I was glad to read that the Clinton campaign is going to put some effort into reaching out to voters, especially young voters, who are considering casting their ballots for Libertarian or Green Party presidential candidates.
As Jonathan Martin and Amy Chozick report at The New York Times, “Hillary Clinton and her Democratic allies, unnerved by the tightening presidential race, are making a major push to dissuade disaffected voters from backing third-party candidates, and pouring more energy into Rust Belt states, where Donald J. Trump is gaining ground.” Chozick and Martin add that “leading Democrats have been alarmed by the drift of young voters toward the third-party candidates.”
Green nominee Stein and Libertarian Johnson are together inching into double-digit territory in some recent polls. I think there is a belief that Stein voters are generally Naderite Democrat-haters and therefore not persuadable, while Johnson draws more from Republicans, which has historically been the case with the Libertarians.
But this year is a little different, as the authors note,
The New York Times-CBS survey this week showed, in a four-way race, both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton receiving 42 percent, with Mr. Johnson drawing 8 percent and Ms. Stein 4 percent.
What is striking is that Mr. Johnson, despite being a former Republican governor who supports limited government, appears to take just as many votes from Mrs. Clinton as he does from Mr. Trump. When asked to choose between the two major party nominees, 23 percent of Mr. Johnson’s supporters said they would back Mrs. Clinton while 20 percent said they would favor Mr. Trump.
Martin and Chozick report that the Clinton campaign hopes to enlist Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Al Gore to focus on reversing the drift of young voters toward the Libertarians and Greens. Sanders and Warren, in particular, are held in very high regard by young voters, and they have the credibility to get a hearing with those who are genuinely persuadable. Gore’s experience in 2000 is instructive, even if he doesn’t have the juice to excite today’s younger voters.
Pro-Democratic Super-PAC Priorities USA is also going to make a significant contribution to the project. “We’ll be launching a multimillion-dollar digital campaign that talks about what’s at stake and how a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Donald Trump, who is against everything these voters stand for,” said Justin Barasky, a strategist for Priorities USA.”
That’s the meme all Democrats should repeat until it sticks: “A vote for the Libertarian or Green presidential candidate is, in effect, a vote for Trump.”
This is a good project the Clinton campaign should support — but not at the expense of investing in African American GOTV projects in swing states, which is certainly where they can elicit the most pivotal Clinton votes for every dollar and minute invested.
Grudgingly credit Republicans with doing an effective job of branding Clinton as “not trustworthy,” albeit with skimpy evidence. Republicans have long relied on the power of sheer repetition to implant their memes, and it is working better than ever in 2016. It’s a dark art, but it works frighteningly well, as they have refined their techniques. Sadly, too many in the traditional media have proven to be gullible accomplices.
As for the Green Party, it is disappointing that it has degenerated into a spoiler role with respect to the Presidential election. The Greens could do a lot of good if they would focus on down-ballot contests, while supporting the Democratic nominee, who is always far better than the Republican on environmental concerns. They could really improve the Democratic Party by electing savvy environmentalists who could strengthen the Democratic environmental comittment at the grass-roots level — a far more promising strategy than going down in a blaze of glory while contributing to the election of Trump.
Of the two candidates, Johnson may be more of an asset to Trump this year, since he draws less-informed liberal voters, who are hustled by the Libertarian stances on personal freedoms like same-sex marriage and smoking marijuana, while ignoring the fact that the Libertarians are like Republicans on steroids with respect to economic policies. Johnson does draw some support away from Trump in terms of the shrinking number of moderate Republicans. But some of them may also be otherwise ready to vote for Clinton, when reminded that Johnson is astoundingly clueless about foreign policy.
Stein’s suporters are more in the vein of inflexible hard-core lefties. The Greens have morphed into more of an all-purpose Naderite/Democrat-bashing party. The environmental movement deserves a political organization that focuses more on an anti-pollution reform agenda.
In the recent past, third parties have helped the Democratic presidential candidate by dividing conservative voters and drawing them away from the Republicans. Indications are that it could be different this year, with Johnson drawing slightly more from Clinton, owing to the success of GOP parroting the “untrustworthy” meme. When addressing young voters, especially, Democrats should repeat their own meme with equal fervor and dedication, “A vote for the Libertarian or Green presidential candidate is, in effect, a vote for Trump.”