Climate change got only fleeting attention on the debate stage Monday night, but when Donald Trump lied by insisting he’d never said global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, his 2012 tweet saying just that was re-tweeted tens of thousands of times.
In the political world, no one is more of an expert on the perils of a warming planet than former Vice President Al Gore, dubbed “Mr. Ozone Man” by President George H.W. Bush during the 1992 presidential campaign.
Gore’s bestseller, Earth in the Balance, on the dangers of global warming, was one of the early alarm bells on an issue that finally seems to be coming into its own with millennial voters. Young voters drove that blizzard of tweets calling out Trump; they’re passionate about the planet, but they’re lukewarm about Hillary Clinton.
“The Clinton campaign seems to have not wanted to involve him up to now, and it appears to be mutual,” a former Gore associate responded to an inquiry earlier this month about when we might see Gore join other Democratic luminaries on the campaign trail.
With polls showing Clinton weak among millennials as younger voters flirt with third-party candidates, Gore’s name is gaining new currency among nervous Democrats because he is uniquely positioned to talk about the dangers of a protest vote. Gore conceded the presidency in 2000 to George W. Bush after 36 days of legal wrangling that ended in Bush’s favor with a Supreme Court decision.
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader got enough votes in Florida to plausibly deny Gore victory, assuming those votes would otherwise have gone to Gore. Nader to this day refuses to accept responsibility for Gore’s loss, but as the polls tighten in battleground states, his name gets invoked and not in a flattering way.
The Clintons and the Gores haven’t been much in touch since those halcyon ’90s, but the Clinton camp has reached out to see where the former veep might “jump in and be helpful in some way,” says a source familiar with the back and forth. He calls Gore “a triple threat” because he can appeal to millennials, speak to concerns about the health of the planet, and make the case from personal experience against casting a protest vote for a third-party candidate.
“His message is you better not throw your vote away,” says Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic group. Polls show Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein ticking up—and cutting into Clinton’s margins—in several key states, including Colorado. “Both of them are complete clowns in their own clownishness and for them to be spoilers and hand the election to Trump would be the apotheosis of horror,” says Bennett. His message to environmentally-minded folks who are toying with a vote for Stein: “Your vote might matter a whole lot; spoilers can spoil. Don’t be cavalier about it.”
The relationship between the Gore and Clinton camps remains strained 16 years after the 2000 race in which Gore felt Clinton, running for the Senate in New York, took resources from him. Then on election night, there was euphoria in New York while there was gloom and doom in Nashville. Before that, Clinton was a very involved first lady and the vice preisdent’s Reinventing Government initiative had to take a back seat to her health-care proposal, and we know how that turned out.
Adding to the drama, Gore kept President Clinton on the sidelines in the 2000 campaign because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which added to the bad feelings. Still, there is a lot of overlap between the two camps, with many of the same people deeply invested in Gore’s climate advocacy and in Clinton’s election. “The red hot center of politics is not something he gravitates to these days,” says the source familiar with Gore’s thinking, but he, more than anyone, knows what’s at stake.
The Clintons may not have been that eager to reach out to Gore, and the feeling is mutual, but with the earth in the balance (the title of Gore’s book, for which he was roundly mocked, and then vindicated), he will do whatever he’s asked.
“I don’t know how it’s going to manifest itself yet,” says the source. “But they’d like to enlist him, and that’s what he’ll do.”