In both 2000 and 2016, the Green Party garnered enough votes in enough swing states that, had those votes gone to the Democrats they would have prevented George W. Bush and Donald Trump from ever assuming the presidency. At the time, Green Party advocates defended their positions by claiming, not without cause, that their voters never would have gone to Democrats anyway, and that the Democrats’ inability to win states like Florida in 2000 or Wisconsin in 2016 was, at the end of the day, their own fault.
But now, as the 2020 election races on, the Green Party is facing an unprecedented question: What happens if an avowed socialist takes the Democratic nomination, and goes up against in Trump in November? If Sen. Bernie Sanders, still vying for the Democratic nomination, can bounce back to grab the nomination, should the Green Party risk a reprise of 2000 and 2016 all over again?
Those backing the Green Party haven’t yet come up with an answer. Instead, the dilemma has led to unprecedented fissures among the Green Party’s most prominent backers, and within the leadership of American leftism writ large.
The current frontrunner for the ticket, Green Party co-founder Howie Hawkins, remains adamant that he’ll run in as many states as he can in November—a position that puts him squarely at odds with some of the luminaries of American leftism, such as Noam Chomsky.
Two months ago, Chomsky and a raft of other prominent leftist voices penned an open letter criticizing 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein for not doing enough to paint Trump as a unique danger to the U.S., and for siphoning off votes from potential Hillary Clinton supporters in key states in 2016. “We are told, ‘Greens want to get Trump out as much as anybody’ but how can that be if Greens would vote for a Green candidate, and not for Sanders, [Elizabeth] Warren, or any Democrat in a contested state knowing that doing so could mean Trump’s victory?”, the signatories wrote.
As such, Chomsky and the others explicitly called for the Green Party to remove itself from potential swing states in the 2020 election, which could potentially tilt their Electoral College votes to Trump yet again. “Like Stein in 2016, some might claim doing so can’t help Trump win again or, in any case, that Trump’s re-election would not matter all that much. ‘He isn’t that much worse,’” the signatories wrote. “We write in hopes that no one in 2020 will rationalize campaign actions by making such irresponsible and patently false claims.”
Chomsky’s call, though, has fallen on deaf ears, at least when it came to the Green Party’s leading candidate. “The two-capitalist-party system’s stranglehold on U.S. politics has not changed,” Hawkins responded in an open letter of his own a few weeks ago. “Recognizing the danger of Trump does not mean that electing any damned Democrat should trump all other considerations.” Even if Sanders is the nominee, Hawkins continued, that will hardly mean the Democratic establishment will wither on the vine. “The Democrats might beat Trump, but they won’t beat Trumpism because they have enabled it,” Hawkins continued. “Progressive Democrats are allowed to make speeches. But the corporate Democrats make the decisions.”
Hawkins has been sure to publicly praise Sanders’ positions on things like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. But he’s not dropping out, or competing only in states that are solidly blue, like California or Hawaii.
Instead, he intends to compete in as many states as possible. “No to safe states,” Hawkins told The Daily Beast. “My campaign's goal is to get on the ballot and compete in all 50 states and DC.”
And Hawkins is getting help in splitting these Green Party divisions even wider. A few days after Hawkins issued his public rebuff to Chomsky and the others, he appeared on the Russian propaganda outlet RT — marking the first time any candidate in any party had appeared on the Russian propaganda organ, four years after RT, according to the U.S. intelligence community, played an outsized role in amplifying Russia’s election interference efforts.
In an appearance in January on RT’s “CrossTalk,” Hawkins talked everything from socialism to identity politics. (Hawkins also plugged the RT appearance on his own presidential campaign site, criticizing the Democratic National Committee for “pack[ing] nobody but corporate Democrats into credentials, rules, and platform committees of the Democratic presidential nomination convention” in his post.) During his appearance, Hawkins said that Sanders wasn’t a real socialist, and is—“a little slow” when it comes to enacting the kinds of policies Hawkins would want. Hawkins told The Daily Beast that he intends to continue appearing on RT through the campaign (“depending on the show and format,” he added).
The move is all the more remarkable considering that four years ago one of the most successful U.S. election interference prongs from Russia centered on cultivating and promoting Stein’s candidacy. Stein not only appeared on RT time and again before the 2016 election, but she memorably popped up in Moscow at a lavish 2015 gala honoring RT, sitting alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and since-convicted Trump adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Stein’s appearance at the gala was condemned by European members of the Green Party, who described her as “delusional” for her appearance. Russian environmental activists also piled on the criticism, saying they were “deeply shocked” by Stein’s actions.
However, that did little to dissuade Stein from hewing close to Moscow’s line in the run-up to the 2016 vote, even going to so far as to select a vice presidential candidate who pushed pro-Kremlin conspiracies regarding the 2014 downing of a Malaysian passenger plane by Russia-sponsored separatists in Ukraine. (When asked whether the downing of Flight MH17 was a false flag attack designed to smear Russia, Ajamu Baraka, Stein’s VP pick, responded, “[T]hat’s exactly what has happened.”) Stein also praised RT for hosting the Green Party’s 2016 presidential debate, which she described as a “step towards real democracy.” Other 2016 Green Party candidates, however, boycotted the debate entirely. One, Bill Kreml, said he was disgusted by Stein’s appearance on the RT debate. “Hell no, I was not going to that… It was just the worst kind of representation of what the Green Party should be,” Kreml told Vice. “Jill was desperate—she was being ignored by the mainstream press to be fair, but you just don’t do things like that.”
Hawkins told The Daily Beast that he would skip any potential RT gala in Moscow; “RT would want me there to legitimize them, not to provide a forum to hear what I had to say on whatever panels they put me on or to Russians and others present in private,” he said. But if RT once again hosted the Green Party presidential debate, as we saw in 2016, Hawkins said he would likely appear. “It would probably be the most widely viewed debate of our nomination campaigns,” he said. “I would owe participation to my supporters who are contributing time and money to my campaign.” (There is no Green Party debate currently scheduled on RT.)
It’s unclear if any fake Russian social media accounts have begun stumping for Hawkins’ campaign, as we saw with Stein. (One of the hashtags Russian troll operators pushed was “#GrowaSpineVoteJillStein.”) However, U.S. officials recently told Sanders that Russia was attempting to back his campaign as part of their election interference efforts. There are scant details on what form these efforts have taken, although Kremlin-backed propagandists like Rania Khalek routinely push Sanders’ candidacy for followers.
A push to help Hawkins’ campaign would, then, fit with Russia’s prior playbook of backing multiple campaigns opposed to the so-called “Democratic establishment”—and, more broadly, sowing chaos for chaos’ sake, even among Green Party backers.
Whatever form these efforts take as 2020 continues on, Hawkins said he’s fully aware of the criticism he’s going to receive for things like running in all fifty states, or his appearance on RT. As he said on his appearance on the Russian propaganda outlet, “I expect to be called a Russian asset pretty soon.”