Will a 3rd-party 'No Labels' ticket help Trump beat Biden in 2024?

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Photo illustration of Sen. Susan Collins, former Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. Joe Manchin.
Sen. Susan Collins, former Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. Joe Manchin. (Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

What’s happening

The centrist group known as No Labels is barreling ahead with its controversial plan to field a third-party “unity” ticket in next year’s presidential election, revealing last week that it will start to search for potential bipartisan pairings — one Republican, one Democrat — as soon as next month.

“We’re going to form a nominating committee of representatives of our members around the country,” the group’s founding co-chair, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., told Fox News. “And my guess is that committee will begin to make lists of who we should consider if we decide to run a ticket.”

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and former GOP Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland were among the politicians that Lieberman touted as “naturals to consider” because of their “strong records of bipartisanship.”

The latest in a long line of quixotic efforts to sidestep America’s two-party system, No Labels launched in 2010 with the goal of supporting “centrist” policy solutions. Its slogan is “Not Left. Not Right. Forward.” On its website, the group claims to have been instrumental in “creating the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus” on Capitol Hill.

But now No Labels is setting its sights higher, amassing $70 million — from donors it has repeatedly refused to disclose — to purchase its own presidential ballot line in all 50 states.

“People in our country say they don’t want the choice of [Presidents] Trump and Biden again,” Lieberman said last Friday. “They want something else — and if the two parties don’t give it to them, No Labels might well do that.”

Why there’s debate

At first, No Labels framed its ambitious ballot-access campaign as “an insurance policy.”

“If one of the parties nominates a candidate acceptable to the center of the electorate, then the presidential operation will shut down,” New York Times columnist David Brooks reported last fall. “But if both parties go to the extremes, then there will be a unity ticket appealing to both Democrats and Republicans to combat this period of polarized dysfunction.”

Yet as Trump and Biden emerge as their parties’ respective frontrunners, No Labels only seems to be doubling down on its disruptive plot — leading Democrats in particular to question the group’s motives.

“No Labels casts Biden and Trump as equally extreme and frames their ticket as an antidote to a rematch,” the center-left think tank Third Way wrote in March. “But this is a smokescreen. Joe Biden has governed as a mainstream moderate, passing more bipartisan legislation than anyone dreamed possible.” In contrast, Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election culminated in a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, Democrats point out.

The fear on the left is that while a No Labels ticket would have no chance of winning next November, it would have a very real chance of siphoning votes from Biden — and propelling Trump back into the White House.

Making matters worse, critics say, is the fact that No Labels is exploiting a loophole in campaign finance law to avoid disclosing its donors, meaning that voters may never know who’s bankrolling its 2024 ballot effort. In the past, the group has raised most of its money in the form of individual six-figure sums from Fortune 500 and Wall Street executives — including Harlan Crow, the GOP megadonor who has recently come under scrutiny for lavishing conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with gifts and vacations.

In response, No Labels adviser Benjamin Chavis Jr. told the Washington Post that he “would not be involved if I thought in any account that we would do something to spoil the election in favor of Donald Trump. That’s just not going to happen.”

What’s next

In most states — 34, to be exact — No Labels can hold a spot on the 2024 ballot for a potential third-party ticket by collecting and submitting a certain number of signatures. The group has already cleared that bar in Arizona, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon, and they say they’re “on track” to add another 24 states “by year’s end” (including battlegrounds such as Florida, North Carolina and Nevada).

Elsewhere, it’s up to the candidates themselves — if any end up materializing — to secure their own ballot access.

At least two prominent politicians with ties to No Labels have already expressed interest in joining the group’s presidential ticket. The first is centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who has not said whether he plans to run for reelection in West Virginia next year (where he would face steep odds).

“If enough Americans believe there is an option, and the option is a threat to the extreme left and extreme right, it will be the greatest contribution to democracy, I believe,” Manchin told the Washington Post when asked about No Labels’ presidential aspirations. “I don’t rule myself in and I don’t rule myself out.”

The second is former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who recently took himself out of contention for the Republican presidential nod — but left the door open to a possible independent bid.

“The question keeps popping up more and more,” Hogan confessed this March.

No Labels has said it has until March 2024 to decide whether to field a ticket — and that it will announce its candidates no later than April 15, 2024, ahead of the group’s own convention in Dallas.


