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Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.
Voters seem to be worried about the leading presidential candidates.
They worry about how far Donald Trump would go in departing from political norms. They worry simply about how far Joe Biden would go.
Because both the former president and his successor appear highly likely to be the major party nominees, the election might not do much to close the nearly even political divide.
Along comes the “No Labels” party, its name designed to show that it is not affiliated with either the Democrats or the Republicans. It may propose an “independent” candidate, who could appeal to “the center” that is ignored by the two major parties.
No Labels should be a nonstarter. It is both misleading and misguided.
It relies on polling to show both the lack of enthusiasm for Biden and Trump and the presence of a large number of moderates who might prefer a middle-of-the-road candidate. To build a third party relying on polls may be a mistake. Many people refuse to participate, and it’s possible that those who reply do not provide complete or wholly honest answers.
The word “moderate” itself may not mean neutral between the parties as much as “pragmatic” in wanting government to work, through compromise if necessary. But what would be an acceptable compromise?
Maine Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden tried. He proposed a compromise to the debt ceiling deadlock. It was hailed in the Washington Post. It was completely ignored even by so-called moderates in Congress. The partisan war continued.
The No Labels group takes credit for helping create the bipartisan House “problem solvers” caucus, supposedly bringing together moderates from both parties. But, does it work? It has been silent on the debt ceiling, except for Golden, a member.
Third-party presidential candidates, no matter how well intentioned, may serve as “spoilers,” potentially depriving a major party of enough votes to tip the election to the other side. It’s impossible to know how the third-party backers might otherwise have voted, so spoiler status is a possibility not a certainty.
Yet it may have happened when Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush in 1992. Independent Ross Perot could have taken GOP votes away from Bush. Maybe Ralph Nader caused Al Gore’s loss to the younger Bush in 2000.
The presumed answer is that No Labels will put together a president-vice president ticket with a representative of each party. That would be meant to deal with the spoiler issue. But the presidential nominee would be the only candidate that mattered.
Who is backing No Labels? Knowing that would tell us a lot about the kinds of “moderate” policies it would support. For example, how would it balance Medicaid spending with tax cuts? People with enough money to fund No Labels are likely to have strong opinions on such a choice.
The organization is using a tax law that allows it to keep its donors secret until it becomes a political party. At the same time, it is trying to qualify as a party. Maine’s Secretary of State questioned if it was trying to mislead people. Voters are asked to give it a political blank check.
Here’s a way to test its politically neutral intentions, taking it at its word that it backs moderates.
It should support a moderate challenger in the presidential primaries in each party. The appeal of both Biden and Trump would be tested. If both of its preferred candidates won, its work would be done. If only one of them was victorious, No Labels should throw all of its support to that candidate. If both lost, it would have been proved wrong.
If No Labels participated in this way, it could still keep its financial backers secret. But that secret would discredit a group trying to promote good government.
To counter the sizeable, hard-core support for Trump, No Labels looks like a crypto plot by GOP business backers to produce a conservative ticket without Trump. The first step would be to nominate a more traditional GOP conservative or a right-leaning Democrat.
The second step would be to peel away Democrats who think Biden has caved in to the progressives. If No Labels ran a renegade Democrat, it could re-elect Trump.
The weakness of this ploy is the reluctance among all but a few Republicans to take on Trump. They still worry about the ability of his troops to unseat them. Just look at the silent Republican “problem solvers.”
At the same time, they ignore the new-found unity of the Democrats. Across the spectrum, they like Biden, even if some grumble. Almost all accept him as their leader and understand they must remain unified to have a realistic chance of governing.
In the end, the presidential election could well be all about Trump, and No Labels can do little about that.