No Labels, the self-styled centrist political group that might run a third-party candidate for president, claims that Democrats are guilty of waging an “anti-democracy” campaign against them. But Joel Payne of the progressive advocacy group MoveOn says No Labels has it exactly backward—that they’re the ones who have a distaste for democratic principles.
While Democrats and Republicans have a nominating process that involves primary elections, which allows for “the voice of the people to come through,” Payne said, “that does not exist for No Labels. Their process is the modern-day incarnation of the smoke-filled room. It is a small group of powerful, elite folks in a boardroom in D.C.”
Payne, MoveOn’s communications director, was speaking at The New Republic’s Stop Trump Summit on Wednesday, alongside Al From, founder and former CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, and Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United.
“We all agree on one thing very critically, and that is if you’re going to beat Donald Trump you need to be united,” Payne said. “That’s why we’re here talking about No Labels today, which I know may seem like a little bit of a diversion, but it’s really not,” he added, because the key to beating Donald Trump “is to prevent voters from being distracted by other choices.”
No Labels insists that it is a moderate, bipartisan group, but its financial backers include Harlan Crow, the billionaire who has showered Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with gifts. The group also claims that a significant number of American voters dislike both Trump and President Biden and are craving a third option, but analysts believe a moderate candidate would largely pull voters from Biden, thereby increasing Trump’s chances of returning to the White House.
“No Labels, the people they claim to want to represent, people who want to save democracy, are not going to be well served by No Labels,” he said, “because a No Labels run is going to make it easier for Donald Trump to win.”
To counter No Labels, Payne said, MoveOn is “trying to do more grassroots activation, more direct outreach to voters, to citizens just making sure folks know the real stakes that we’re dealing with here.” He said his group has gathered signatures from more than 50,000 people who want to stop No Labels.
But Payne acknowledged that it’s hard to organize political opposition to No Labels because its work is so “nebulous.”
“You’re asking people to plug in and worry about this kind of inside-the-Beltway group that has like a lot of money, and you know, really operates in an undemocratic, small-d way,” he said. “That’s a high bar that we’re asking citizens to check into.”