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No Labels ends 2024 presidential effort

The No Labels effort to recruit and support a major independent presidential candidate ended Thursday, with the organization concluding that it could not “identify a candidate with a credible path to winning the White House.” 

Lots of Americans are fed up with President Biden, and lots of Americans dread the prospect of another four years of Donald Trump ranting and raving from the Oval Office. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. only has niche appeal, Jill Stein and Cornel West are single-digit left-wing gadflies, and the Libertarian nominee is to be determined from a long list of obscure figures. 

So, with so many Americans open to another option, at least on paper, how did No Labels come up empty? 

Running a major independent or centrist presidential candidate has once again proven easier in theory than in practice. This is the third straight cycle where the two major parties have chosen to nominate candidates who are popular with their rank-and-file but unpopular with the broader electorate. President Biden’s job-approval rating is around 39 percent. (Kamala Harris’s is around 37 percent.) Just 42 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Donald Trump. There is serious talk about “double haters” — Americans who hate both candidates — as a key and perhaps vital swing demographic.

With large numbers of Americans telling pollsters that they would be interested in some other option, you might think that recruiting a qualified candidate wouldn’t be that difficult.

“Today, No Labels is ending our effort to put forth a Unity ticket in the 2024 presidential election,” a No Labels spokesperson said in a statement. “Americans remain more open to an independent presidential run and hungrier for unifying national leadership than ever before. But No Labels has always said we would only offer our ballot line to a ticket if we could identify candidates with a credible path to winning the White House. No such candidates emerged, so the responsible course of action is for us to stand down.”

The move comes after the 501(c)(4) organization had vetted more than two dozen potential candidates, many of whom have announced publicly in recent weeks that after careful consideration, they had decided against joining the ticket. That list includes former New Jersey governor and two-time GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie, retiring Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and former GOP governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, who is now running for Senate this cycle.

It may well be that the biggest names on the No Labels list of potential candidates just didn’t feel like a long-shot presidential bid was worthwhile. The No Labels candidate would face a steep climb to win his or her home state, never mind enough states to reach 270 electoral votes. A No Labels candidate was likely to get a lot of criticism, grief, and aggravation, and struggle to hit double-digit percentages in most states. And some of the names on the list decided they had other goals in politics; Hogan is running for Senate in Maryland.

There was also a logistical flaw in the No Labels vision of a Democratic presidential candidate with a Republican vice-presidential candidate, or vice versa. Thankfully, there are still plenty of Republicans and Democrats who get along quite well personally and can work together on certain issues. But the No Labels vision was likely to result in a presidential candidate who was, for example, pro-choice, open to certain tax increases, interested in increasing federal spending on several key priorities, largely friendly to the DEI philosophy, and in favor of broad protections for the environment in federal policy.

And that candidate’s running mate, conceivably a heartbeat away from the presidency, would be pro-life on abortion, strongly opposed to any tax increases, much more skeptical of increasing federal spending, suspicious of DEI as unconstitutional discrimination against straight white males, and much more wary about the costs and side effects of environmental-protection policies. (Hey, at least the cabinet meetings would be entertaining.)

Back in March, Nikki Haley effectively slammed the door on appearing on a No Labels ticket, pointing to the challenge of selecting and working with a Democratic running mate. “If I were to do No Labels, that would require a Democratic vice president. I can’t do what I want to do as president with a Democratic vice president,” Haley said. “I want to shrink the size of government and get it efficient again. I want to make sure that we get our kids reading again by putting more of those federal funds pushing it down to the state level — from education to health care to welfare and mental health, I want to take all of that out of D.C. and send it to the states. I can’t do that with a Democratic vice president. I want to make sure we do peace through strength, I don’t know if our foreign policies would agree.”

I would also posit that that the candidates, donors, and voters that No Labels sought to represent are not true “double haters” equally opposed to Trump and Biden.

There are likely a lot of voters in that Manchin-Hogan-Christie political space who are disappointed with and frustrated by Biden, but who see a second Trump term as catastrophic — not just for the country, but likely for them personally. Donald Trump doesn’t just hold grudges, he collects them and puts them in a metaphorical display case; he’s literally running on “retribution” as his theme.

And it wasn’t just threats from Trump and his raging fanbase on the right.

For much of late last year and the first few months of this year, the forces of the Biden campaign and Democratic Party and certain allies on the Left treated No Labels as a much more dangerous threat than, say, Xi Jinping, the Iranian mullahs, or Vladimir Putin before February 2022. You see, Xi, the mullahs, Putin — those guys are reasonable. You can negotiate with them. But No Labels had to be eradicated at all costs.

Back in December, a coalition of Democratic and Republican anti-Trump groups was threatening anyone associated with the independent group No Labels, desperate to prevent the entry of a significant third candidate into this year’s general election. The quotes in the report made the groups sound like something out of The Godfather, warning that either a signature or brains would be on the contract.

The call, organized by the center-left Democratic group Third Way with the help of the progressive Move On, also included representatives of End Citizens United, the Lincoln Project, American Bridge, Public Citizen, and Reproductive Freedom for All. Attendees included prominent anti-Trump Republicans Sarah Longwell and Bill Kristol, former Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, and an aide to the Democratic billionaire Reid Hoffman, Dmitri Mehlhorn.

“Through every channel we have, to their donors, their friends, the press, everyone — everyone — should send the message: If you have one fingernail clipping of a skeleton in your closet, we will find it,” one speaker said during the call. “If you think you were vetted when you ran for governor, you’re insane. That was nothing. We are going to come at you with every gun we can possibly find. We did not do that with Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, we should have, and we will not make that mistake again.”

Let me just pause and contemplate the insanity of someone who looks at the results of the 2016 election and concludes, “If we had just done more digging into the backgrounds of Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, Hillary Clinton would be president right now.”

The group laid out plans to discourage a set of possible candidates, including: former Republican Reps. Liz Cheney and Will Hurd; sitting Republican Governors Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire; former Republican governors Jon Huntsman of Utah and Larry Hogan of Maryland.

If only these Democrats raging about No Labels could be half as tough against, say, Hamas, or human traffickers crossing our southern border.

Apparently no one on that call realized that when it comes to talking about independent or third-party presidential candidates — including a member of the Kennedy family — boasting, “We are going to come at you with every gun we can possibly find” is a poor choice of words.

(We don’t know who made that particular quote, but I notice that Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project said of No Labels in April 2023, “They need to be burned to the [blanking] ground politically.”)

It probably doesn’t help that the highest-profile precursor to this effort was the 2016 independent campaign by Evan McMullin, who was an absolute unknown when he began his presidential campaign that cycle, and who grew less and less conservative with each passing year afterward. By 2022, as an “independent” Senate candidate in Utah who had been effectively endorsed by the Utah Democratic Party, McMullin opposed the overturning of Roe v. Wade, supported no federal restrictions on abortion, supported gun control, opposed the filibuster, supported teaching critical race theory in schools, and said he “would probably have supported Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.”

There are a lot of Republicans who believe that a centrist Republican is just a Democrat in disguise, and a lot of Democrats who believe that a centrist Democrat is just a Republican in disguise. That may not always be a fair accusation, but the likes of McMullin — and Charlie Crist, and Arlen Specter, and Jim Jeffords, and . . . well, you get the idea — fuel the suspicion among Republicans that anybody who’s willing to deviate from party orthodoxy is just taking the first step on a journey that will end with a party switch in the not-too-distant future.

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