Our politics is broken. Why not try something new?
“No Labels has an atmospheric aspiration (civility, temperateness, bipartisanship) but cannot have an agenda until it has a candidate. Then, he or she could fill a policy lane as broad as today’s space between progressivism that politicizes kindergarten and much else, and ‘conservatism’ that politicizes beer (brawl-a-day Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “Why would you want to drink Bud Light?”) and much else. One or both of the major parties might, depending on their calculations of a third candidate’s appeal, accuse No Labels of being a spoiler. Let those parties try to explain how today’s politics could be spoiled.” — George Will, the Washington Post

We’ve tried this before. Third parties can’t win
“We had a great test of this theory in 2016. That election was between the two least popular major party nominees in the history of polling, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Plus, there was a credible alternative on the ballot — the ticket of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. If ever there were a reason to not vote for a major party and a way out of it, it was then. And it didn’t happen — Johnson/Weld pulled 3% of the vote. Ninety percent of Democrats voted for Clinton, and 90% of Republicans voted for Trump. … In election systems like ours — representation done by district, in which whoever wins even the narrowest plurality of votes wins the whole election — voters tend not to want to “waste” a vote, or to cast a vote that could make the party they like least more likely to win.” — Seth Masket, Los Angeles Times

Even the strongest 3rd-party candidates have come up short
“The closest anyone has ever come was Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, with 27%. The unintended result: He split the Republican vote and delivered the White House to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. More recently, Ross Perot managed to win 19% in 1992. Nobody else has come close. The lesson: 34% is harder than it looks. That means a third-party ticket would almost surely be a spoiler, taking just enough votes from one of the two major-party candidates to tip the outcome.” — Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

And Joe Manchin is no Teddy Roosevelt or Ross
“There’s also the matter of charisma and star power. The last independent candidate to get real traction, Ross Perot in 1992, was a one-of-a-kind American original with a kind of anti-charm and a set of distinctive issues, running in just the right populist environment. Manchin can do Sunday shows and looms large in West Virginia, but there’s nothing to suggest he has the performative ability or a unique ideology to dominate on a national stage” — Rich Lowry, Politico

The most likely outcome: No Labels tips the election to Trump
“I helped start No La­bels to fos­ter bi­par­ti­san so­lu­tions to our coun­try’s most im­por­tant prob­lems. Last month, af­ter more than a decade, I felt com­pelled to re­sign in dis­agree­ment over its de­ci­sion to launch a bi­par­ti­san pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. … Just over half of to­day’s rank-and-file De­moc­rats iden­tity as lib­eral or very lib­eral, com­pared with nearly three-quar­ters of Re­pub­li­cans who call them­selves con­ser­v­a­tive or very con­ser­v­a­tive. A cen­ter-seek­ing can­di­date would there­fore ap­peal to more De­moc­rats than Re­pub­li­cans, and a win­ning De­mo­c­ra­tic coali­tion would in­clude far more mod­er­ates — in­clud­ing mod­er­ate in­de­pen­dents — than a Re­pub­li­can coali­tion.” — William Galston, Wall Street Journal

It could send the election to the House of Representatives (which would pick the Republican)
A No Labels candidate could collect enough electoral votes so that neither of the two major party candidates wins the 270 needed to capture the presidency outright. That would throw the election to the House of Representatives, where the president would be selected in a balloting that gives one vote to each state delegation — 26 needed to win. Each state’s ballot is settled by a vote of the representatives in that state’s delegation, so the party that has a majority in each delegation is expected to decide that state’s ballot. In recent years, Republicans have controlled more state delegations than Democrats, even when Democrats held the majority of members. That is likely to be the case on January 6, 2025, meaning that a House vote would give the country a Republican president. — Norm Ornstein and Dennis Aftergut, the Bulwark

Even a losing challenge from the center could help depolarize Washington
“The only cure for polarization is a solution in the middle. America has had third parties in the past, from Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party to Ross Perot’s campaign in the early 1990s. They lost for reasons that do not apply today, but even when they lost, they still won by moving the other parties toward the middle. The fact that our leaders can’t get anything done on the issues that matter most, like crime, immigration and inflation, is a sign of a deep need for a shock to the system.” — Philip Levine, USA Today

No Labels should just support Biden
“No Labels has yet to say what makes Biden an ‘unacceptable’ candidate. The group’s members say they value cross-party compromise — and Biden has shepherded into law major bipartisan legislation on infrastructure, domestic manufacturing, climate change, gun safety, protecting our troops and veterans, protecting same-sex and interracial marriage, election integrity, and more. No Labels says it wants leadership — and Biden has rallied the free world to respond to Russia’s barbaric aggression in Ukraine. It seeks mainstream values — and Biden is a man of abiding decency, faith and respect for the law. The contrast with someone like Trump hardly needs to be detailed.” — Jonathan Cowan, Rahna Epting and Patrick Gaspard, the Washington Post

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