Ralph Nader: Sanders Should Stay in Democratic Race, Is Only Losing Due to Anti-Democratic System

May 10, 2016


Ralph Nader

longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate. His forthcoming book is titled Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think.

Polls have opened in West Virginia, where Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are vying for the 29 delegates up for grabs. Eight years ago, Clinton won West Virginia in a landslide, beating Barack Obama by 40 percentage points—but many polls project Sanders will win today. We speak to longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who argues that Sanders would be winning the primary race if every state had open primaries.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road today in Minneapolis, Minnesota, headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Well, polls, though, have opened in West Virginia, where Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are vying for the 29 delegates up for grabs. Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton won West Virginia in a landslide, beating Barack Obama by 40 percentage points. But many polls project Sanders will win today. Clinton has faced widespread criticism in West Virginia after she recently said, quote, "We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." While Clinton maintains a lead in both pledged and superdelegates, Sanders is vowing to continue his fight to the Democratic National Convention in July.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: There are nine more primaries and caucuses remaining, tomorrow one in West Virginia. We hope to win there. And then on June 7th, there is the big day, because it’s New Jersey and California. And if we can win here in New Jersey and win in California and win in some of the other states, and if we can win a majority of the pledged delegates, we’re going to go into Philadelphia and the Democratic convention and expect to come out with the Democratic nomination. So don’t let—don’t let anybody tell you this campaign is over. We’re going to fight for the last vote we can find in New Jersey and California.

AMY GOODMAN: Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton urged Bernie Sanders to help unify the Democratic Party. She spoke on CBS.

HILLARY CLINTON: I’m 3 million votes ahead of Senator Sanders, nearly 300 pledged delegates ahead of him. He has to make his own mind up, but I was very heartened to hear him say last week that he’s going to work seven days a week to make sure Donald Trump does not become president. And I want to unify the party. I see a great role and opportunity for him and his supporters to be part of that unified party, to move into not just November to win the election against Donald Trump, but to then govern based on the progressive goals that he and I share.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by former presidential candidate and longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader. His recent piece for The Huffington Post headlined "The Need for Progressive Voices." His forthcoming book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think.

Ralph, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the state of the presidential race today.

RALPH NADER: Well, the state is that the corporatist and militarist Hillary Clinton is making a premature boast of victory. The only reason she’s ahead is because of two anti-democratic systems: one, the unelected superdelegates, her cronies, mostly, in Congress, who were elected by nobody to be delegates—they were appointed; and second, the closed primaries. Primaries are paid by taxpayers; they should not be closed to independent voters. And if independent voters could have voted in these primaries, Bernie Sanders would have defeated Hillary Clinton. In fact, in one Tuesday a couple weeks ago, he lost four primaries, in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, because of closed primaries. The one that was open to independent voters, in Rhode Island, he won. So, I wouldn’t be as boastful as Hillary Clinton.

She’s got to divulge her transcripts. The Wall Street Journal just reported that she is getting more money from Wall Street than all other candidates combined, in the Republican and Democratic Party, running for president. And that’s one reason why she has to divulge those transcripts, which she had her sponsors, the big bankers and other closed business conventions, pay a thousand dollars each for a stenographer to write—to have these stenographic transcripts. So she’s got them. And she’s got to divulge them, so the American people can see how she says one thing in closed doors to the business lobbyists and another thing sweet-talking the public and mimicking the language of Bernie Sanders.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Hillary Clinton’s press secretary, Brian Fallon, who was speaking on CNN in April.

BRIAN FALLON: One week ago today, in this very chair, Tad Devine from the Sanders campaign was sitting here talking to you, and you asked him, "You know, why didn’t Senator Sanders decide to run as an independent? Why did he decide to run through the Democratic primary?" And Tad Devine said that for a very simple reason, he decided to run as a Democrat: He did not want to be a Ralph Nader, he did not want to be a spoiler. If he didn’t win the Democratic nomination, he didn’t want to spoil the chances for the Democrats to retain the White House.

