Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump aren’t the only people running to become president of the US. In fact, as of July 15, as many as 1,796 people had filed to be presidential candidates, including those affiliated with a minor party and independents. Of them, two are representatives of relatively large parties: Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, and Jill Stein, of the Green Party. Together they account for 7% to 14% of the votes.
Jill Stein, however, has lately been brought into the Democratic debate. As a contingent of Bernie Sanders supporters refuse to back Hillary Clinton (the “Bernie or bust” people that the comedian Sarah Silverman chastised at the first night of the Democratic National Convention), some are turning to Stein as an option to “vote their conscience,” saying her liberal positions align more with theirs than Clinton’s. But as Sanders himself noted yesterday “this is the real world that we live in”—and some worry that Stein, like Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in the 2000 election, could split the Democratic vote, and end up helping Republican Donald Trump become president.
The columnist Dan Savage did an impressive—if somewhat profane—job of articulating this view in a May episode of his podcast, Savage Love, which was recently resurfaced by the Stranger. In it, Savage answers a caller who says they will vote for Stein because “I also feel we need to start sending a message to Washington and to our political leaders that we’re sick and tired of this two party system and candidates who are controlled by corporations and special interest groups.”
Savage, in his trademark brash style, entirely rejects this notion, questioning not just the outcome of a third party vote, but the parties themselves. Here is the full exchange, from the Stranger:
CALLER: Hi my name is Pheasant and I live in Kansas. My question is, why — you guys talk a lot about politics — I would love to hear you guys talk about third party politics: Independent Party, the Green Party, and the Libertarian Party.
I’m a huge Green Party supporter; I’m voting for Jill Stein. And I realize that people say that if you vote for these, it’s just a wasted vote, it’s a vote for Republicans.
But I also feel we need to start sending a message to Washington and to our political leaders that we’re sick and tired of this two party system and candidates who are controlled by corporations and special interest groups. And they can’t piss off their donors, you know, because they buy the votes.
So I’m just wondering why you guys never talk about it because I think Jill Stein — she’s a member of the Green Party — she’s amazing. And for the people that bitch and moan about… Hillary didn’t always support gay rights, and Bernie didn’t always support this… I agree with you Dan, I think it’s ridiculous how — that people can change. That’s what we want, we try to get people — hey, stop being a homophobic asshole, hey stop being a racist prick. But you know the Green Party has never changed. They’ve always supported gay rights, equality for all, the environment…
DAN SAVAGE: Alright, blah blah blah. Sorry I had to stop you. Yeah, let’s talk about the Green Party for just a moment, or third parties, getting a third party movement off the ground here in this country. Because we are sick of the two party system!
Here’s how you fucking do that: you run people not just for fucking president every four fucking years.
I have a problem with the Greens, I have a problem with the Libertarians. I have a problem with these fake, attention seeking, grandstanding Green/Libertarian party candidates who pop up every four years, like mushrooms in shit, saying that they’re building a third party. And those of us who don’t have a home in the Republican Party, don’t have a home in the Democratic Party, can’t get behind every Democratic position or Republican position, should gravitate toward these third parties. And help build a third party movement by every four fucking years voting for one of these assholes like Jill fucking Stein, who I’m sure is a lovely person, she’s only an asshole in this aspect.
If you’re interested in building a third party, a viable third party, you don’t start with president. You don’t start by running someone for fucking president.
Where are the Green Party candidates for city councils? For county councils? For state legislatures? For state assessor? For state insurance commissioner? For governor? For fucking dogcatcher? I would be SO willing to vote for Green Party candidates who are starting at the bottom, grassroots, bottom up, building a third party, a viable third party.
You don’t do that by trotting out the reanimated corpse of Ralph fucking Nader every four fucking years. Or his doppelgänger, whoever it is now, Jill Stein and some asshole-to-be-named four years from now. You start by running grassroots, local campaigns. And there’ve been — and I’m sure we’re going hear from lots of people out there listening — there have been a couple of Green Party candidates who’ve run in other races here and there across the country. But no sustained effort to build a Green Party nationally. Just this griping, bullshitty, grandstanding, fault-finding, purity-testing, holier than thou-ing, that we are all subjected to every four fucking years by the Green Party candidate.
And the folks, including you caller — and I love you and I respect you and we’re having this debate and I’m not treating you with kid gloves because I respect you — who are fooled by them, who are sucked into this bullshit, who are tricked by these grandstanding, attention-seeking, bullshit-spewing charlatans, into wasting your vote.
Which is what you are going to do, I’m sorry to say, to circle back to the top of your call. You are essentially, if you’re voting for Jill Stein, helping to potentially elect Donald J. Trump president of these United States. Which would be a catastrophe.
Which is what some people say that they want. People supported Ralph Nader in 2000 and said there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush, therefore we could all afford to throw our votes away, protest-style, on Ralph Nader, who had no hope of getting elected, because there was no difference between Bush and Gore.
These same people, at the same time, said that George Bush was so manifestly obviously terrible that he would bring the revolution if he got himself elected somehow. They didn’t say this about Gore, he wouldn’t bring the revolution. They’re exactly the same, exactly as awful, but one would bring the revolution and one wouldn’t. Which means they weren’t exactly the same and they weren’t equally awful.
And we’re hearing the same thing now about Hillary and Donald. That they’re both equally awful. They’re both equally terrible, corrupt two party system, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. Fuck them both, fuck both their houses! Vote for Jill Stein!
And if Donald should get elected, oh he’s so terrible, so much worse than the equally awful Hillary Clinton, that his election will bring the revolution.
The revolution did not come in 2000 when George W. Bush got close enough to winning to steal the White House. It will not come if Donald J. Trump gets his ass elected.
Disaster will come. And the people who’ll suffer are not going to be the pasty white Green Party supporters — pasty white Jill Stein and her pasty white supporters. The people who’ll suffer are going to be people of color. People of minority faiths. Queer people. Women.
Don’t do it. Don’t throw your vote away on Jill Stein/vote for, bankshot-style, Donald Trump.
And if you want to build a viable third party, more power to you. I could see myself voting for a Green Party candidate for president in 25 years, after I’ve seen Green Party candidates getting elected to state legislatures, getting elected to governorships, getting elected to Congress. Then you can run some legitimate motherfucker for president.
On July 21, the Green Party’s national co-chair, Andrea Mérida Cuéllar, responded to Savage’s critiques, pointing out that there are candidates running for offices below the president around the country, and a few elected officials from the party.
So, you see, Savage’s assertion that we only run presidential candidates is incorrect, and perhaps he didn’t notice the 2014 campaigns for congress, state representative, public utility district and charter review commission in Washington state.
Cuéllar also underlines the advantage that the current system affords to candidates from the main parties, and she rejects Savage’s accusations that the Green Party would be “pasty white” and the idea that a vote for Stein would eventually be a vote in favor of Trump.
Savage wasn’t convinced. “A vote for Jill Stein in 2016 is a vote for Donald Trump,” he wrote in his rebuttal, which you can read in full here. “Stein knows it, Andrea Mérida Cuéllar knows it, and the Green Party knows it and doesn’t care.”