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Shades of Ralph Nader: Will Bernie Sanders split the Democratic ticket?

Some of Bernie Sanders' supporters vow not to vote for Hillary Clinton even if she becomes the Democratic nominee. Does this make Mr. Sanders equivalent to a ticket-splitting, third party candidate?

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    Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont smiles while addressing supporters during a campaign rally in Hartford, Conn., Monday, April 25, 2016.
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The majority of ticket-splitting conversations during the 2016 presidential campaign have involved the Republican party, as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich fight for the #NeverTrump vote. But as all candidates enter the final two months of primaries, a similar controversy – dubbed #BernieorBust on social media – has supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont vowing to stay at home in November if Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee.

Twenty-five percent of Sanders supporters say they would not back Mrs. Clinton in a general election if she were elected the Democratic presidential nominee, according to a McClatchy-Marist poll published in early April. Comparatively, only 14 percent of Clinton supporters would exercise the same rebellion if Senator Sanders were elected the nominee.

"Hillary is everything we stand against. How could I vote for her?" Steven Grumbine, a #BernieorBust supporter from Harrisburg, Penn., tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. Mr. Grumbine is also the founder of the Facebook page "Real Progressives," with almost 16,000 supporters.

"A lot of people like me, registered Democrats, are saying 'I want my voice to matter. I want to partake in this process where I don't feel like I'm being sold out to the highest bidder,' " he says. 

Actress Susan Sarandon, an outspoken Sanders supporter, told MSNBC last month that she would consider voting for Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate before voting for Clinton.

Other Democratic voters point to the 2000 election, when independent candidate Ralph Nader took election-winning votes away from Democratic candidate Al Gore, as a cautionary example of what could happen if the #BernieorBust movement grows – and many, fearing the consequences of a winning Republican ticket, condemn Clinton boycotts as irresponsible. 

"Be absolutely clear: While there are meaningful differences between Clinton and Sanders, either would be a far better choice for president than any of the remaining Republican contenders, especially the demagogic real estate developer," The New York Times' Charles Blow wrote last month. "Assisting or allowing his ascendance by electoral abstinence in order to force a 'revolution' is heretical. This position is dangerous, shortsighted and self-immolating."

Stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt echoed that criticism last week, telling The Huffington Post that he will vote for either Democratic nominee against the remaining Republican candidates, whom he called "equally dangerous and backward-facing," and saying that any Democrat who prefers Mr. Trump to Clinton is a "child." 

But Grumbine says the Bernie or Bust movement doesn't make Sanders the Ralph Nader of 2016. 

"This is nothing like Nader," he says. "He ran as an independent, he ran as a spoiler. Bernie has said he won't run as an independent, but he says he can't control all these people who have been disenfranchised by the establishment." 

Even Mr. Nader himself applauds Sanders' anti-ticket-splitting intentions in a piece he penned for The Washington Post last month, saying that the decision to run as a Democrat is strategically necessary, and fitting. 

"Given another chance, I still wouldn't run as a Democrat; I continue to disagree with the party's platform and direction," Nader writes. "Sanders is different, though: However he's appeared on Vermont ballots in the past, he's really a progressive Democrat."

Citing his own experience as "one of the more successful third-party presidential candidates in recent US history," Nader spells out the difficulties of an independent run:

His [Sanders'] popular agenda would have been totally ignored by a horse-race-obsessed mass media, which would have latched on instead to a narrative in which Sanders was unfairly hurting Hillary Clinton's chances against whichever Republican wound up with the major-party nomination, as if any Democrat is automatically entitled to the votes of the progressives.

Sanders and his wife Jane have pushed against the anti-Clinton movement the best they can without discouraging their loyal voter base. This fall, Sanders told ABC's "This Week" that Clinton would be "an infinitely better candidate" for president than "the Republican candidate on his best day." 

"Bernie has said he's going to support the nominee, and I'm sure he'll do everything to make sure that the next president is a Democrat," the Sanders' campaign senior advisor Tad Devine tells The Washington Post, with the caveat that the campaign still believes their candidate will be the nominee. "Bernie understands that having someone like Trump or Cruz become president of the United States would be destructive to the future of this nation. There's no way that he's going to be in any way associated with anything that allows that to occur."

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