A three-minute No Labels video offered a stark warning. With Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend” playing throughout, the video pits Donald Trump against Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to argue that the country is on a course to “an election in which the majority saw no viable choice” to support for president.
But on the way to making its case that both parties are beholden to their extremes, the video includes a pretty glaring omission: the sitting president and mainstream Democrat who handily defeated Sanders, Warren, and others in the last Democratic presidential primary. President Joe Biden does not appear at any point in the clip. Ditto Vice President Kamala Harris. The video, obtained by The New Republic, was made for donors and potential supporters. It represents the core argument behind the 501(c)(4) group’s push to prop up a serious third-party challenge in the 2024 election cycle.
For months, the centrist No Labels has been looking to put together a third-party ticket that can do what no such candidate in American history has done: win the White House. To do that, Nancy Jacobson, the CEO of No Labels, and her team have set out to raise over $70 million to lay the groundwork for a third-party ticket with one Republican and one Democrat on it. Names bandied about for such a ticket include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who himself is still considering running for president as a Republican, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, and Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, according to multiple Democrats and Republicans interviewed for this story.
For years, third-party candidates have tried to present a tertiary option in presidential elections to no real avail. The only significant impact such candidates have had has been to slice off shares of votes from the nominees of the two major political parties and shift the outcome of the election to an opposing candidate. Some observers point to 1992, when Ross Perot won 19 percent of the vote, the best performance by a third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt ran under the Bull Moose Banner in 1912 (he still lost). Some say Perot took more votes from George H.W. Bush and helped swing that election to Bill Clinton, though Clinton partisans point to studies showing that he would have won anyway.
Some of No Labels’ polling, relayed to The New Republic by an operative who has seen it, found that the effect of a No Labels ticket on the 2024 presidential race depends on the matchup. If it’s Joe Biden versus Donald Trump, then the No Labels candidate would take away voters evenly from both major tickets, the polling found. But the polling also found that in a matchup between a generic Republican and a generic Democrat, the No Labels ticket would take more from the Democratic ticket.
Maryanne Martini, a spokesperson for the group, responded to questions over email on Saturday, saying that No Labels plans only to provide a “launching pad” for a so-called “Unity Ticket” in the event that “both parties nominate presidential candidates the vast majority of Americans don’t want to vote for in 2024.”
One would think Republicans would naturally be ecstatic about any third-party candidacy that would more likely weigh down the Democratic ticket rather than the Republican. But interviews with more than half a dozen Republican operatives and strategists yielded a mixed sentiment. Some argued that it is undeniably a good thing regardless of who the nominee is, while others were more cautious, saying it’s far too early to predict who would benefit more from a No Labels spoiler candidacy.
“If Trump is the nominee, the No Labels coalition certainly hurts the Democratic candidate on the ballot,” said Republican strategist Bryan Lanza. “Whether it’s Biden or even Kamala Harris. A vote for Trump is so cemented in that the opposition can easily be fragmented. It’s not like people are on fire for Joe Biden. They’re just there because he’s the best of the lesser choices. But [if] there’s additional options, people will easily siphon off into that.”
But Alex Conant, another Republican strategist, said there are too many variables right now to really say one way or another which party’s ticket would benefit (but it wouldn’t be the third party’s). “It’s early, and it depends a lot,” Conant said. “First and foremost, it depends [on] who would be on the top of a No Labels ticket. I think if it’s somebody with existing name ID, political support, it could matter. I don’t think you’re going to build name ID or political support simply by being a third-party nominee.”
So much of the impact of a No Labels third-party candidacy depends on what kind of Republican and Democrat they put at the top of their ticket. Abortion looms especially large here. An anti-abortion presidential nominee would be a nonstarter for Democrats and steal votes from the Republican. A pro-choice nominee, on the other hand, would split the pro-choice vote, likely damaging the Democrat.
This is one of many reasons why for Democrats, the prospect of a No Labels candidacy is an ominous one. Recently, the moderate Third Way think tank published a scorching analysis laying out how a third-party candidacy would lead to another Trump presidency.
“No Labels is really serious about this,” said Third Way’s Aliza Astrow, who wrote the think tank memo on No Labels’ 2024 plans. No Labels has already raised $46 million for the run “with the goal of raising $70 million. And so even a candidate without a whole lot of appeal or a whole lot of charisma, with that much money, could peel away enough support to do real damage.”
Astrow pointed out that the number of states No Labels is targeting as part of its 2024 effort includes more Democratic states than Republican states. “No Labels says that their candidate would pull support from both sides,” Astrow said. “But they put out this map that you can see in their memo, which highlights the states that they’re targeting for their run. And they’re targeting way more blue states than red states.”
She continued: “So if you look at where they got on the ballot so far, they got on in Colorado, Arizona, Oregon—which are states that Biden won—and they’re completely avoiding deep red states like Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma. But they’re targeting Illinois, Washington state, Oregon, Virginia, Minnesota. They’re clearly targeting far more blue states than they are red states. Even if they’re saying, ‘Oh, we’re not going to be a spoiler. We’re going to pull support equally from Republicans and Democrats,’ in terms of where they’re targeting, that’s clearly not true.”
Martini, the No Labels spokesperson, said over email that “No Labels has extensively polled and modeled all 50 states, and our latest numbers show an independent could win outright in the electoral college, and that they would draw votes equally from both sides.”
Step back and it’s easy to see what exactly No Libels is doing here. The group says it is only floating a “Unity Ticket” in the scenario where both major parties prop up a candidate that the majority of voters find unpalatable. But it’s telling that in making that argument, No Labels right now won’t even acknowledge the existence of Joe Biden—just go to the tape. It’s undeniable that a No Labels “Unity Ticket” would have an impact on the entire 2024 presidential election, just not one most people would want—especially if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee.