Who's Jill Stein? The answer is: Clinton's new problem

Googlers are asking about the Green Party leader after Bernie Sanders steps aside

WASHINGTON — Interest in the U.S. Green party enjoyed a sudden, noticeable spike around 11:16 a.m. Tuesday. Google searches for its presumptive presidential nominee Jill Stein started skyrocketing — and increased tenfold during the day.

The surge in searches coincided with news that progressive hero Bernie Sanders was ending his presidential run, and urging his army of so-called Sanderistas to march behind the Democratic nominee: “Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president,” he said, “and I am proud to stand with her today.”

But Clinton’s next challenge became evident even in her moment of triumph. As she shared a stage with Sanders in New Hampshire, people started searching for details on a lesser-known alternative.

Stein set out to milk the moment.

The physician and 2012 presidential also-ran invited dejected progressives to join her cause by tweeting running commentary on the Sanders-Clinton appearance, then conducting a question-and-answer session on Facebook.

“Despite Hillary’s penchant for flip-flopping rhetoric, she’s spent decades serving the causes of the Wall Street, war, & Walmart economy,” Stein tweeted.

“I am currently trending on both Twitter and Facebook. Why? Because Americans want more than warmongers and fools.”

Stein’s platform calls for a 50-per-cent cut in military spending; a moratorium on genetically modified food, fracking, pipelines, and mining in the Arctic; the cancellation of the North American Free Trade Agreement; a major federally funded green-jobs program; and not only pardoning Edward Snowden but welcoming the espionage leaker home as a hero.

Her leftist party isn’t the only one involved in the scramble for Sanders supporters.

Searches for the Libertarian Gary Johnson increased fourfold on Tuesday. And then there was the man Stein apparently referred to as a fool, urging disappointed progressives to back him against the woman she’d called a warmonger.

Donald Trump filled reporters’ inboxes with statements with headlines like, “Selling Out: Bernie Endorses Wall Street,” and “Bernie Is Now Officially Part Of A Rigged System,” and he invited the spurned to turn to him.

Polling data offers mixed news for Clinton.

She might choose to see the glass as two-thirds full. Every major survey concludes she has the support of a clear majority of Sanders supporters. Different polls show her getting anywhere from 63 to 85 per cent of them, depending on whether those surveys include third-party options.

Or she might see that glass as worryingly empty near the top. A layer of hardcore Sanders supporters remain determined to pour their votes into another electoral vessel. This could matter in tight races in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Remember Ralph Nader.

He was the Green party nominee four elections ago. People on the left are still debating whether his 2.8 million votes in 2000 cost Democrats the states of Florida and New Hampshire; gave George W. Bush the White House; and produced an era of environmental disengagement and a disastrous war in Iraq.

Nader surfaced Tuesday to comment on this campaign. He encouraged people once again to vote their conscience instead of the least-worst candidate — in other words, Clinton. He blasted her as a “corporatist” and a “militarist.”

That sentiment rippled within progressive ranks.

When Sanders posted a note on his Facebook page urging people to support Clinton, he was met with virtual shouts. The most-liked statements in response, by far, bemoaned his decision to back the establishment rival.

Some even turned on Sanders.

Patrick Hall wrote: “You have to be the biggest sellout ever. She is literally everything you’ve been complaining about and your going to forget all of that in the name of partisan politics.” Another spurned supporter, Nicholas Alexander, wrote: “If you think the political revolution includes the Clintons then you misunderstand this revolution Mr. Sanders.”

Others praised him, with a significant caveat.

Jonathan Horton wrote: “I appreciate what you’re trying to do to make sure the lesser evil wins, Bernie, but I can’t do it. I can’t vote evil any more. I’m going Jill Stein and I hope she surprises everyone.” More than 12,000 people had liked that comment within a few hours.

Some declared their readiness to damn the electoral torpedoes.

“I’m not voting for Hillary,” Josh Boyd wrote.

“If Donald Trump becomes president in the process, so be it.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.