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The Dangerous Unintended Consequences Of No Labels’ Folly

"The great populist independent candidate of 1992, Ross Perot, does indeed have something in common with the great masses of America. Like you and I, Ross Perot never won a single electoral college vote," writes Stuart Stevens.
Credit: White House photo
Published:July 13, 2023

By Stuart Stevens

A group of Americans is so worried about the prospects of a woman of color moving from Vice President to POTUS that it necessitates a national emergency such that only a third-party candidate can save the country.

Who are we talking about? The Proud Boys? Or No Labels?

Beneath the urgent call for a third-party candidate is a racist assumption that is deeply troubling. Much of the rationale for a third-party candidate hangs on the argument that Joe Biden is unelectable - despite winning in polls, but you can’t get hung up on the details – and Kamala Harris as his VP is a key element in that unelectabilty argument. It goes like this: Joe Biden is old – true – and voters will reject him largely because he could die in office and VP Harris would become president.

As I type this, I hear the No Labels crowd screaming, “We’re not racists.” And I agree. I don’t know anyone associated with No Labels whom I would remotely consider racist. Which is probably a large contributing factor to their inability to perceive the toxic impact of their embracing the premise that Kamala Harris is a threat to President Biden’s re-election.

Like much of the No Label’s tortured logic of the necessity of a third party, there is zero evidence to support its claims. There is no reason to believe that Harris or any VP candidate is going to impact an incumbent president’s re-election. It’s never happened, and some Vice Presidents were considered huge political liabilities to winning presidential tickets. There’s obviously Dan Quayle, but let’s talk about Harry Truman.

When FDR was running for his fourth term, unlike Joe Biden, he had clear and obvious health issues which the White House and the Roosevelt family went to great lengths to downplay. As David Welky, who is writing a book on the Roosevelt family, described in the Washington Post, “According to his son Jimmy, on July 20, the same day he accepted the Democratic nomination via radio hookup from San Diego, America’s longest-serving president turned white, complained of agonizing pains and lay on the floor for 10 minutes before composing himself. He dismissed the incident as ‘collywobbles.’” The Republicans had nominated Thomas Dewey, who at 42 was younger than any Republican currently running for the 2024 nomination.

Welky details how Roosevelt suffered an angina attack six weeks later while addressing “10,000 sailors and shipyard workers at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Early in his speech, he felt a burning sensation radiating throughout his chest. His forehead beaded with sweat. Waves of nausea flowed through him. He suffered for 15 excruciating minutes, still speaking, before his chest relaxed.”

Joe Biden tripped on a sandbag some idiot left on the stage at the US Airforce graduation ceremony.

Like Joe Biden, FDR was under pressure to replace his VP Henry Wallace who was seen as too liberal. Walter Lippman, the nation’s most influential political columnist to a degree unimaginable in today’s crowded mediascape, wrote that the next VP was “not unlikely to be president.” Wallace was dumped, and FDR picked a candidate with a whopping 2% national support in Gallup polling: Harry Truman. Did Truman help FDR win the 1944 election? It was Roosevelt’s closest election, and it’s impossible to point to a single state FDR would not have carried with Henry Wallace.

When FDR died after 82 days in office, the 2% Truman became president and went on to win an election few believed was possible. We’ve been living with the “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline since what was, at the time, the greatest upset in presidential elections. He left office four years later wildly unpopular and paved the way for eight years of Eisenhower. But he won.

Compared to Harry Truman, who was elected to a county judgeship before the Senate, Kamala Harris is an electoral juggernaut. She defeated an incumbent San Francisco DA in a very tough campaign. She was seen as such a strong incumbent no one ran against her four years later. In 2010, she ran for Attorney General against Steve Cooley, the LA District Attorney who was the strongest Republican candidate not named Schwarzenegger since Pete Wilson was elected to the Senate. The race was so close it took three weeks to declare a winner, but Harris then became the first woman, the first African American, and the first person of South Asian descent elected California Attorney General.

In 2016, she was elected US Senator from California. Then Vice President of the United States. Add it all up, and more Americans have voted for Harris than any woman in US history.

Remember when the last incumbent Vice President ran for president? That was George H.W. Bush, who was such a dominating candidate he came in third in the 1988 Iowa caucus to Senator Bob Dole and televangelist Pat Robertson. Yes, third to Pat Robertson. That must have been a fun plane ride from Iowa to New Hampshire on Air Force 2.

So why does No Labels think Harris is so unelectable that she will doom Joe Biden? There are three big moments in a VP candidate’s campaign: the introduction once picked, the convention speech, and the VP debate. Harris passed each of those three tests without the customary stumbles of VP candidates. As VP, she has served without scandal, and for all the efforts to blow up a news cycle’s worth of awkwardness into some cosmic flop, she’s had a relatively smooth if uneventful VP tenure. Which is about all any VP can hope for.

So, let’s ask again, why is it that No Labels thinks Harris is so unelectable she will doom Joe Biden? Can we just be honest? It’s because she is a woman and a woman of color. That’s not to say that every member of No Labels wouldn’t welcome a woman of color as president. (This probably isn’t the case, but let’s give them that.) But do they not realize how extraordinarily damaging it is to take the position that a woman of color can’t be elected president?

The mantra of “No Labels” is that 2024 is “unique,” and all past political equations do not apply. This is how they counter the political reality that no independent presidential candidate has won a single electoral college vote since George Wallace. The great populist independent candidate of 1992, Ross Perot, does indeed have something in common with the great masses of America. Like you and I, Ross Perot never won a single electoral college vote. 
Electing an independent candidate is a wishful fantasy akin to my asserting that the next NFL draft will be unique and I’ll go in the first round. But if they believe 2024 is the ultimate rule-breaker election, they can’t allow for the possibility that a woman of color might be a plus for Joe Biden’s re-election? What kind of message is No Labels sending to every young woman in America who isn’t as white as the leadership of No Labels that the first non-white female VP is so damaging to President Biden that America can only be saved by…Joe Manchin? 

Many smart, well-meaning people are involved in No Labels and should wake up to the damage they are doing to the American social fabric. Let the hateful alt-right carry the message that women of color can’t win in America. Stop what you are doing and focus on helping make history by contributing to the re-election of Kamala Harris.

At the end of the day, this is a legacy question for every person who is part of No Labels. If No Labels runs an independent candidate, the odds are overwhelming that it will help defeat Joe Biden. That will be the end of any chance No Labels has of playing a positive role in American politics and will be the organization's legacy. Is that what No Labels supporters want? To end up on the same side as The Proud Boys?

No Labels is right about one thing: 2024 is a unique election. For the first time since 1860, a major American party is running against an incumbent president they believe is illegitimate. Democracy itself is on the ballot. This is not the time to indulge in Fantasy Football politics. No Labels should be part of saving democracy, not destroying the American Experiment. That means working for Biden-Harris not because they are perfect but because they are decent Americans who believe in democracy and are in the American tradition. Don’t blame Kamala Harris. Embrace her for the positive change she represents for this country we love. No Labels can help her make history, rather than going down in history as the group that re-elected Donald Trump.