Jul 13, 2023

Today's debate: No Labels third-party run.

Joe Biden being sworn is as president. He now faces the potential of a third party challenger.
Joe Biden being sworn is as president. He now faces the potential of a third party challenger. 

Plus, we announce the guests for our live event!

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

No Labels is considering running a third-party unity ticket. Is this a good idea? Plus, we can finally reveal our guests for the Tangle live event!

Our guests are here!

For weeks, we've been hyping the first-ever live Tangle event in Philadelphia on August 3rd. Today, I am thrilled to announce our three guests and the topic: We'll be joined by Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, Henry Olsen of The Washington Post, and Anastasia Boden of the Cato Institute. On stage, I'll be moderating a discussion on the biggest Supreme Court decisions from this term and the current state of the high court.

As we've said in the past, our goal with this event is to gather the Tangle community and bring the newsletter live to the stage — and, with about as much ideological diversity as you can have among Supreme Court commentators, these guests are going to help us do that. Attendees will have a chance to participate in a live Q&A during the show, and VIP tickets include a meet and greet before we hit the stage.

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Quick hits.

  1. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would not agree to be Trump's running mate if he doesn't win the Republican nomination for president. (The comments)
  2. Two IRS whistleblowers who alleged political interference in the investigation into Hunter Biden are set to testify before Congress next week. (The testimony)
  3. Ray Epps, who attended the January 6 riots at the capitol and has been accused of helping orchestrate them, is suing Fox News and Tucker Carlson for defamation over their claims he was an undercover FBI agent. (The lawsuit)
  4. FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the House Judiciary Committee and defended the agency's handling of politically sensitive cases. (The answers)
  5. Sergei Surovikin, a senior Russian general being held for interrogation over his alleged role in the Wagner Group mutiny, is now considered missing. (The detention)

Today's topic.

No Labels. Next week, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is set to headline an event in New Hampshire sponsored by the bipartisan group No Labels, stoking speculation that he could be the group's pick for a third-party presidential bid in 2024.

No Labels, which calls itself a "national movement of people who believe in America and bringing our leaders together to solve our toughest problems," has said it is eyeing a third-party unity ticket, but has not decided the specific candidates it will support. Manchin will be appearing at the event alongside former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) for a "Common Sense" town hall.

Historically, third-party candidates have struggled to compete in presidential elections. Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign was the most successful third-party run in modern U.S. history, with the businessman receiving 19% of the vote running against Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. Clinton ultimately won the race with 43% of the vote, and many considered Perot a spoiler who cost Bush the election. Still, his run has been used as a model by No Labels, which believes it could win a presidential race by targeting dissatisfied moderate and independent voters the same way Perot did.

Nancy Jacobson, one of the cofounders of No Labels, called the idea of putting forward a unity ticket an "insurance policy," saying the group would only promote its candidates in the race if both major parties "put forth presidential candidates the vast majority of Americans don’t support.” Of course, given the dissatisfaction among Americans over the idea of a Biden vs. Trump rematch, the most likely 2024 match-up could fit that description.

“I haven’t ruled out anything or ruled in anything," Manchin told CNN.

Last week, No Labels touted its own internal polling, which it says supports the idea that a unity ticket could win 37% of the popular vote and could get 286 electoral votes from solid moderate and independent states.

However, the potential for a third-party ticket has been a divisive subject in Washington, D.C. — even among groups that would typically be expected to support the idea. Third Way, a center-left think tank that supports bipartisan initiatives, has been an outspoken critic of the idea for this election, saying it would hurt President Biden's chances of reelection and open the door for a second term for Donald Trump. Third Way has also said No Labels's own internal data shows it couldn't win the race and would only help Trump.

"History makes clear that the No Labels candidate is unlikely to win even a single state. But if we suspend disbelief to explore their argument that they can pull this off, it would have to start with them winning ALL of the closely contested 2020 battleground states," Third Way said in a memo critical of No Labels that was released on Monday.

Last month, No Labels co-founder William A. Galston left the group and joined the dissent, publishing an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal (below) making the same argument Third Way is now: That all the evidence suggests a third-party ticket would help elect Trump, something independents and moderates should reject.

