FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2009 file photo, former independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader poses for a photo in Washington. Maine's highest court is...
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

For Democrats, two terrifying words: ‘Ralph who?’

On the surface, Democrats have a variety of demographic advantages, which is especially true when it comes to age groups. America’s youngest voters are also the country’s most progressive, which should help Democratic candidates for many years to come. What’s more, given the size of the generation, millennials are positioned to be a potent electoral bloc.

The picture becomes a garbled mess, however, when one realizes that these young progressives may indirectly help elect Donald Trump as the next president.

The New York Times had an interesting piece yesterday on younger voters “shunning the two major political parties” on a scale unseen in recent decades, in ways that are causing alarm in Democratic circles. These three paragraphs were no doubt enough to cause heartburn at Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters.
The vast majority of millennials were not old enough to vote in 2000, when Ralph Nader ran as the Green Party nominee and, with the strong backing of young voters, helped cost Vice President Al Gore the presidency.

“Ralph who?” said David Frasier, a junior at Charleston Southern University.

“Didn’t he kind of come in at the last minute and kind of alter the votes or something?” Mr. Frasier, 26, asked, his memory barely jogged. “I was too young to remember.”
“Ralph who?” has to be one of the scariest two-word phrases in the English language for many Democrats.

As voters of a certain age no doubt recall very well, Ralph Nader ran a spirited third-party presidential campaign in 2000, at times targeting states in an apparent attempt to help then-Gov. George W. Bush win.

At the time, many voters on the left – particularly younger voters – complained that Al Gore didn’t excite or inspire them, prompting them to gravitate towards the more liberal Nader. At a certain level, the impact was limited – the consumer advocate won nearly 3% of the popular vote – but given how close the 2000 election was, even before conservative Supreme Court justices intervened on Bush’s behalf, Nader’s totals helped determine the outcome. In turn, Americans were left with the disasters of the Bush/Cheney era.

To be sure, the parallels are imprecise. Gore ran aggressively to the center, even choosing Joe Lieberman as his running mate, while Clinton is arguably running on the most progressive major-party platform in modern American history. It’s easier to make the case, in other words, that listless, progressive young voters had a more defensible rationale 16 years ago than they do now.

Nevertheless, the more millennials ask “Ralph who?” the more likely history will repeat itself – right down to the easily avoided catastrophes.

Postscript: The idea of young, liberal voters backing Gary Johnson, of all people, still strikes me as genuinely bizarre.

For Democrats, two terrifying words: 'Ralph who?'