I’m afraid that if the attacks in the style of yesterday’s baseless accusation continue, that that’s exactly what he’ll be doing. And this has been an extraordinary effort that the Sanders campaign has embarked upon. They’ve brought so many people into the process. But yesterday, the tone of the attacks was suggesting that if the Democratic Party doesn’t see fit to nominate Bernie Sanders, then it’s not a party worth supporting. And that is poisonous rhetoric that would seriously imperil our party’s ability to come together in these closing weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Hillary Clinton press secretary, Brian Fallon. Your response, Ralph Nader?

RALPH NADER: Well, the two-party tyranny is so exclusionary, of ballot access barriers, keeping independent candidates from being on the debates, and on and on—here we go again—that the Hillary coterie is getting ready basically to say, "Drop out, drop out, drop out, Bernie Sanders." I don’t think anybody should be told to drop out. They’re exercising their First Amendment rights of speech, petition, assembly. You want to oppose them, fine. But to tell them to drop out is to tell them to shut up and give up their First Amendment rights. I wrote—in 2008, I wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton urging her not to drop out when the Obama forces, in June of that year, were telling her to drop out. So I think that’s very anti-democratic and very presumptuous, especially since the only reason Hillary Clinton is ahead now in delegates is because of closed Democratic primaries and the superdelegates, who are her cronies, as I mentioned, mostly in Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that, Ralph. I think people, for the first time in 2016, may be waking up to all these rules, and they may seem obvious, especially to you, a presidential candidate, but even the term "closed presidential primary."

RALPH NADER: Yeah, well, as explained in a nice article by my former campaign manager, Theresa Amato, what happens is that first an independent candidate has to surmount 50 state ballot access laws, some of them so draconian as to defy satire, like in North Carolina and Texas and California.

The second thing they have to do is ward off all kinds of frivolous lawsuits, for example, by the Democratic Party. They confronted us with 24 lawsuits in 12 weeks in 2004 in various states to get us off the ballot, drain our resources, distract our focus. We won most of them. But it was a—it was a typical example of the workings of the two-party tyranny.

And third, these primaries, whether Democrat primaries or state primaries, Amy, are paid by the taxpayer. And many states have open primaries. They say, "OK, anybody can cross over and vote in any primary." Well, I think that’s proper. If the parties want to pay for their own primaries with their own private money, that’s one thing. But you don’t have taxpayer-supported official primaries that become the private preserve of closed primaries, Democrat or Republican.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Bernie Sanders appeared on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: If the contest doesn’t go the way you hope, will you be able to follow the Clinton model of 2008, which she talked about on this GMA town hall this week, and make an enthusiastic case for her, the way she pushed for President Obama?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, that is totally dependent on what the Clinton platform is and how she responds to the needs of millions of Americans who are sick and tired of establishment politics and establishment economics. You know, I can’t snap my finger and tell people what to do. But what I will do is do everything that I can to make sure that somebody like a Donald Trump or some other right-wing Republican does not become president of the United States. We do not need more tax breaks for billionaires, more cuts to Social Security, Medicare, more ignoring the fact—the Republicans don’t even accept the reality of climate change, let alone being prepared to do something about it. So I will do everything that I can to defeat any Republican candidate.

If Secretary Clinton is the nominee, she is going to have to make the case to the American people, not just to my supporters, but all Americans, that she is prepared to stand up to the billionaire class, she is prepared to fight for healthcare for all Americans, that she is prepared to pass paid family and medical leave, make sure that college is affordable for the young people in this country. That is what she has got to do. And I hope, if she is the nominee, that she does that well.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernie Sanders speaking on ABC. Ralph Nader?

RALPH NADER: Well, that’s what he should say, but he should go further. Like, she’s not going to support his Wall Street speculation tax, his full Medicare for all with free choice of doctor and hospital, much more efficient, much more life-saving. She is not going to support his tax proposals. She certainly is not going to support a $15 minimum wage. She’s at $12. She is not going to support having diplomacy start with waging peace instead of waging war. She’s a certified hawk. I never saw a weapons system or a war she didn’t like. So there are huge differences.