Separately, Andrew Yang's Forward Party continues to recruit candidates to run as third-party contenders in congressional races. Former Professor Cornel West also announced his own presidential campaign for the People's Party, before re-registering as a Green Party candidate. And a group of former members of Congress says it is launching its own bipartisan entity to stop No Labels from running a third-party candidate.

At this point, though, No Labels is the group with the most power and influence. Not only is it attracting media attention and household names like Manchin, it also claims to be generating about $11 million of revenue and says it will raise $70 million for its 2024 ticket, if it decides to run one.

Today, we're going to explore some arguments about the idea of a third-party No Labels ticket with opinions from the right and left, then my take. Given today's topic, we're also going to include a "No Labels" section.

What No Labels is saying.

  • No Labels itself appears split, with current members defending a potential third-party ticket and some former members and donors now saying the group is making a mistake.

David Walker, a cofounder of No Labels, wrote about what the critics get wrong.

Critics are mobilizing against No Labels and "making false and misleading assertions" about the effort. "Democrats and anti-Trump groups seem to be the most upset about a potential third-option unity ticket. They assert that such a ticket would likely result in the election of former President Donald Trump — without having any extensive, objective, reliable or timely data to support their claim," Walker said. "They continue to ignore the fact that No Labels has made it clear that it will not offer a third option if there is no path to victory in the Electoral College. The decision to have a third-option ticket will not be made until the spring of 2024."

"Contrary to the assertions by some, No Labels has conducted an unparalleled polling effort involving over 26,000 people with statistically valid samples in all fifty states and D.C.," he added. It found "a significant majority of American voters do not want Trump or Biden for president in 2024," that "historic percentages of Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction," and that "given this historic level of dissatisfaction with the likely candidates and the direction of the nation, there is a path for a unity ticket to win in the Electoral College in 2024."

Former No Labels cofounder William A. Galston left the group, then wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal saying No Labels could lead to the re-election of Donald Trump.

“It is possible, I suppose, that 2024 will be the year in which disaffection with the two major parties will run so deep that a third force can break their grip on the electorate. But the odds are low," he said. "According to Gallup, just over half of today’s rank-and-file Democrats identify as liberal or very liberal, compared with nearly three-quarters of Republicans who call themselves conservative or very conservative. A center-seeking candidate would therefore appeal to more Democrats than Republicans, and a winning Democratic coalition would include far more moderates—including moderate independents—than a Republican coalition.

“Another indicator of asymmetry between the parties: Republicans are more enthusiastic about Donald Trump than Democrats are about Joe Biden. In a recent survey, only 53% of Democrats said they want Mr. Biden to run again, compared with 61% of Republicans who said the same about Mr. Trump. Democrats will overwhelmingly support the president if the only alternative is the former president, but unenthusiastic Democrats—who are more numerous than unenthusiastic Republicans—may seriously consider a third option.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is largely supportive of a third-party ticket, either because it might help Trump or because it offers an alternative to Trump.
  • Some "never-Trump" Republicans want to see a unity ticket they could support instead of Biden.
  • Some pro-Trump factions are critical of the attacks on No Labels, saying the media is once again doing everything it can to prevent Trump from winning.

Charlie Dent, the former Republican Pennsylvania representative, wrote about why he'd back a third-party ticket.

"Many voters do not want a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024. Trump’s never-ending chaos and drama turn off large swaths of the electorate, including significant numbers of independents and a consequential number of Republicans. Biden’s support appears soft, driven more by an intense dislike of Trump than a genuine admiration of Biden himself as a candidate," Dent said. "As a Republican who never voted for Trump in 2016 or 2020, I will not vote for him in 2024 either. In 2020, I voted for Biden, who ran as a transitional leader... one who would stabilize the functioning of the White House, address Covid like an adult and return a sense of normalcy to the functioning of government. To be fair, Biden has largely succeeded in that task."

"In a two-person race, I would still choose Biden over Trump in 2024, but I would much rather see a prominent Republican and a prominent Democrat run together on a centrist, national unity ticket," Dent said. "Notably different from the historically ill-fated third-party ticket, a centrist candidate could focus on fiscal responsibility, social moderation and a coherent national security strategy. Further, they could stay clear from the grievance, victimization, class-warfare and identity politics that have divided our nation. That is not asking too much."

