BOULDER, Colo. — At Jill Stein’s presidential rallies, the 2016 election is over. Donald Trump has already lost, and his Republican Party is “falling apart.” A “Demo-Republican” party, led by Hillary Clinton, is rolling toward victory.
It’s safe, in other words, to vote for the Green Party and to ignore those “corporate media” voices yammering about “spoilers” and “wasted votes” and — perish the thought — Ralph Nader.
“Most Donald Trump supporters, in fact, don’t support Donald Trump,” Stein said at a rally in Fort Collins on Saturday night, the second stop on a four-city weekend tour of Colorado. “They just really, really don’t like Hillary Clinton. So, let’s give them another place to put their vote.”
Stein, who is making her second Green Party presidential bid, has yet to rise out of single digits in the polls. But Trump’s recent swoon has given her an opening — a way to argue, temporarily, that a progressive voter can bolt the Democratic Party without electing Trump as president.
It was one reason she came to Colorado, a swing state that Democrats have recently nudged into the “safe” column. The pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA slashed an ad buy this month, and a divided Republican Party nominated a far-right, poorly funded candidate to challenge Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D).
In some states, the crisis in the GOP is giving Democrats hope of historic routs. Stein sees something else emerging — a chance for progressive voters, including the former supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), to empower the Greens. In a few new national polls, Clinton has lost a few points, not to Trump, but to Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. That could damage the Democrats in future elections, as a Stein performance of just 5 percent could get the Greens automatic ballot access in most of the country.
And that would be just fine with Stein. “The vehicle the Green Party built, over years, is being filled by the Berners,” Stein said in an interview in Denver. “The Green movement, like the Sanders movement, is really self-directed. We’re going to be exploding in Colorado no matter what our own campaign’s plans might be, because the movement here is so powerful.”
Stein’s Colorado swing had the feel of a singer-songwriter’s first coffeehouse tour after being signed by Starbucks. In Colorado Springs, voters filled the pews of a progressive church that seated 200. In Fort Collins, a patio bar temporarily held off fans at the door. Denver’s Mercury Cafe was packed to the limits of the fire code. In her 2012 presidential bid, Stein won just 7,508 votes in Colorado. Her weekend swing brought out at least 1,100 voters.
At each stop, she was greeted by a mix of die-hard Greens, ex-Sanders delegates who had participated in a so-called #DemExit, and progressives who were still unsure about the wisdom of switching.
“I’m very torn,” said Melissa Justiano, 28, who had never been to a political event before marching with Stein at a Saturday morning event in Colorado Springs. “If I vote for Jill, and Trump wins, to some extent I’d feel responsible.”
For other voters, Trump’s struggles have been liberating. Damien Gonzales, 22, who saw Stein speak in Denver, said he would back whichever third-party presidential candidate stood the greatest chance of winning 5 percent in polls, a gateway to public funding and immediate ballot access.
“As far as I’m concerned, Hillary is already president,” said Gonzales. “He’s going to continue to fall.”
Many potential Stein voters do not believe that 2016 is a choice between identical major parties. At every stop in Colorado, Stein was introduced by Arn Menconi, a swaggering former Democratic commissioner in liberal Eagle County, who joined the Greens only after deciding it would be impossible to challenge Bennet in the Democratic primary.
In a conversation at the Boulder stop, Menconi admitted that he was surprised to see how successful Sanders supporters were in changing their party. “In retrospect, given how well Bernie did, Bennet might not have gotten out of the state convention,” he said.
And at Stein’s events, #DemExit signs were less common than gear for progressive candidates who were running as Democrats. Some Colorado Springs activists brought information about Misty Plowright, a Democrat running in the state’s most Republican district, and Electra Johnson, a Bernie-backing candidate for the county commission.
Stein herself, while rejecting any suggestion that a Clinton presidency would be less dangerous than a Trump one, has made allowances for other Democrats. At a news conference last week, she suggested that in most cases, voters who liked her agenda but did not have a Green choice down the ballot should vote for the Democrat. In Denver, she came close to suggesting that progressives were better off when Democrats won elections.
“Under Barack Obama, we lost both houses of Congress, because people don’t come out to vote for lesser-evil politicians,” she said. After being asked who “we” was, Stein clarified that she was talking about “the more progressive elements” in two-party politics. “It was lost — Congress was lost, statehouse after statehouse.”
But Stein rejected the notion that Clinton would act on the Democratic platform. In Colorado, she criticized the state’s Democratic governor for not supporting a ban on fracking and criticized Clinton for putting former Colorado senator and interior secretary Ken Salazar on her transition committee.
“He never found a frack site that he didn’t love,” Stein said at rallies in Fort Collins and Denver. “ ‘Fracking has never hurt anybody,’ right? So we can see the writing on the wall from flip-flop Hillary Clinton.”
Stein’s counteroffer to progressives is a combination of policies predicated on the notion that environmentalists have figured out how a healthy economy can work and need only win an election to prove it. Promising to take the nation entirely off gas, coal and nuclear power by 2030, Stein talks about commuters getting to work “with the power of their own muscles.” At every Colorado stop, she argued that communist Cuba had proved the power of organic farming and energy after the Soviet Union collapsed and cut off its easy access to oil.
“Overnight, they have to convert to an organic food system, get out the draft animals and get back to work,” Stein said. “They paid their farmers — organic farmers — very well. They’ve got this incredible healthy, local, organic fuel system, and they’re not breathing in the pollution. Their death rates from diabetes went down 50 percent, their death rates from strokes went down 30 percent, and how much did it cost them? Nothing!”
Stein did not pretend that this agenda, or this argument, could win over half the country. Instead, she argued that a three-way election could go her way, if progressives willed it. To some of them, that made more sense than an election won by Clinton.
“Hillary doesn’t have a chance in Colorado,” Jerimaya King, 58, said as she marched with Stein in Colorado Springs. “You say the polls say she’s winning? Well, okay, but I don’t know who those people are.”