First published in The Hill.
“Can we all get along?”
More than 30 years ago, after Los Angeles police officers charged with beating him were acquitted at trial, Rodney King asked that plaintive question that has gone down in history.
His plea summed up what many Americans felt then and now. And that’s why there is so much surface attractiveness to No Labels, the group that is suddenly in the headlines because it’s dangling the idea of a third party, or unity, presidential ticket in 2024.
“Can we all get along?” seems like No Labels’ motto, as it touts a “common sense” agenda with pronouncements like “America can’t solve its biggest problems … unless Democrats and Republicans start working together side by side on bipartisan solutions.”
Add to that: “Building more homes in America will make housing more affordable for Americans,” and “It’s in America’s interest to work with our allies to advance our mutual interests.” Well, yes. (Anybody in favor of mom and apple pie?)
But scratch the surface and unfortunately, No Labels’ attractive facade begins to crumble.
There’s nothing wrong with third parties in theory. But what No Labels is doing is not honest.
The group refuses to discuss its funding sources, but investigative reporters are working hard to follow the money. And in some cases they’re finding out the trail leads right to Harlan Crow. Crow, of course, is the Republican billionaire whose gifts and favors are getting Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas into so much ethical trouble.
No Labels differs from authentic political parties and movements that grow from the bottom up, running candidates for mayor, city council or state government. The group plans to swoop in at the top — in a presidential election — with an opaque system for choosing its candidates. Forbes, which calls the group “shadowy,” points out that by establishing itself as a nonprofit rather than a political party, it’s able to bypass financial disclosure rules for parties.
Polls show a mix of possible outcomes, but plenty point to a No Labels campaign as a benefit to Trump. William Galston, a Democrat who helped start No Labels over a decade ago, recently quit the group and published a Wall Street Journal op-ed expressing his fear that No Labels would lead to Trump’s reelection.
And as we hinted earlier, No Labels has been criticized for being “short on specific proposals.” That’s dangerous for a couple of reasons.
One is that we have serious and complex challenges that demand serious answers. Another is that right now, No Labels has no candidate and is kind of an empty vessel for people to fill with their own hopes and dreams — however unrealistic. That’s very, very attractive to a lot of people who aren’t excited about a rematch between Donald Trump and President Biden next year. In fact, some 44 percent of voters say they would consider a third-party candidate.
It’s also scary because, with someone as dangerous as Trump potentially in the mix, this is a very bad time to gamble with our presidential elections.
No Labels has said that ultimately, it won’t field a ticket if there is no path to victory (which most analysts say there isn’t). Its CEO swears it will pull out of the race if it looks like it’s going to hand Trump a win. But she hasn’t said how or when that decision would happen, which isn’t exactly reassuring.
So how about this: Do it now. Decide not to get in. Every indication is that a No Labels run would maximize drama and disruption without offering anything of value to voters.
No Labels might have the right to do that. But there’s no moral justification for it.