In PJ Media, Ben Bartee was critical of the corporate media for attacking No Labels, saying it’s all about keeping Trump out of office.

"The corporate state media would very clearly rather not have Trump or DeSantis in the White House if they have the option of inserting a well-heeled Democrat — as the Deep State successfully did in 2020 and then openly bragged about after rigging the election," Bartee wrote. "The governing class via its media mouthpieces no longer makes an attempt to cloak its bias for the sake of maintaining the pretense of electoral integrity. Failing the installation of a Brandon-esque Democrat, a highly controlled Republican in the vein of Chris Christie or Asa Hutchinson will suffice. These are good boys who know their place.”

"But what the technocrats really won’t abide, under any circumstances, is the rise of a viable third party not fully infiltrated and co-opted," he added. "Two parties with respectively controlled leadership are convenient for their purposes, and they are quite content with the status quo. Of course, it should be noted that these technocrats will never attack third-party candidates who are perceived to threaten the Republican ticket primarily, such as those from the Libertarian Party, with nearly the same vigor as those more likely to detract from the Democrat vote."

What the left is saying.

  • The left is strongly opposed to the idea, worried about the risk that a third-party ticket would help Trump.
  • Some criticize the wealthy donors behind No Labels, arguing they believe this will help Trump win.
  • Others say there is nothing wrong with third party candidates, but 2024 is not the year to have one.

In Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilley wrote about the "well-funded movement of centrist zealots" who may elect Trump.

"When I asked the Intercept’s Ryan Grim—a student of Democratic factions whose outlet has reported for years on No Labels—his analysis was simple. 'They want Trump to win,' he said. Some outlets have also pointed out that part of No Labels’ spending on media campaigns goes through companies owned by Jacobson’s husband, well-known centrist polling entrepreneur and strategist Mark Penn," Mathis-Lilley wrote. Donors are typically investment firm, real estate, and venture capital types, including the "now infamous Harlan Crow." It "doesn't take a political genius to figure out what this type of donor doesn’t like about Biden." The Democrats favored by No Labels "have a common history of resisting proposals for social spending and efforts to raise taxes or regulate the financial industry."

"So what’s the deal with No Labels? Here’s a theory: Its leaders and guiding spirits... are locked in a mutually delusional feedback loop with their donors in which everyone convinces themselves that a random politician whose main attribute is being objectionable to both parties could become president," he said. "They have a faith-like conviction that both sides must always be doing something wrong, a hunger for relevance, and enough confidence to keep going when everyone tells them they’re making a mistake. That (and $70 million) is more than enough to spoil an election with or without having a clear goal in mind. 'What is No Labels’ plan for 2024?' might be the wrong question; a better one might be 'Does No Labels ever have a plan at all?'"

In The Los Angeles Times, Nicholas Goldberg criticized the idea of a third party in 2024.

"A third-party candidacy is a shiny object, a bright bauble that is superficially appealing. But it’s actually the last thing we need," Goldberg said. "And by 'we' I mean the sensible, still sane portion of the electorate (Democrats and Republicans alike) that wants to ensure above all that Donald Trump or some other truly extremist anti-democracy candidate doesn’t become president again. Some Democrats who had ties to No Labels have realized that the alternative-ticket plan is a bad idea, and have said so publicly in the last few days."

No Labels hasn't made a firm decision and Manchin hasn't agreed to run, "But either way, Americans should put out of their heads the crazy notion that Manchin or any third-party candidate would be a panacea... There’s nothing wrong with third parties in theory," Goldberg added. “And if Americans are unhappy with the major party candidates, they have the right to cast protest votes. But let’s be clear: That’s what this would be — a protest vote. Third-party candidates don’t win. They haven’t in the past and they won’t in 2024. What they can do is reshape elections if they get enough votes. And in this case there’s a good chance they’d reshape it in Trump’s favor." 

My take.

