First off, I've heard people claim that the Naderites of 2000 simultaneously held two contradictory views:
- The candidates of the two major parties are too similar to each other to warrant supporting one over the other, and
- A GWB presidency would be such a disaster that it would wake up and energize the populace to take to the streets and demand major changes.
This is not an accurate characterization. These two views were not widely held simultaneously. The first view was what was argued during the 2000 election and the second was a hope that started to develop about midway through GWB's first term.
Position #1 was specifically argued in the campaign literature that helped convince me. I recall sharing one article that talked about environmental protection legislation that passed under Nixon (or something like that), along with a bunch of other examples of positive/progressive legislation that had passed during recent Republican administrations, plus examples of bad stuff that during Democratic ones. It was quite the opposite of arguing that "A GWB presidency will destroy the country and bring on 'the revolution' sooner" -- it was more like "It's not going to make any difference, so let's vote for a new system."
And it made sense to me. They're politicians after all -- they have to compromise and reach across the aisle if they want to get anything done. So using my vote to protest the two-party stranglehold on the national debate didn't seem like an especially dangerous thing to do. (Particularly since -- as I said in the above-linked essays -- I sincerely didn't think GWB had any shot at winning.)
The idea that Congress would explicitly, intentionally try to hamstring the president instead of trying to run the country is largely a new strategy for pandering to a constituency that hates Obama so profoundly that they'd rather see the country harm itself than see Obama succeed.
Once I saw how bad it was possible for a GWB to be, that's when I started hoping that people would get energized and motivated (as explained in my earlier essays). And to my horror, it didn't happen.
That's the most important lesson I learned from my experience voting for Nader. I think I was enough of an optimist to believe that once we hit rock-bottom, we'd start to pick ourselves back up. And sadly I learned that there is no rock bottom. No matter how incomprehensibly broken the US political system seems at any given point it can get worse.
GWB helped shape the new normal. When I was kid, torture was a war crime, period. Thanks to Bush/Cheney, whether/how to torture is just another campaign plank to be debated. Now we have Trump stating on television that he advocates deterring terrorists by killing their innocent family members, and it's not even considered his worst gaffe.
GWB dramatically expanded the electorate's tolerance for criminality and incompetence from the president. A huge portion of the electorate now thinks the president's job is just to be "the decider" -- picking among choices presented to him by his staff -- instead of having a thorough understanding of policies, issues, history, etc.
I'm not going to say that a protest vote is never appropriate. I abstained from voting in the previous presidential election because of Obama's human rights' record (specifically sending drones to assassinate people without any transparency or judicial oversight). But this is not the election for a protest vote. This isn't a choice between two basically-the-same bad choices. This is a choice between the status quo and suicide. The status quo is bad, but suicide is infinitely worse.
The fact that Trump is even considered a viable candidate is itself an illustration of the consequences of standing by and allowing a disaster presidency to happen.