Nader: The U.S. Political & Media System Is Designed to Obstruct, Silence Third-Party Candidates

May 10, 2016


Ralph Nader

longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate. His recent piece for The Huffington Post is headlined "The Need for Progressive Voices." His forthcoming book is titled Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think.

Polls show Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are on pace to be the least popular major-party presidential nominees in decades. Will some voters look to cast votes with third-party candidates? We speak to former presidential candidate Ralph Nader about how the U.S. political system is designed to exclude third-party candidates from the debates and media.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about the challenges facing third-party candidates. Last month, I spoke to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who ran for president on the Libertarian ticket in 2012, who’s seeking the Libertarian nomination again.

GARY JOHNSON: Right now, running for president of the United States as a Libertarian, there is no way that a third party wins. There’s no way that I have a chance of winning, unless I’m in the presidential debates. There is the possibility of being at 15 percent in the polls, though, if I’m in the polls, that I could be in the presidential debates.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re part of a lawsuit going after the Presidential Debate Commission?

GARY JOHNSON: Yes, on the basis that—on the basis of the Sherman Act, that politics is a business, that Democrats and Republicans collude with one another to exclude everybody else. We think that the discovery phase of this lawsuit is going to provide national insight into just how rigged the system is. I come back to the fact that 50 percent of Americans right now declare themselves as independent. Where is that representation?

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico. I was talking to him when I was in Albuquerque. This is Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who appeared on Democracy Now! and announced her candidacy last year.

DR. JILL STEIN: It’s very exciting now that I’m a part, actually, of two cases, through the Green Party or as my campaign, two cases, one of which is being filed today, the so-called leveled field case against the Commission on Presidential Debates, and also the Federal Election Commission for overseeing them, basically for violating federal election law. People think that this is a public service institution. It’s not. It is a private corporation run by the Democratic and Republican parties. When they began to take control of the debates, which are basically rigged so that only their candidates can be in it, the League of Women Voters quit, saying this was a fraud being committed on the American public, and they would have no part of it. It’s an outrage that that fraud has been allowed to continue for decades.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Talk about the commission, Ralph. Talk about who gets to debate, and also, if Bernie Sanders doesn’t get the Democratic nomination, what you feel he should do.

RALPH NADER: Well, you should have George Farah, who wrote the only book on the private corporation misnamed the Commission on Presidential Debates to give people the impression it’s a government agency. It is not. It’s a private corporation created in 1987 by the Republican and Democratic parties to get rid of the League of Women Voters, who they thought was too uppity, and they were sponsoring the presidential debates.

In no other Western democracy are there so many laws that obstruct voters from voting, obstruct third-party independent candidates from giving more voices and choices to the voter by getting on the ballot. We are at the bottom of the heap. Norway has several parties. Canada has several parties. Chile has several parties. They get on debates. But there are only two that get on the presidential debate—Republican and Democrat—because they control the gate. They control the way in. Had I got on the debates in my presidential run, I would—in one debate, I would have reached more people, by 50-fold, than I reached by filling all the major arenas—Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, Target Center, etc.—as we did in the year 2000. So, it is very critical. Unless you’re a multibillionaire, you don’t—you don’t have the wherewithal to reach people, because you’re not going to be covered by the mass media.

The mass media, the mass commercial media, basically says, "You can’t win. Never mind that you represent majoritarian positions, like full Medicare for all, like loosening up the electoral process so more people can get in and run and vote. It doesn’t matter that you represent majoritarian positions that are taken off the table by the Republican and Democratic Party—undiscussable, like cracking down on corporate crime, like changing the corporate tax system, like demilitarizing foreign policy, like a public works program that really drains away the trillions of dollars from blowing apart countries like Iraq and other countries overseas in illegal, unconstitutional wars. It doesn’t matter."

So, the media—that’s why in the Constitution Hall mobilization, Amy, we have a day called "Breaking Through the Media." We have a day called "Breaking Through Congress." We have a day called "Breaking Through War." And then the first day is, here’s how it has been done. Here’s how 18 groups, representing so much of the quality of life of America, so successfully over the years have broken through power. So it’s a great four-day seminar for anybody who wants to learn to appoint where they want to then get engaged. So, please go through for tickets or scholarships.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think, Ralph Nader, that Bernie Sanders should become a third-party candidate?

