The ‘No Labels’ joke

THE ‘NO LABELS’ JOKE. How do presidential candidacies start? Most begin with the ambitions of one person — one governor or senator or, in Donald Trump’s case, one real estate mogul and reality TV star who thinks he or she should be president of the United States. Perhaps he or she even has a vision for leadership. The ambitious would-be candidate then sets out to win the support of the political party, and the race is on.

That’s the usual way. Right now, though, we’re seeing a strange variation on the process in which a party, a would-be party actually, has decided it wants to have a candidate in the 2024 presidential election and is holding a sort of talent search as it looks for the right man or woman for the job.

The No Labels organization was founded in 2010 by a group of Democratic and Republican political operatives. The point of calling itself No Labels was that it would reject the partisanship of the major political parties. Instead, it would focus on centrism and “getting things done,” although it has never been entirely clear what things the No Labels people want to get done. (Here is an account of the group’s founding event in New York City in December 2010.)

You’d think it would be easy for it to find a person to run for president. Many polls show majorities of voters are unhappy with the prospect of a choice between President Joe Biden and Trump, so an alternative might be welcome. But finding a No Labels candidate has actually been hard — really hard. At various times in this campaign season, there have been reports that the No Labels group was very interested in a variety of candidates. There was retiring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). There was former Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. There was just-dropped-out Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley. Problem was, all said no to running under the No Labels label. Others did, too.

Finding a candidate has been so hard that one might expect the No Labels people just to sit 2024 out. But that’s not what they have decided to do. Last Friday, the group got together in a virtual meeting and voted to go forward with a presidential run in 2024. But it still hasn’t found anybody to run: No Labels decided to run a presidential campaign without a presidential candidate.

So now No Labels is also No Candidate. There is talk that, with the efforts to lure bigger names ending in failure, former Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan is under consideration as the new No Labels standard-bearer. But who knows? Maybe he’ll get a better offer and turn down No Labels, too.

One interesting aspect of this is that No Labels offers something that is hard for a would-be independent candidate to find. As of now, No Labels has access to the ballot in 14 states and will perhaps win access to another 14 in the months ahead. That is no small feat. By comparison, Axios reported recently that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is on the ballot in just one state, Utah, but is nearing qualification for six more states. Getting on ballots is a lot of work. If a candidate were to run on the No Labels banner, a lot of that work would already have been done.

Some Democrats are angry at No Labels because they believe a No Labels candidate will hurt Biden more than Trump. Politico reported today that MoveOn, the progressive group, has put together a new ad attacking No Labels and “urging voters not to support the third-party group.” MoveOn has bought time on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Biden’s favorite show, which it apparently thinks will make the president happy.

Why is all this happening? It’s hard to say. One reason is that the centrist No Labels appeal does attract some donors, and there are always political operatives ready to jump on board if there is donor money to be had. Another is that the group allows some figures who once played big roles in our politics a way to stay in the game; No Labels is run by former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, former NAACP executive director Ben Chavis, and former North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. A third possibility is that perhaps there are some people who really believe in the idea.

In any event, the search for a candidate goes on. The problem is, the lack of interest of high-level political players in running on a No Labels ticket means the process has become something of a joke. Perhaps No Labels officials could have an Idol-style competition to identify a candidate. Or maybe they could hold a drawing — you’ve got to enter to win! Or perhaps they could just auction off the nomination to the highest bidder. In the end, though, who is going to take this seriously?

For a deeper dive into many of the topics covered in the Daily Memo, please listen to my podcast, The Byron York Show — available on Radio America and the Ricochet Audio Network and everywhere else podcasts can be found.

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