COMMENTARY: Can 2018 Greens avoid performing as Liberals for Trump?


We have just learned an early lesson that may prove pivotal in November’s national elections: It is the mind-boggling possibility that Green Party activists can unintentionally end up playing the role of Liberals for Trump.

(READERS: Do not adjust your screens or dead trees. I will explain.)

In Ohio, Tuesday night, we witnessed the potential clout this liberal group may have in voters’ decisions about whether control of the U.S. House of Representatives will be shifted to Democrats or remain in the hands of President Donald Trump’s Republican rubber-stampers.

In an oddly timed special election to fill a vacant House seat outside Columbus that has been held by Republican for three decades, the Green Party’s candidate received just enough votes that he ended up performing the role of a defacto candidate who might as well be flying the banner of Liberals for Trump. For even as the congressional contest was too-close-to-call, we could see that his candidacy helped Team Trump’s effort to keep the congressional seat occupied by the party of the president whose policies they despise.

Here’s the paint-by-the-numbers big picture: Of the votes cast Tuesday in the 12th congressional district, Green Party candidate Joe Manchik got 1,127 votes. That’s not much, but Trump-Republican Troy Balderson was leading progressive Democrat Danny O’Connor by a mere 1,754 votes — too-close-to-call. Then an audit found an error in suburban Columbus precincts and it got too-closer-to-call (the Republican’s lead shrunk by 190 votes). And the results of provisional and early absentee votes are still to come.

But we all can clearly see the GOP’s decline under Trump. In 2016, Republican Pat Tiberi was re-elected in that district by winning two-thirds of the votes. (Then the 17-year veteran quit in frustration last January.)

Perhaps, as you are reading this, you are thinking it’s full of wrong-think. Maybe you even believe the Green Party and the Donald do have common environmental interests. Well, maybe they have one thing in common: Both like parks.

The Green Party likes to champion the unspoiled, unplundered environmental purity of our national parks so we can enjoy them for hiking, camping, photographing, and just savoring their beauty. The Donald likes to enjoy parks he can gaze fondly at by looking at them through the unsplattered picture windows of his unspoiled gold-trimmed, pink-marbled urban tower penthouse. (Even while he’s approving plans to drill, mine or develop those parklands that he’s never otherwise enjoyed. Also while he’s denying the climate change around us, scrapping environmental laws and regs, unthinking about the fact that his decisions might hasten a future in which Florida’s newest offshore underwater reef-park might be a formerly dry-land place called Mar-a-Lago.)

Now consider Tuesday’s real bottom-line lesson: What if the Green Party hadn’t run a candidate in that contest and instead campaigned vigorously for Democrat O’Connor? The numbers are easily crunched: Give the Green Party’s 1,127 votes to the Democrat and the Republican’s lead shrinks to 627. Now ask: Were there at least that many pro-environment potential voters who had grown frustrated in their forever-GOP district and just didn’t vote? Could a major Green Party effort have convinced them to finally turn out and vote?

We don’t know for sure. But we do know the Greens took the easy way — settled for running a candidate and twirling just a bit at the edges of the spotlight, and not even trying to effect real change.

We’ve been down this campaign trail before. We remember 2000 — the election that could never give us President Ralph Nader. But when Nader ran as a Green, he only helped give us President George W. Bush, Florida’s dangling chads and America’s dangling future. Also the misbegotten Iraq War and a whole set of environmental look-the-other-ways that were contrary to everything that was championed by our two evergreens, independent Nader and Democrat Al Gore.

2018 is yet another election year when the Green Party’s truest believers must ask: Have we again descended to our Nader? Should our most noble calling really be another third party tilt at campaign windmills? Do we have the guts to forsake that ego trip — and never again become de facto Liberals for Trump?

Can the Green Party lead most effectively this year by mounting a crusade that really puts safeguarding our environment first? Even if it means working with Democrats to put the Party of Trump into a sadly needed time out?

The biggest lesson we learned this week is that the Greens finally have their chance to Make Environment Great Again.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at [email protected]