One of the enduring pieces of conventional wisdom in American political punditry is that voters want politicians to work together for the common good. While appealing in principle, it is premised on the idea that there are policies that both sides can agree on or that there is a commitment to following the norms of governing that enables compromise policies to be enacted without too much acrimony.
Whether that ideal ever existed is up for debate but it is clear that we are not living in such a time now. We are at a point where it is clear that Republicans have decided to adopt a scorched Earth policy where anything and everything will be thrown into battle to achieve their goals, including attempts to undermine the legitimacy of elections, even to the extent of seeking a forcible overthrow of election results that they do not agree with.
Such a climate is conducive to the growth of third parties that claim to be above the fray and thus hope to appeal to those voters who say they are fed up with the squabbling of the two major parties. And sure enough, we have the appearance of the group known as No Labels that claims to represent this supposed large bloc of voters.
No Labels has been around since 2010, largely promoting centrist policies and occasionally working to elect moderate Democrats to Congress. Its recent ambitions are far grander, as it plans to raise $70m, get on the ballot in every state across the country, and build a third-party ticket for the presidency. The group has become a specter looming over the 2024 election for Democrats, with polls showing that a centrist third-party candidate would draw votes away from Joe Biden and tilt the race toward Donald Trump.
The growing prominence of No Labels and its potential to run a third-party candidate has resulted in backlash from Democrats and more centrist Republicans as a result. Democratic representatives and political organizations such as MoveOn have mobilized to oppose the group, including holding briefings for congressional staffers on the risk of a third-party ticket. Democratic and Republican strategists additionally commissioned a poll that showed how an independent centrist candidate would act as a spoiler against Biden.
The No Labels group is different from previous third party attempts in that it is extremely coy about what it stands for or who represents the group at all. In a recent interview on the podcast The New Yorker Radio Hour, host David Remnick interviewed Pat McCrory, the former governor of North Carolina and one of the group’s leaders, and the interview was comical in the extent to which McCrory refused to say what the party’s platform was, what it stood for, or which political figures would be considered suitable to head the ticket, dancing around to avoid the questions.
McCrory simply kept repeating that what they stood for would be eventually revealed through the party’s nominating process and its convention. Normally a party is created around a specific platform but here they seem to be saying that they will create a party and the platform will spontaneously appear, miraculously, like a virgin birth. Remnick brought up specific issues but McCrory refused to say what his group’s position on any of them was, saying that the convention would decide.
The term No Labels seems to be a way of for the group to say that it rejects the labels Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative, or any of the other umbrella terms that are shorthand indicators of policy preferences. Fair enough. Umbrella terms always contain specific policies that one would disagree with. But you cannot refuse to say where you stand on the specific issues that those umbrella terms cover, without coming across as evasive.
One good indication of what a party stands for are the prominent people who back it. But No Labels also tries to hide who its donors are.
As No Labels moves forward with its fundraising and attempts to get on nationwide ballots, it has faced increased scrutiny over who exactly is backing their efforts. The group refuses to disclose its donors, which it is not obligated to do, but a Mother Jones investigation identified dozens of wealthy contributors affiliated with No Labels.
Although it includes several major Democratic donors, many of the contributors favor conservative causes and Republican candidates. A separate investigation from The New Republic found that conservative billionaire Harlan Crow, most recently known for his close ties with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, donated $130,000 to the group between 2019 and 2021.
Despite their tap dancing about what they stand for and who they think represents their policies best, it is clear that they are clearly on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Thus one might think that they would draw voters away from the Republican party and thus help the Democrats. But I think that their strategy is different. There are people who used to vote Republican but are disenchanted with the extremism of its current leaders like serial sex abuser Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis and the spinelessness of the party’s congressional leadership who are cowering in the shadows to avoid being asked where they stand on the issues. It seems to me to be clear that what this No Labels groups seeks to do is to provide a home for those voters so that they do not vote for Biden and the Democrats, thus helping the Republicans. That goal would align with the major politicians and donors whom they seems to be courting.