Since George Washington’s unanimous election 234 years ago, no third-party candidate has ever won a presidential election. In fact, George Wallace, the infamous segregationist and governor of Alabama, was the last non-major party candidate to win a single electoral vote; he won 45 of them in 1968. That was 55 years ago.
Yet throughout our history, third-party candidates have been very successful at one thing: ensuring that they take enough votes from one party to throw the election to the other. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt became unhappy with his hand-picked successor, President William Howard Taft, and decided to challenge him in the general election from the Progressive Party. The result: Democrat Woodrow Wilson won and became only the second Democrat elected to the presidency since 1861.
In more recent times, third-party efforts have derailed the hopes of both parties. Bill Clinton likely owes his 1992 election to the efforts of Ross Perot, who secured 19% of the popular vote against incumbent George H.W. Bush. More recently, we saw a similar dynamic with also-rans Ralph Nader and Jill Stein in 2000 and 2016, respectively.
But this year, No Labels seems poised to do something neither Democrats nor Republicans want, becoming the most recent third-party effort to spoil a presidential election.
I am not an outside or casual observer when it comes to No Labels. In fact, I helped launch the organization in 2010 and served as its first national field director.
Early on, No Labels served an important function during the rise of the Tea Party, at a time when intra-party primary challengers targeted consensus-builders. Here was a group of Americans who were pushing back on the increasing bitterness in our national discourse, and I was all in.
In the years that followed this early success, No Labels veered dramatically from its original founding principles by engaging directly in campaigns. They began endorsing partisan candidates in general elections, picking one party over another, all under the auspices of bipartisanship.
More recently, No Labels has started setting up state political organizations to get ballot access for a yet-unnamed third-party candidate. This week, they released a 63-page “Common Sense” party platform to much media fanfare in New Hampshire filled with inoffensive and bland policy positions.
In season two of HBO’s “Veep,” fictional Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her team try to craft a vague and innocuous abortion policy before one of her staff members recalls a passage in her heavily ghost-written book on the controversial issue: “Freedom means the freedom to choose how to use that freedom to protect the freedom of others.”
While “Veep” is a work of fiction, life often imitates art. When articulating their policy on abortion in “Common Sense,” No Labels writes, “America must strike a balance between protecting women’s rights to control their own reproductive health and our society’s responsibility to protect human life.” In other words, “the freedom to choose and the freedom to protect,” which really amounts to very little in the way of actual concrete policy recommendations. Yet the 2024 election is not a fictional television show.
Though much can change before November 2024, it appears we are headed to a rematch between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden. And while all elections are important, the 2024 stakes are once again sky-high for both parties–not to mention the long-term viability of our country.
In keeping with their founding mission, No Labels should drop their third-party bid, and instead support the true bipartisan candidate in this race, Joe Biden.
Time and time again, the incumbent president has delivered on sweeping bipartisan legislation to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, spur an economic and manufacturing boom with the CHIPs and Science Act, protect the rights of same-sex couples and religious liberty, and the first federal gun-control measure in decades. Just last month, President Biden worked with a GOP majority in the House to pass the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, a major bipartisan compromise that both lifted the debt limit and cut spending.
I fully support fighting back against the extremes in our politics and finding bipartisan consensus where possible – and that’s why I support Joe Biden. Publishing meaningless policy statements, setting up state parties, tricking innocent voters into signing onto their effort, and trafficking in the notion that Biden and Trump are equal makes a mockery of No Labels’ founding principles.