  • I unequivocally support a more robust third party, and would love to see one form in the U.S.
  • To build a meaningful third party, someone is going to have to ignore the risk of helping a candidate they don’t like.
  • That being said, No Labels does not strike me as a group that could win many votes in an election, and it would undermine its own stated mission if it ended up helping Trump.

Let me start by saying that I support the idea of a third-party ticket, and I support the proliferation of third (and fourth and fifth and sixth) parties. Unequivocally.

And I don't think this position should or can be conditional. The entire point of a third-party ticket is to break the grip of what Andrew Yang calls “the duopoly.” The most powerful point the duopoly makes is that "if you challenge us, the bad guy you hate will win." For Democrats, the bad guy right now is Trump. In our two-party, hyper-partisan politics, there will always be a bad guy to vote against. And at some point, if a third-party challenger is ever going to break the duopoloy’s grip, that candidate will have to accept the risk that it will help one side’s bad guy more than the other’s.

Upending the system, bucking precedent, and breaking down the extraordinary power of the Republican and Democratic establishments is not something that could possibly happen without courage and risk.

Still, there is plenty I don't like about this scenario. The most obvious criticism of No Labels is that it's a third-party brand whose mission is purportedly to put a moderate in the White House, get the parties working together, and re-inject some civility into our politics; but if it runs a presidential candidate, it will most likely benefit Trump, who many argue embodies the opposite of those values.

And I'm not passing any judgment on Donald Trump here or what No Labels should or shouldn't do. However, if they can reasonably conclude that running a third-party ticket would most likely benefit Trump, they'd be undermining their own stated purpose by entering the race. They have said, directly, that "Donald Trump should never again be president of the United States." The question is what they'll actually do if or when it becomes clear their third-party ticket could help that happen. The pursuit of power has a pretty notorious way of changing or corrupting stated principles.

Of course, the critics of No Labels also seem to be acting hypocritically. The Lincoln Project, an increasingly absurd, uncivil, and bizarre group in its own right, claims to be a pro-democracy group, yet it is actively fighting No Labels — an organization simply considering the idea of giving voters more options. Third Way, which says it supports centrist solutions to our biggest problems, is going to war with No Labels — a group actually talking about running a bipartisan ticket with candidates who believe in centrist solutions. It'd all be funny if it weren't so sad.

As for what No Labels actually wants or what voters it could court, consider me skeptical of the claims that they secretly support Trump and of their ability to win any general election. 

The group seems to be mostly a favorite of very rich, very well connected pro-business moderates — folks just left and right of center. It is, in a lot of ways, just another arm of the so-called "establishment," albeit one that views Trump as a mortal threat and Biden as too “big government” to get behind. Donors like Harlan Crow are longtime opponents of Trump, and I don’t think they have a secret pro-Trump agenda. More than anything, the people behind No Labels seem to be talking themselves into the idea they might be able to pull this off. And I think they’re wrong.

"What voters want" is an impossible thing to write about in broad terms, but I'm not sure where the coalition is out there for a bunch of ultra-wealthy donors backing Joe Manchin — now one of the most unpopular senators in the country.

What I appreciate about No Labels is that they are, at least, well organized. I've long said that I would love to see a robust third party (and probably ranked-choice voting, too). I've also said that what I do not like is random, shoot-from-the-hip third-party runs that make the entire thing the butt of jokes. People like Cornel West haphazardly deciding to throw their hat in the ring to become President of the United States with so little preparation that they’re switching parties a few weeks into their candidacy do a disservice to all voters, especially those who want a viable third party in the arena.

So, kudos to No Labels for actually building an organization, having a mission, courting candidates, surveying Americans, and trying to figure out if there is a path to victory. So many people talk the talk and they are actually walking the walk. I'm not sure 2024 will “produce a candidate for the moment," but they deserve credit for at least trying to do something — anything — to offer Americans a way out of our current binary.

Your questions, answered.

Q: In a past newsletter, the comment was made about holding past presidents accountable for their crimes. You mentioned Nixon, H. W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama. What crime(s) were you referring to relative to Obama?

