It’s time to try to kill a certain meme that’s already going around, and which we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the coming months–that people voting for Ralph Nader in the 2000 election cost Al Gore the Presidency and handed it to George Bush. This will undoubtedly be used, as subtly as a mace, to guilt Bernie supporters to vote for Hillary. But the notion that what happened in Florida in 2000 provides a precedent for what people should do this year is fallacious, and here’s why.
First, yes, a lot went wrong in Florida. Nader had an impact – but then there’s the Pat Buchanan impact, which no one discusses any more. And the fact that the Bush family machine ran the state – remember Kathleen Harris? And then the crappy Supreme Court decision. Not to mention the reluctance of the Democrats to push their case more aggressively, as the Republicans did. It was a holy mess. For political junkies like me, it was also great fun, but obviously in terms of the real world it had disastrous effects.
But here’s the thing – it never should have gotten to that point. It got to that point because Gore needed those electoral votes because of the states he didn’t win that Bill Clinton did – including his home state of Tennessee. This is a state that the Clinton/Gore ticket comfortably carried twice. But Gore didn’t win it in 2000. You can probably thank Bill Clinton for that. Or you can come up with a more plausible reason why a state that for decades supported the Gore political dynasty suddenly decided to support a Bush instead. Whatever. You’re supposed to win your home state. The point is that those electoral votes would have given Gore the Presidency. In that event, Florida becomes irrelevant.
Ralph Nader didn’t cost Al Gore the election. Al Gore, sadly, cost Al Gore the election, because he couldn’t carry the state he represented, and previously had supported him, for years.