So, Bernie Sanders has got to—if he doesn’t make the nomination, he has got to lead a civic mobilization, that could be directed against Trump, but directed against all politicians, based on his broader agenda. And I suggest that he have a huge rally on the Mall in Washington sometimes in the early fall, and then break it down to regional rallies all over the country, in order, number one, not to disappoint and disillusion millions of his followers, and, second, to make a declaration that elections in our country should not be off-limits to democracy—or democracy, civil society—because when they are, elections become, as they have been, very vulnerable to commercialism, to politicians selling themselves to super PACs, and to the mass commercial media making a bundle of money on outrageously outspoken candidates like Donald Trump, who get ratings for Fox and CNN and others, and they’ve turned it into a profit center. So it’s like an industry separated from the democratic society.

And to give you an example, Amy, of what happens when we allow this to occur, we are assembling the largest gathering of accomplished citizen advocacy groups over the largest number of reforms and redirections in our country ever brought together in American history. And that is on May 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th of this year at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. And it will be streamed all over the country. These are many people who appeared on Democracy Now! It’s almost like an alumni reunion, Amy. And these are the people who make America great. These are the people who advance health, safety, economic well-being, democratic procedures, push for cleaner elections, mobilize labor and small taxpayers, and try to rebuild public works and have a better healthcare system and a better set of voices. And they’re completely excluded. They’re excluded from the election coverage. They’re excluded from the candidates, except for Bernie Sanders.

Here are some quick examples. Recently there was a gathering in Washington for the press on solitary confinement, by the leading specialist in the area, Jim Ridgeway, and several people who were arbitrarily and cruelly confined in a solitary cell. No press whatsoever. And then, about the same time, George Washington University had a major symposium on tax havens, tax escapes of corporations, in places like the Grand Cayman Island. No press whatsoever. And then they had these Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post just completely declined to cover it. Democracy Now! covered it, NPR covered it. But they were trying to push into the electoral process issues like campaign finance reform.

And here’s the real kicker. Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a very progressive man, has been trying to get the mass media to pay attention to Section 317 of the 1934 communications law. What does that say? It requires, without exception, the disclosure of all donor names to these PACs and super PACs. There is no exception. And the FCC has been sitting on a Common Cause petition and other previous petitions, and doing nothing. Gets no coverage by the mass media, that is focusing on an ever-increasing trivial presidential race, avoiding major issues, avoiding the great issues of the distribution of power, wealth and income in our society and its impact abroad, continuing to do that and not allowing the civil society to break in.

That’s why we call our gathering at Constitution Hall "Breaking Through Power." You can go—to get tickets, you can get tickets by going to And there are also scholarships for people who can’t afford the ticket. We want to fill that great hall and make a progressive demonstration that it’s a lot easier than you think to make change. And we’ve got 18 groups on day one to demonstrate that. And the second is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. No one’s ever brought these groups together.

And the third is a surprise, is that a lot of these issues are supported by left-right. They’re supported by left-right. Conservatives like to have their children breathe clean air and drink clean water and eat safe foods and have safe medicines and have a voice and have a decent education, and when they grow up, to have a living wage. There’s 75 to 80 percent of the people support a higher minimum wage. So I hope people will really come together on this in Washington, D.C., May 23, 24, 25, 26. We have to move to civic mobilization, because that’s the root, Amy, of the quality of elections that we’re given. And if we don’t become active and engaged civically, outside the election process, we get the terrible politics that we’re seeing today.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, we have to break, but we’re going to come back. I want to ask you about the West Virginia primary, about the possibility of a third-party candidate, both on the Republican side, Democratic side, what would happen if Bernie Sanders didn’t clinch the nomination, what do you think he should do. We’re talking to Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate. We urge you to stay with us as we continue to discuss the 2016 presidential race and the state of America today.

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