office are roughly equal to the probability of me winning the heart of Jennifer Anniston.

While third parties are perennial losers, though, it doesn’t mean they have no say in who wins. As history shows, they most decidedly do. Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party cost William Howard Taft a second term and put Woodrow Wilson in the White House. H. Ross Perot vacuumed just enough votes from George H.W. Bush to tip the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. A bunch of yahoos and Jim Crow suckups bolted the Democratic Party in 1948 and as the Dixiecrats nearly cost Harry Truman the election.

The all-time, hall of fame presidential election spoiler, though, has to be the Green Party, an agglomeration of save the whales do-gooders that, electorally speaking, is best described as a gun club using its own feet for target practice.  This is because not only has it twice in the past 16 years played an outsized role in determining the chief executive — both times it helped install a president antagonistic to its central policy aims. Indeed, in terms of national political campaigns, the Green Party has single-handedly done more to undermine environmental causes than all the daft, delirious and devious fib shippers currently trafficking in global warming conspiracy markets.

The Green’s policy agenda has a heavy focus on polar bear rescue squads and ensuring every breath is a snootful of oxygenated pleasure free of particulate pestilence. So how does it end up doing so much damage to environmental causes? Easy. It runs wackadoodle candidates for president who have no chance of winning, but an outstanding chance of attracting just enough disaffected liberals to torpedo the Democratic nominee. Greens are basically lefties too busy staring into their organic bong residue to grasp that they are actually supporting the fossil fuel mother frackers they profess to oppose.

Think about it. In 2000 the Green Party almost certainly kept Al Gore out of the White House. Gore was, hands down, the biggest treehugger to ever become a major party presidential nominee.  He won the popular vote which, as we know all too well these days, isn’t enough to get you the key code to the Oval Office. The reason we never had a President Gore was because he fell 537 votes short of George W. Bush in the critical state of Florida, a margin thinner than Dubya’s hold on proper syntax. Roughly six million votes were cast in Florida that year, and there’s even a defensible case that Gore would have actually won that state if the votes were accurately counted. But here’s the crucial electoral math of the 2000 election: the Greens got nearly 100,000 votes in Florida. Remove the Green Party from that ballot and the idea that Gore couldn’t scrounge up enough votes to gain 538 on Bush is laughable. Those 100,000 eco-commandos did more to put Bush in the White House than the RNC.

No matter, in 2000 all the electoral accounting forensics were mooted by a bunch of state’s rights advocates on the US Supreme Court who ruled that Florida should just shut its trap and declare Bush the winner. Big whoop said Ralph Nader, national scold, consumer safety personage, and the Green Party’s 2000 presidential candidate. He famously rejected any responsibility for Gore’s defeat, and basically said he didn’t care anyway because there was no real difference between Democrats and Republicans. Both the Dems and the GOP thought that was hilarious, though only the Republicans ended up laughing. They went on a decade-long deregulation binge. This was partially responsible for the drill-baby-drill BP “we don’t need no stinkin’ regulations” blowout that pranged the Deepwater Horizon and bathed the southern coast of the United States in crude oil in 2010. While all that was happening Gore went on to become one of the most prominent climate change activists on the planet and scored a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Yeah, if you think the environment is one of the big issues of our age, sure wouldn’t want that guy in office. Dodged a bullet there.

And then there’s the most recent Green Party act of electoral hari-kari, to wit, playing an outsize role in getting Donald Trump the presidency. Trump is a big popular vote loser, millions short of what his opponent hauled in. The key story of the 2016 election is a handful of “blue wall” — presumed solidly Democratic — states that made the critical difference to Trump’s Electoral College victory. The most crucial of these were Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump won all three by razor-thin margins — only two-tenths of a percent of the vote in Michigan, eight-tenths in Wisconsin, and 1.2 percent in Pennsylvania. The Greens almost certainly cost Clinton Michigan (Trump won by roughly 10,000, the Greens picked up just north of 50,000), arguably Wisconsin, and at a minimum sure didn’t do the Democratic nominee much good in Pennsylvania.

Those three states make the difference between a President Clinton and a President Trump and that difference is in no small part the Green Party. What’s truly astonishing is that they managed to pull off this outsized influence on the Republic’s future with such a piffling trifle of the electorate. Total ballots cast for Green Party nominee Jill Stein across all three states is something like 160,000 out of roughly 13 million cast. Trump won those three states, combined, by a total of roughly 85,000 votes. Hillary gets half the Green votes distributed just so across just those three states and she wins.

Instead, what the Greens did by attracting only one percent of the vote in those states is help bring about this: Trump administration nominees that include a climate change denying head of the EPA, the head of ExxonMobil as Secretary of State, and a Department of Energy secretary who not only is a fossil fuel booster, but once campaigned to eliminate the Energy Department even though he couldn’t remember what it was. Oh, and talking about the DOE, Team Trump is currently compiling lists of its scientists who attended climate meetings, and no one thinks being on that list is likely to be big career booster.  How’s that whole “we Greens run because there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans” working out for your old policy goals, eh?

Just to put the forehead smacking coda on the Green Party’s 2016 contribution to keeping climate change on the coal-fired back burner, Stein recently spearheaded a vote recount effort in all three of the states I just mentioned. This was baffling on its face.  It’s not like state election officials were going to find a cache of enchanted Green ballots that would magically start adding zeros to Stein’s vote totals. The official justification from Stein was to insure the integrity of the process and to make sure there was no fraud, Russian hacking of voting machines or, I dunno, Pandas voting illegally or something. In short, the Green Party started channeling Trump’s “massive” electoral fraud speciousness through its sacred crystal of knowledge. The only lucid reason I can fathom for the Green Party recount effort is some sort of a forlorn hope that election officials would somehow find a reason to toss out all the votes for Stein and thus push Clinton’s electoral vote count higher. That at least would nudge the cosmic policy possibilities a smidge in the Greens’ direction. If that’s the actual intent, though, it means someone in the Green Party can count, which kind of makes you wonder where that guy was when the whole quixotic let’s-put-on-a-presidential-campaign-and-really-show-folks-something scheme was first hatched.

Regardless, the post-election discount doublecheck got the Greens and Stein a lot of attention but zilch in terms of political gains. The recount in Wisconsin was duly conducted at a cost of mere millions, and the upshot was to add 131 more votes to Trump’s victory margin. The Michigan recount was stopped because, as the adults pointed out, Stein had zippo probability of benefiting from a recount so she didn’t have much standing to ask for one. A federal judge put the kibosh on the Pennsylvania recount before it really got underway, calling it “borderline irrational.” Truer words were never spoken. But then, voting for Stein in the first place turns out to have been borderline irrational. Especially if you care about the environment.