— Anonymous from Washington, MO

Tangle: Now, I know the accusation that has gotten the most play in the time since Barack Obama left office is that he spied on Trump's campaign and interfered in the 2016 election. But those aren't the crimes I'm talking about; no surveillance of the Trump campaign by the Obama administration has been proven and, today, isn't even suggested by investigators who were adversarial to the Obama White House (there's much more evidence the Obama administration helped spy on reporters).

What I'm talking about are the war crimes.

While president, Obama authorized hundreds of drone strikes that killed thousands of people, frequently civilians. The Harvard Political Review summed it up best:

"The alleged peacemaker, very much like his predecessors, should be considered for the label of international war criminal. Let’s clarify: President Obama is not a pioneer of the illegal and offensive wars that the United States has engaged in during the last 20 years. Even still, he is an expansionist, reflected clearly in the development of his drone program. During his presidency, Obama approved the use of 563 drone strikes that killed approximately 3,797 people. In fact, Obama authorized 54 drone strikes alone in Pakistan during his first year in office. One of the first CIA drone strikes under President Obama was at a funeral, murdering as many as 41 Pakistani civilians. The following year, Obama led 128 CIA drone strikes in Pakistan that killed at least 89 civilians. Just two years into his presidency, it was clear that the 'hope' that President Obama offered during his 2008 campaign could not escape U.S. imperialism."

Human Rights Watch also adds that Obama continued policies George W. Bush began of surveilling civilians and holding uncharged detainees at Guantanamo Bay, although that same article notes that he did limit those programs somewhat.

And just to be clear: I'm not saying that Obama's presidency was any less ethical than those who came before or after, and I'm not saying he was a good or bad president in general. All I'm saying is that he's one president in a list of many presidents who could be charged with crimes. I'm saying that those who have held the presidency have indeed used the office to commit some egregious crimes, and that maybe that would happen less often if we were to prosecute those crimes, and that Barack Obama was not an exception.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Blindspot report.

Once a week, we present the Blindspot Report from our partners at Ground News, an app that tells you the bias of news coverage and what stories people on each side are missing.

The right missed a story about Donald Trump's former press secretary saying she saw Trump showing classified documents to Mar-a-Lago guests.

The left missed a story about President Joe Biden's short temper and profane outbursts with staffers behind closed doors.


  • 49%. The percentage of all voters who said it was somewhat or very likely that they would consider a third party candidate if Biden vs. Trump were to rematch in 2024, according to a NewsNation/Decision Desk poll.
  • 21%. The percentage of those voters who said they'd back Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the most of any candidate.
  • 10%. The percentage of those voters who said they'd back former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY).
  • 7%. The percentage of those voters who said they'd back Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
  • 43%. The percentage who said they'd support another candidate.
  • 47%. The percentage of all respondents in that survey who said they approve of the way President Biden is handling his job.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about Brittney Griner's imprisonment.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter, with over 2,000 clicks, was our video about UFOs.
  • Split — again! Tangle readers were very evenly divided on whether they agreed with the Ninth Circuit's decision that it is unconstitutional for cities to criminalize homeless encampments, with 46% in favor and 44% opposed. 30% said they agreed with the court and 16% strongly agreed, while 26% disagreed with the court and 18% strongly disagreed. 10% neither agreed nor disagreed.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Burger Kings in Thailand are selling cheeseburgers with no meat, but with 20 SLICES OF AMERICAN CHEESE.
  • Take the poll. How would you feel about No Labels running a third-party candidate in the 2024 presidential election? Let us know!
  • Don't forget: Live event tickets are here!

Have a nice day.

Than Singh grew up poor in New Delhi, with two siblings raised by a single father. Singh's father wanted to be a police officer, but his need to support the family never allowed him to properly prepare himself. After fulfilling his father's dream and becoming a police officer, Singh began to feel something had to be done to help children like him who had to work instead of study. So he took extraordinary action — by starting his own school for kids who had to work rather than study, hoping to get them a little closer to their peers so they could re-enroll in public schools. Of Singh's 80 students last year, 70 were able to enroll in proper government schools, and 10 achieved the highest exam scores in their class. “There is no other peace than working for these children. I could be the reason towards bringing a change in their lives with just a little support. What could have been better than this for me?” said Singh. Good News Network has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.