RALPH NADER: It’s almost too late. The latest time someone started a third party was late April. I think it might have been John Anderson. And it’s almost too late now. But more than that is, he will be marginalized. He’ll be excluded. He won’t be reported on. Why should he want to take a very successful, spectacular campaign that he’s conducted so far and be marginalized, be called that politically bigoted word, "spoiler," as if the political system isn’t so spoiled. They’ve got the nerve to call someone who’s a reformer a spoiler.

What he should do—and I put this in my column recently; you can go to—is, if he has to concede, what he has to do is go after Trump, not go around the country being a toady of Hillary Clinton and being given his little slogans to mouth. That’s not his character or his personality. He’s got to then cut out and lead a civic mobilization on all these issues, against the political process. And, of course, it will fall out in a way where it will probably undermine Trump more than Hillary, because she’s good in rhetorical adjustments to progressive agendas. That’s what I think he should do.

And then, after the election, he becomes the leader of a national mobilization that can affect local, state and national races, that can give concrete opportunities for the millions of young people who supported this 74-year-old grandfather—who would have predicted that, right?

And thirdly, and most important, is that the structure for a potential alternative party will be in its formation right after the election, for 2020, when districts will be redrawn, etc. Mark Green is going to give a presentation on electoral reform on day four, for example, of the Constitution Hall. We call it a civic marathon. Maybe you should call it "Citizens’ Revolutionary Week." We’ve got to build a civil society. You’re not going to get any elections worth their salt at the national level. Look at the Congress. Does the Congress represent the necessities and hopes and even political beliefs of the American people? Those are gerrymandered, monetized elections. It’s a disgrace to our country that we allowed that to happen. I always tell people—


RALPH NADER: —you know, if you don’t like your government, you’re looking in the mirror.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, we just have two minutes, but this latest crisis within the Republican Party, I mean, what you’re seeing, have you ever seen this before, in your years involved with politics, with really a reformation of the Republican Party? Now the—Ryan is saying, the House speaker is saying, that he will step down as head of the Republican convention if Trump wants him to. Trump wants—Trump has to raise, he says, one-and-a-half billion dollars, so he has to turn to the party that’s rejected him.

RALPH NADER: A lot of unpredictables ahead, Amy. Number one, I think the Republican Party will become the Trump dump for a while. It’s split in so many ways. You have the members of Congress of the Republican Party worrying about their own political skin. What’s going to happen to them? Are they going to get re-elected? Number one. How much down the ladder to the state and local races is this going to occur? Because, you know, Trump is only about Trump. It’s hard to consider him sacrificing his ego to campaign for other people. And there will always be an outrage of the day sucking the oxygen out of any media coverage of other politicians.

On the other hand, you know, Trump has some reformist positions. I mean, we do have to recast these corporate-managed trade agreements, for example. He is leaning toward a higher minimum wage. He has said there should be some tax reforms on Wall Street. On the other hand, you don’t know what he believes or what he says at any given time. This is a huge crisis for the Republican Party and, once again, the luck of the Clintons.

AMY GOODMAN: And for the Democratic Party, the significance of what Bernie Sanders has done?

RALPH NADER: Well, what Bernie Sanders has done, Hillary can undo and reduce any significance and produce huge disillusionment among Bernie Sanders supporters. And they can always stay home. You know, it doesn’t take many people to stay home, as in the congressional election of 2010, to develop a landslide for the Republicans in Congress. And so, Hillary’s got to be very, very careful of that. If her acolytes start beating up on Bernie Sanders, disrespecting him, telling him to drop out, they may be undermining their own cause in November. On the other hand, knowing that Bernie Sanders’ agenda has majoritarian support, I bet—I bet she’s going to start mouthing some of these things in order to beguile the voters.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, we have to leave it there. I want to thank you very much for being with us, Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go south to Brazil with Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.

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