Obama Protest Vote
President Barack Obama (Photo by Anthony Behar-Pool/Getty Images) | Donald Trump (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

In an interview on Steve Harvey’s radio show, President Obama said that anyone who votes for a third party candidate or stays at home is casting their ballot for the Republican nominee.

“The stakes in this election are so high,” Obama said last week. “You know, you have some of Trump’s aides on record saying that their main agenda — they don’t really have much of an agenda, but to the extent they have one — is to basically eliminate the Obama presidency, to reverse everything that we have accomplished […] All the work we’ve done over the last eight years is on the ballot.”

With increased media scrutiny on Donald Trump’s record, including his financial dealings, his tax returns and foundation, his die-hard surrogates are coming to his defense. However, as Trump’s surrogates continue to blunder, flounder and fall over themselves, they are not doing the GOP nominee any good and are only exposing his flaws.

Trump’s most vocal surrogates came to his defense in the midst of controversy over his tax avoidance and reports that the candidate’s 1995 tax returns showed a nearly $1 billion loss that would have allowed him to avoid paying personal income taxes for up to 18 years. While Democrats used the revelation as evidence of Trump’s poor business acumen and schemes by some wealthy folks to avoid paying their fair share, the Trump camp pointed to this a a virtue.

Meanwhile, with the spotlight on Trump’s woes and his high unpopularity, some are considering whether a vote for the Green or Libertarian parties is a vote for Trump.

The president’s statements are a reminder of Ralph Nader’s independent presidential run in 2000, which some attribute to Al Gore’s loss over Bush. Still, one can point to other factors, including Al Gore himself — who lost his home state of Tennessee and arguably ran an uninspiring campaign — the electoral college, the sketchy and faulty vote tallying in Jeb Bush’s Florida, and the Supreme Court, who effectively selected Bush as the winner.

The notion of a spoiler in the presidential race resonates today in this year’s high-stakes election, but, of course, not everyone is sold on this:

Author and commentator Marc Lamont Hill endorsed the Green Party, saying he is turned off by the Democrats and would “rather Trump not be president, period, but we can’t keep investing in imperfect Democrats who don’t take us anywhere.”

Hill believes that the conversation shifts with third parties in the debates, and when we say third parties can’t win, we never invest in them to make them grow.

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Hill said that Hillary adopted a progressive message because of Bernie Sanders, but a third party is like a “constant Bernie” after Sanders leaves the stage, not only on economic issues but racial justice and mass incarceration.

“I would rather have Trump be president for four years and build a real left-wing movement that can get us what we deserve as a people, than to let Hillary be president and we stay locked in the same space where we don’t get what we want” he said.

Similarly, former Sanders surrogate Killer Mike weighed in on the election as well, believing Clinton and Trump are one and the same, and refusing to vote for either.

“We had one candidate this year who had a strong chance of winning who was anti-growing war and that was Sanders,” he said in August. “We didn’t vote him in, so we’re getting what we asked for. So we are getting what we asked for — we are getting more war. And if you don’t want any war, you’d be voting Jill Stein. If you want less government in war, you’d be voting Gary Johnson. But if you are voting for Trump or Hillary Clinton, you’re voting for the same thing.”

At the All Black National Convention in Atlanta this September, Killer Mike said, “I want to see more black people pulling their money to run their own candidates.”

Meanwhile, the latest composite of polls calculated by RealClearPolitics poll gives Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson 7.3 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein 2.3 percent. Barring some dramatic turn of events, unforeseen circumstances, or the implosion of one of the major candidates, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will win the election.

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On the one hand, it appears that Johnson in particular may be siphoning votes away from Clinton, as her thin, single-digit lead over Trump narrows further when he and Stein are added to the mix. New polls show Clinton losing millennials to the Libertarian nominee. However, Trump is likely to lose votes to Johnson as well.

In this election season, people are searching for alternatives. There is much dissatisfaction with politics, the political system, and in some cases with the Republican and Democratic candidates for president.

This includes progressive Democrats who are dissatisfied with Clinton and conservative Republicans who refuse to support Trump. While some supporters for third parties may amount to protest voters, it is also true that others genuinely vote Green or Libertarian because of their deep and genuine ideological affiliation with that particular party.

However, third parties such as the Greens have received warranted criticism for having no plan to build power and make electoral gains, coming around every four years but failing to build a movement on the ground and on the local level with candidates from dog catcher on up.

Meanwhile, the U.S. political system makes it a challenge for third parties to get out of the gate.

In America’s “past-the-post” system, citizens vote for individuals and not parties in Congress, and the person with a plurality of votes wins all. The losing party or parties win nothing and gain no seats. And independent party candidates face an uphill battle making it into the presidential debates.

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After all, the Commission of Presidential Debates, which is controlled by Democrats and Republicans, has decided that a third party candidate must reach a threshold of 15 percent in the polls to be included in the polls.

This creates a catch-22, a rigged system, according to Johnson: “There’s no way a third-party candidate can compete unless they’re on the debate stage, and you can’t get there unless you’re in the polls.”

Follow David A. Love on Twitter @davidalove