Check the Label

As a self-proclaimed moderate you’d think I’d love No Labels. I don’t. I really, really don’t. Here’s why.

No Labels is a sort of third party movement designed to push the two major parties toward the center. They would do that with what is essentially a big threat. They will run some sort of self-styled “national unity ticket” in 2024, but only if both parties nominate “extremists.” I’ll give them this. They are well-organized and they’re raising money. They’ve already achieved ballot status in a handful of states, they claim to be all but locked down for that in 20 more and they plan to have ballot access in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in time for the next election. They’re well on their way to raising the $70 million they think they’ll need to get there.

You would think this would be an equal threat to both parties, but it’s mostly Democrats who are freaking out. William Galston, a Democrat and one of the co-founders of the effort, has resigned in horror and Democratic strategists and pols warn that this thing could deliver the White House back into the fangs of Donald Trump. Galston claims that polling shows that among voters who can’t stand either Trump or Biden most would vote for Biden if that was their only choice. So, if there’s a more palatable third alternative the theory is that they’ll go that way and that amounts to a loss for ol’ Joe.

If that’s what the polling shows then it must be correct (I mean when was the last time a poll was wrong?), but it’s not intuitive. In fact, the national chair of No Labels is Larry Hogan, the moderate Republican and popular former governor of Maryland, who is a leader in the Never Trump movement. There are, I believe, a small but significant enough group of Republicans who hate Trump but are loyal Republicans and can’t bring themselves to vote for any Democrat. They might even respect Biden, but not his party. They’ll grudgingly vote for Trump, but they might pull the lever for a guy like Hogan if he ends up on the ballot.

So my arguments against No Labels do not include the notion that the effort will deliver the presidency back to the Orange One, though that bears watching. I just think the whole effort was flawed from the start. If the goal is to push the national discourse to the center, this is not a great way to go about it. Here are my reasons.

Both parties are not looking to nominate extremists. Donald Trump is an extremist, Joe Biden is not. Trump is like nothing we’ve seen before in the White House. He tried to overturn an election, he continues to lie about it to this day, he incited a violent insurrection and he’s called for suspension of the constitution to put himself back in office. Biden is just a run-of-the-mill liberal and a decent man who respects American democratic norms. If he weren’t already president and he were 10 years younger he’d be the kind of pol No Labels would be looking for to fill their ticket.

He’s not Colin Powell.

There is no Colin Powell. The last time there was a national figure who could have met the criteria of being a unifying figure who stood above politics it was Colin Powell in the 1990s — before he made false claims of WMDs in Iraq. But today who would No Labels nominate as the unifier? Sen. Joe Manchin is mentioned. I appreciate the fact that Manchin, a Democrat, gets elected in a state that went for Trump by 39 points. But he’s hardly a towering, unifying figure. A good chunk of the Democratic Party hates the guy and most of the Republicans don’t like him just because he’s a Democrat and he’s done Democratic things. Hogan’s an interesting guy, but nobody’s ever heard of him. Arizona Sen. Kirsten Sinema seems to have a talent for pissing everybody off, plus there’s just a strong weirdness vibe there.

Don’t start at the top. If I was going to build a moderate political movement I wouldn’t start with the presidency. That’s just too big, too hard, too expensive and too much of a long shot. We don’t elect third party presidents. If that $70 million that No Labels is going to spend just to get on the ballot were instead invested in targeted state legislative or congressional races that would be money better spent.

My favorite idea for a moderate movement continues to be an organized moderate faction within the Democratic Party.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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