ON SUNDAY, Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate and former Green party presidential candidate, announced that he is an independent candidate for president in 2004. But will a Nader run this year make a difference? Top Democrats seem to think so. Over the last few weeks, Nader has been the subject of entreaties from Democratic party leaders not to run for president, most notably Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "I'm urging everybody to talk to Ralph Nader" and tell him not to run, McAuliffe told CNN on Friday. Spokespeople for John Kerry, the Democratic frontrunner, also released a statement on Friday, saying that it was "important [Democrats and progressives] remain united in November."
Here is why Democrats are worried: Whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be--either Sens. John Kerry or John Edwards--their positions on a few major issues will be closer to President Bush's than they would probably like to admit.
Consider Iraq: While both Kerry and Edwards have been sharply critical of the president's policies there, they still believe it necessary for the United States to stay the course. Neither Kerry nor Edwards will argue in the coming months that the United States should withdraw unilaterally from Iraq as soon as possible. Nader will. Also, there's tax policy. Both Kerry and Edwards only want to repeal those portions of the Bush tax cut that affected Americans making over $200,000 a year. Nader? He'd scrap the whole thing.
So it's possible that Nader will peel off some of the antiwar liberals who make up much of the Democratic base. But will Nader draw as much support this year as he did in 2000? Probably not. After all, plenty of progressives feel that Nader cost Gore the election in 2000. But in a political environment as highly polarized as today's America, says one anti-Nader progressive, just a few thousand--or a few hundred--votes for Nader in select states could cost the Democrats the White House. Again.
Nader doesn't seem to mind. On "Meet the Press," he exhibited a marked animosity toward the Democratic party. He said there wasn't a whit of difference between the Republican and Democratic parties--a talking point he used often in the 2000 presidential race. Sounding a lot like, well, a conservative, he said that those urging him not to run--a motley crew that includes the editors of the Nation magazine, ice-cream magnate Ben Cohen, and an assortment of websites such as Ralphdontrun.net and NoNader.org--were all members of the "liberal intelligentsia." After Tim Russert showed him an ad from RalphDontRun.net, which argues that Nader voters in New Hampshire and Florida helped George W. Bush win the presidency in 2000, Nader said such advocacy was a "contemptuous statement against democracy, against freedom."
Indeed, Nader's palpable animosity toward the liberals who no longer support him was the subject of most his ire on Sunday. The "liberal intelligentsia," he said, has "let their party become captive to special interests" over the last 25 years. Democrats are now a "corporate paymaster minion." He says he's running for president because "We can't just sit back like the Nation magazine and betray its own traditions and the liberal intelligentsia and once again settle for the least-worst [alternatives]."
It was enough to make you forget, for a moment, about tax cuts and Iraq and health care and judges and all the substantive issues at the center of the 2004 presidential campaign. Instead, Nader 2004 may be a presidential campaign run entirely out of spite.
Matthew Continetti is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.