After his role in destroying Al Gore's chance to win the 2000 election, consumer activist and all-around maverick Ralph Nader would seem to have lost his credibility as a presidential candidate. In 2004, as if to punish him for his spoiler role, he got only 1 percent of the national vote, not enough to have any impact on the election.
But Ralph may have new life if he runs again in 2008. As Congress sifts its way through the various resolutions on the war in Iraq, Senator Hillary Clinton will find herself on the spot, torn between preserving her mainstream viability by supporting the troops in the field and maintaining her front runner status in the Democratic Party by courting the anti-war left. She will be asked to vote on Senator Barack Obama's bill to set a timetable of troop withdrawal culminating in a total pullout by March 2008, and on bills to cut off funding for Bush's "surge" of twenty thousand extra troops.
To date, Hillary has rejected setting a timetable, saying that it undermines our mission and encourages the enemy to hang in there, and says she will vote against cutting off funds for our troops while they are in harm's way. If she continues with these positions, she will become the right of the Democratic 2008 field. Obama may also oppose a funding cutoff, but his focus on a timetable for withdrawal would put him to Hillary's left. And former VP candidate John Edwards, who doesn't sit in the Senate anymore, will loudly proclaim his support for both a timetable and a funding cutoff, making him the left flank of the three-way race.
If Hillary doesn't change her positions — always a possibility when dealing with her — but still appeases the left enough to win the nomination, she may run smack into Ralph Nader as a professed, overt, and absolutely committed anti-war candidate. In a race of Rudy Giuliani vs. Hillary Clinton vs. Ralph Nader, a dedicated opponent of the war has only one possible vote: Nader.
The ranks of antiwar voters could swell Nader's performance far above the dismal 1 percent he got in 2004 and even above the 3 percent he won in 2000. It is not inconceivable that Nader could pass 5-7 percent of the vote or go even higher if he is the only antiwar candidate in the field.
The real question is: How will Hillary finesse the left and still keep opposing a timetable for a pullout and supporting funding for troops? She will try to ratchet up her anti-war rhetoric, even as she votes to let it continue. Her recent declaration at the Democratic National Committee that she would "end" the war as president, reminiscent of Eisenhower's 1952 vow to "go to Korea", is an example of this strategy. Her criticism of Bush and the Pentagon will become ever more strident as she tries to make the left focus on what she says not on what she does.
This approach may appease the broad center of the Democratic Party enough to win their votes for Hillary, but it will not satisfy the purist, activist, antiwar left. They will nurse grudges over Hillary's defeat of their anti-war hero: John Edwards. If the animosity spills over into the general election, it could catalyze a Nader candidacy in the fall of '08.
Nader doesn't like Hillary. He recently called her a "panderer and a flatterer." He told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that while he has not decided to run, "I'm committed to trying to give more voices and choices to the American people on the ballot. That means more third parties, independent candidates and to break up this two-party elected dictatorship that is becoming more and more like a dial for the same corporate dollars."
Sounds like a candidate to me.