By Reed Galen
Earlier this week in Manchester, New Hampshire, No Labels, a self-proclaimed ‘centrist’ organization, launched its 2024 presidential campaign. In an event featuring West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, they extolled the virtue of working across the aisle and comity in politics. They looked an awful lot like the bipartisan ticket No Labels is threatening to place on the presidential ballot in all 50 states as an ‘insurance policy’ against a Biden/Trump rematch.
As part of the launch, No Labels released its policy prescriptions for the American people. With a massive, opaque polling operation overseen by Mark Penn (husband of No Labels CEO Nancy Jacobson), it's not surprising that the father of political triangulation cooked up 50+ pages worth of things Americans love.
It is easy to poll thousands of Americans with anodyne suggestions (Why yes, I do believe in better public education AND expanded charter schools!) It is harder to come up with a policy program that millions of Americans want someone to implement. For example, buried within their plan, No Labels calls for capping medical malpractice damages. This issue has been a conservative bugaboo for decades. ‘MedMal’, as it is called within policy circles, is not an issue that serves Ma and Pa America.
Huntsman and Manchin attempted to show the camaraderie and excitement only two old, white, career politicians could muster up. But as their discussion turned to dissension when, as the New York Times notes, actual issues came up. On the environment, gun violence, and the economy, Manchin sounded far more like a Republican than his counterpart. The West Virginian wouldn’t budge on global warming mitigation or background checks.
When the discussion turned to the idea of No Labels running a third-party candidate next year, both men howled that they had not been approached nor made a decision about whether they’d put themselves up for consideration. There was no talk about whether the group should proceed with this quixotic effort, only that Americans deserved more ‘choices.’
Here again, No Labels’ lack of details exposes its devils. You can make an argument that both the Republican and Democratic parties are out of touch with the average American. But through the parties’ nominating process, tens of millions of Americans can decide for whom to vote in a caucus or primary. Most registered voters sit primaries out, but they do have choices. Both the Green and Libertarian parties enjoy broad ballot access across the 50 states.
How will No Labels nominate its candidate? This is a harder question for which they either have no answer or a bad one. If a group is spending upwards of $70 million of dark money, one would hope they’d done their homework on how to effectively, broadly, fairly, and legally nominate a candidate.
Sidenote: In 2007, Mark Penn, when working for Hillary Clinton, had no idea how the delegate system worked in the Democratic primary. Barack Obama’s campaign did, and he was elected president. Penn was (once again) ex-communicated from Clintonland.
Details aren’t his strong suit.
So will No Labels develop, announce, and deploy a nominating process that the millions of disaffected Americans they claim to represent can participate in? No Labels Co-Chair, former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (who shares a chief strategist with Donald Trump) says the group will have a ‘search committee’ and a ‘nominating committee’ that will then send a ticket to their national convention, slated for June 2024 in Dallas, Texas. The GOP and the Democrats, steeped in this for decades, know how their systems work. No Labels is doing this on the fly.
Does this ‘insurance policy’ plan to choose these delegates in darkness? For an organization steeped in Beltway elites, past-their-prime career politicians, and shady billionaire funders, it’s hard to imagine they’d let the great unwashed masses play with their toy. Instead, 20 or 30 elites will choose another elite to run for president.
Okay, let’s imagine they’ve figured out a free and fair way to nominate two unicorns for President and Vice President of the United States. How will this bi-partisan powerhouse win 270 electoral votes? More details! More devils! Having participated in two abortive third-party runs I can tell you that they don’t know. Their own polling and draft electoral maps illustrate their arrogance and ignorance.
Their polling says that an unnamed candidate can defeat both President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. For argument’s sake, let’s say they need 35% of the vote. Their own polling shows their candidate starting in the mid-20s. A survey conducted by Greg Schneider shows an independent starting, at best, at 25%. Here’s the problem: They still have to run the campaign! Anyone who tells you this figure is the ‘floor’ of support is either lying or has a bridge to sell.
Where will the No Labels candidate win? If you believe their maps, Joe Manchin, or someone like him, will win in places such as Oregon, Missouri, Texas, Florida, and Delaware. Yes, Delaware, the President’s home state. While No Labels has only achieved ballot access in a few states (including Arizona and Nevada), they’re also pushing hard into Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Why would they choose these states, do we think?
Why doesn’t No Labels want to discuss these ugly details? Because they know, as many groups and political experts are now saying, their effort will result in zero electoral votes and see enough support shaved off Biden to send Trump back to the White House. Though they claim that any notion of shadow-support of Trump is ridiculous, the more No Labels talks, the more they make the case against themselves.
No Labels is a rotten onion. As layers are peeled back, the worse the smell becomes. The questions posed above are not academic. They are a complicated political and social calculus that the group has not done. And that they haven’t done their homework is no accident. Mark Penn and Nancy Jacobson know their candidate - whomever that candidate is - can’t win. They never expected them to. Like their shadowy donors, they’ve decided they want anyone but Biden. If that means Trump back in power and the end of democracy, so be it.