Lieberman says No Labels has a path to victory and wants Haley to get in touch

EXCLUSIVE — Few Americans alive could claim to have more experience in the realm of presidential politics than former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT). As former Vice President Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, he came within a few hundred “hanging chads” in Florida of being elected vice president himself. In 2004, he ran for the Democratic Party nomination before ultimately losing to former Sen. John Kerry. And in 2008, Lieberman was nearly tapped as John McCain’s running mate for the Republican ticket, an idea that was jettisoned by the McCain campaign following threats of a large-scale “walkout” at the convention.

Lieberman retired from the Senate in 2013 after serving four terms. Today, he serves as founding chairman of No Labels, a political organization seeking to field a “unity ticket” to compete as a third party in the 2024 presidential election.

On Wednesday, the Washington Examiner sat down with Lieberman to discuss the state of the 2024 race and No Labels’s efforts to field a competitive ticket. The following is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.

Washington Examiner: Given your experience in presidential politics, I’d love to know your general impression of the current state of the 2024 race and what it says about the state of our nation.

Lieberman: In my experience, which is lengthy, I’ve never seen a presidential campaign like this. The two parties, which have dominated our politics, are less credible and appealing and trusted by voters than at any time in my lifetime. If you asked, as Gallup does periodically, the number that identify as independent is close to half the population, while Republicans and Democrats are both down in the 20s. This is a rejection of the two-party system. 

In addition, both parties are about to nominate two candidates, former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, who are very unpopular. However it’s phrased, when voters are asked if they are satisfied with this choice, 70% say “no.” 

We are in a moment when there are serious challenges domestically, inflation, border insecurity, a perceived increase in crime, as well as the great challenges to our security throughout the world from Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China. We have a voting public that is not satisfied, to put it mildly, with the choices the current political system is giving them. As a result, we have not just No Labels exploring the idea of a third-party ticket but also RFK Jr., Cornel West, etc., and there could be two or three different third parties.

The vote will be highly unpredictable. What propels No Labels forward is that in every state, except for Maine and Nebraska, the Electoral College votes go to the ticket that gets the largest number of votes. So if you’ve got four or five candidates up there, you could carry the state with a third of the votes. That’s the provocative reality we face this year.

Washington Examiner: Given Trump’s legal troubles and Biden’s shaky position as leader of his own party, would you bet that both current front-runners will actually end up on the ballot in November? 

Lieberman: This is the year of unpredictability in American politics. With Nikki Haley remaining in the race against Trump, which is unconventional, she’s done something significant. By staying on the ballot, she’s shown that there’s somewhere between a third and 40% of Republicans who don’t want Trump to be the nominee. If she were out, that wouldn’t be showing. This shows the weakness in him.

On the other hand, it does appear to me that he has a hold on the core constituency of the Republican Party, so the odds are that, unless he changes his mind on running, he will be the candidate no matter the vulnerabilities.

On the Democratic side, it’s really all up to Biden. It’s clear he won’t be denied the nomination, but it’s possible that he could decide before the convention that he doesn’t want to run. Joe Biden has had an extraordinary career of public service — he’s accomplished some real significant things he can be proud of — and he’s at a point now where this could be a very difficult year for him personally. His opponents will be focused not just on his policies but on his personal competence because of his age. Biden would do himself a favor if he walked out with honor and dignity.

But I would say the odds are Trump and Biden will be the candidates.

Washington Examiner: How does all of this uncertainty affect No Labels’s decision to field a major unity ticket?

Lieberman: This election is still wide open. Although third-party candidates don’t have much of a track record for winning in our history, this is a unique year for all the reasons we’ve mentioned. So No Labels is proceeding according to the plan we’ve announced. After Super Tuesday, we will begin to focus in on both the data we’re collecting and determine whether or not we would actually have a chance to win and not just be a spoiler to take more votes from Biden and help reelect Trump, which we don’t want to do, and whether or not we will have a top-tier candidate for president and vice president. 

So next week, we will virtually convene 800 delegates who have been chosen from all 50 states to discuss where we are and see if we want to go forward. I can tell you we just finished a national poll of 35,000 registered voters that shows a path to victory for a bipartisan unity ticket that would get more than half of independent voters and between a quarter and half of Democrats and Republicans. 

The important thing to point out, again, is that the math is different than most people think. In all states but two, the ticket that gets the most votes, not the majority, gets all of the electoral votes. And our polling shows that a third party, bipartisan unity ticket has the capability to get enough votes to actually be elected. We’re talking to candidates — we have some very interesting and capable candidates. It’s a daunting challenge to take on, but one that’s very important for our country. 

But we’re on target — we’re on the ballot now in 16 states, and we’re working on 17 others. 

Washington Examiner: Speaking of candidates, Nikki Haley’s speech following the South Carolina primary sure sounded like an independent candidate’s speech. Has there been any contact between No Labels and Gov. Haley?

Lieberman: Well, as far as I know, there’s been no contact. Haley has said she’s going to carry on her campaign through Super Tuesday, so after that, we will see where she is. But if she’s at all interested in being a No Labels candidate, I know we’d like to talk with her. Her candidacy may be affected by so-called “sore loser” laws in several of the states, which means if you’re on the ballot in a presidential primary, they won’t let you on the third choice ticket, so that might cause a problem. But I want to be clear, there’s been no indication from Haley that she would be at all interested in being a No Labels candidate. But if she indicated interest, I know that we at No Labels would want to explore the practicality of it. 

Washington Examiner: You were almost selected as John McCain’s running mate in 2008 on something of a unity ticket. What do you think would be his views on No Labels?

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Lieberman: First, McCain’s campaign manager and then McCain asked me to allow myself to be vetted for vice president. I told him I didn’t see how it was possible because I was still a registered Democrat. John, in his own wonderful way, said, “Joey, that’s the point!” But then there was going to be a walkout at the Republican convention mostly because of my pro-choice and pro-gay rights record. They told him he could make me Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State but not his running mate. In the end, he yielded to that. I was touched that in his final book, he said he really regretted that decision.

In other words, the basis for me to answer your question about how McCain would feel about what’s happening now is that he was ahead of his time. I’m sure that he would be really offended by Trump and want to stop Trump from being reelected, but that he would also be really supportive of the effort of No Labels to field a bipartisan, third-choice ticket.

Peter Laffin is a contributor at the Washington Examiner. His work has also appeared in RealClearPolitics, the Catholic Thing, and the National Catholic Register.

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