Ralph Nader: Trump will 'defeat himself' in 2020 'if he's goaded'
© Greg Nash

He’s been dubbed an election “spoiler” by countless critics, but Ralph Nader says there’s one person likely to spoil President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE’s 2020 reelection hopes: Trump.

“People say, ‘How are you going to defeat Trump?’ ” says Nader. “He’ll probably defeat himself, if he’s goaded.”

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A four-time White House hopeful as a Green Party and independent candidate, Nader predicts Trump will be a one-term president. But he says he’s mystified by the fact that the Republicans critical of Trump are, so far, largely shying away from mounting a 2020 run against him.

“It’s really quite frightening because we know, other things being equal, that [former Ohio Gov. John] Kasich would like to run, we know that [Maryland Gov. Larry] Hogan would’ve liked to run, we know [former Arizona Sen. Jeff] Flake would’ve liked to run,” Nader says.

“These people are afraid,” he adds.

“They’re not just afraid of his nicknames and his verbal abuses — they’re afraid of incitement, right now where they are.”

That fear, according to Nader, leaves an opening for a “promising crop of people for the Democrats” looking to end Trump’s tenure. In addition to goading him — Nader suggests opponents create their own Trump-esque nicknames for the president, including “Draft-Dodging Donald,” “Dumb Donald” and “Dangerous Donald”— Democrats should start deploying get-out-the-vote efforts in 13 states, he says.

“The Democrats get out the vote only so far. They’re not very good at it. They still use very low-yield ways: phone banks, postcards. It really doesn’t work. There needs to be independent, citizen get-out-the-vote drives,” says Nader.

At 85, Nader isn’t slowing down in getting out his message — even though the methods of reaching people have changed dramatically — and he still doesn’t use a cellphone or email. The longtime activist, who’s credited with spearheading some of the most significant consumer protection laws of the 20th century, including the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, the Clean Water Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act, is still chugging along at a breakneck pace even though he’s no longer front and center in the political arena.

He’s known to pen multiple books a year. His latest, “How the Rats Re-formed the Congress,” is a fable that he hopes will “make people laugh themselves seriously.” In the tale, a rat infestation inside lawmakers’ toilet bowls at the Capitol leads to a huge news story, and massive mockery from the public. As millions of people start paying attention to Congress thanks to the potty-invading rodents, citizen groups mobilize: “The rest of the book is how people can take control of their Congress, that they’ve delegated their sovereign authority to, and take it away from big business. And do it in ways that no one can stop them.”

“What I’m trying to convey,” Nader tells ITK at his office in downtown Washington, “is breaking through congressional power is easier than you think.”

Sporting a beige jacket during the extended chat, he skates from one topic to another, pulling out materials from a mountainous pile of books and documents to reinforce some of his points. 

Nader, who was denounced by many Democrats as a “spoiler” for supposedly drawing enough votes from then-Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreOcasio-Cortez blasts Electoral College as a 'scam' 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally Deregulated energy markets made Texas a clean energy giant MORE to allow George W. Bush to win the presidency in 2000, laughs when asked if he’d ever make another White House run.

“No,” he replies, before adding, “It’s very, very unlikely.”

The political system, he laments, is “rigged against third parties terribly.”

“I think I’ve done my duty after running four times,” Nader says.

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The famously private consumer advocate is known for being a workhorse. Asked if he ever felt he missed out on having a family, he responds, “I learned a long time ago that I didn’t want to be an absentee father, and you can’t do both.”

“I mean if you’re really going after [General Motors], ExxonMobil and Pfizer, you beat them on weekends, you beat them working nights. And you tell them that they’re not going to wear you down.”

R&R isn’t necessarily a part of Nader’s playbook. A sports fan who roots for the New York Yankees, the Connecticut native says his down time includes watching documentaries, reading satires by Voltaire and other writers who “don’t make people laugh today because they don’t have the right language,” and going to dinner with a tight circle of friends. He used to play chess, but now finds it boring.

“He’s one of the last altruistic people in the world, I think,” says Henriette Mantel. The actress and Emmy Award-winning writer has known Nader for more than 40 years; she worked with him in the 1970s at his nonprofit, the Center for Study of Responsive Law, and co-directed the 2006 documentary about him, “An Unreasonable Man.”

When asked if Nader’s mission is still relevant today, Mantel pauses before saying, “I don’t even know what’s relevant anymore.”

“In his day he was the guy, back in the ’60s. He was the guy who everybody thought, good God, he’s standing up to the corporations,” Mantel says. “Now everybody’s just a sellout. He’s just ... pure.”

Nader worries about the “young generation” in what he calls today’s “crisis of democracy.”

“If a dictator wanted to finish off a democracy, the dictator would have to do two things: We’re going to give you so much information you’re not going to be able to spend a minute without imbibing it,” he says. “The other way to do it is to give people too many choices, massive choices, and so you just have cognitive dissonance.”

He says he hopes his legacy will be civic action and showing “how few people it takes to make a change.”

After more than half a century, what still drives Nader?

“It’s the same old work: justice. The great work of humans on Earth, without which there’d be no freedom or liberty,” he says.

“Besides,” asks Nader, “what’s the alternative? To go to Malibu and watch the remaining whales leap up into the air?

“I have trouble answering that question because to me it’s so obvious. It’s never fun to raise the white flag — but you owe it to your posterity.”