Election 2024 No Labels
Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

No Labels Wants To Save America From Joe Biden (And Donald Trump)

The political group detests Trump. But its disgust with Biden is central to a potential third-party presidential campaign.

The leaders of No Labels say they’re on a mission to prevent a divisive and extreme president from winning this year’s election. They’re not just talking about Donald Trump.

No Labels officials say both political parties, Democrats and Republicans, have blitzed past the will of moderate, typical Americans — that both have proven incapable of pursuing common-sense ideas and that both have partaken in their own bouts of destruction.

For Trump and Republicans, there was Jan. 6, 2021. For Democrats, well, among other things, Sen. John Fetterman was temporarily allowed to wear sweats when walking through Congress.

“It wasn’t a Republican who said Fetterman could wear shorts from sleeping to the Senate floor,” Jay Nixon, the former Democratic governor of Missouri and a No Labels leader, told NOTUS in a recent interview, referring to the junior senator from Pennsylvania known for avoiding formal dress wear.

In the roughly two years since No Labels began an unprecedented campaign to elect a politically moderate third-party candidate to the White House, the group’s leaders have made national headlines defending their effort as a politically viable bid backed by a public fed up with both parties. Less discussed — but still central to the group’s motivation — is their dismal view of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

In a series of recent interviews with NOTUS, No Labels leaders opened up about their disappointment with the president, arguing, sometimes with forced comparisons, that he broke his promise to unite the country with a pragmatic political agenda and level-headed rhetoric. Instead, they say, he has only worsened Washington’s growing dysfunction.

Jay Nixon
Then-Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon speaks at on May 13, 2016, in Jefferson City. Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

“There’s a yearning for something different, something better. Not just different — better,” Nixon said. “Because, I mean, they tried to burn down the Capitol. And one of the parties is saying that’s not a problem. And that’s just one side of it.”

“And then you can make an equal argument against the Democrats in some fashion, where decisions are being made not on the quality of folks but on, I don’t want to get into significant issues, but you could argue that the Democrats are willing to spend our way to oblivion, things like that,” he said.

After the former governor cited Fetterman’s shorts as evidence that Democrats are contributing to the dysfunction, NOTUS asked him if it was fair to compare the since-rescinded relaxing of the Senate dress code to a political party whose then-president summoned rioters to the Capitol. Nixon responded that political discourse has too often been driven off track by both parties one-upping the other with examples of bad behavior instead of sitting down and solving problems.

“That’s what’s happened to Washington,” he said. “Each side makes their argument.”

No Labels Chief Strategist Ryan Clancy says Biden has failed in his mission to unite the country. “The promise of Biden was not, ‘I’m just going to be better than Trump,’” Clancy said in a recent interview. “If you look at the president’s inaugural, it was something higher and more important and ambitious.”

This dim appraisal of Biden, coupled with the belief the voting public is ready to embrace a moderate, independent presidential candidate, is the rationale behind the group’s ongoing bid to bypass the two-party system in 2024, convinced that the country needs a new leader despite mounting criticism that it will only help Trump’s campaign.

Clancy, an ex-Biden staffer who voted for the president in 2020, cited Biden’s 2022 voting rights speech in Georgia when he called Republican proposals to restrict or secure voting “Jim Crow 2.0,” as a misguided turning point for his former boss.

“There’s been several points during Biden’s presidency where he had a choice to be a unifying figure or a more partisan figure,” Clancy said. “And unfortunately, on more than a few occasions, he chose the latter.”

No Labels’ view of Biden thrusts it into the middle of one of Washington’s most contentious debates, in which self-professed political moderates weigh whether a party led by Biden and a party led by Trump really pose comparable levels of harm. It also adds a new layer of controversy to the group’s proposal for a presidential alternative, which is already on the receiving end of a well-coordinated, vocal effort from Democratic insiders bent on ending the effort before the group places a candidate on state ballots.

The dispute is especially infuriating to many Biden-supporting moderate Democrats, who argue the president has a lengthy set of significant, if overlooked, bipartisan accomplishments and centrist policy positions.

No Labels leaders say they don’t think Trump and Biden are the same, voicing repeatedly and unambiguously that the Republican was a much worse president. But they do see Biden as a lost cause — both in terms of public perception and on the merits of his presidency.

“I just think that the center of the party has moved so far to the left from his days in the Senate, that he also was pulled to the left,” said former Democratic (and later independent) Sen. Joe Lieberman, No Labels’ founding chairman. “And the left in the Democratic Party had the disproportionate influence, which was reflected in some of his policies.”

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No Labels, a group founded in 2010, is used to getting pushback from Democrats. The group has long championed what it considers centrist policies on Capitol Hill, especially bills cutting government spending, that have elicited accusations it is more aligned with Wall Street than Main Street.

But its ongoing effort to build a campaign apparatus that a yet-to-be-selected nominee could inherit later this year — which has already seen them gain access to the ballot in 13 states, form a super PAC, and begin a private recruitment effort of potential presidential candidates — is drawing much fiercer opposition from Democratic insiders.

In tones more exasperated than angry, these insiders say any group of political moderates who doesn’t actively support Biden over Trump fundamentally underestimates the threat the former GOP president poses, and warn that a third-party bid would only strengthen Trump’s chances.

“We are not open to any argument that puts the two parties in the same universe, much less zip code when it comes to culpability for what has happened,” said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of the centrist Democratic group Third Way, which has become a vocal No Labels critic. “There is just no question. Donald Trump is the most divisive public figure since Appomattox.”

No Labels leaders point out, correctly, that many polls show the public agrees with them, with some indicating that voters generally view Biden and Trump as equally extreme. Critics who don’t grapple with that public perception, they say, are dangerously out of touch.

Joe Biden
Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo

But at times, No Labels leaders do shy away from publicly expressing their views of Biden’s presidency. In interviews, they also can draw strained equivalencies between the two parties. And they sometimes even turn the incumbent president’s bipartisan record — like his support for a $1 trillion infrastructure law in late 2021 — into reasons for why he should be replaced.

In Clancy’s telling, even if Biden deserves credit for the measure’s passage, it was actually a bipartisan group of centrist House lawmakers on Capitol Hill affiliated with No Labels, the Problem Solvers Caucus, who did the hard work of negotiating the legislation that ultimately received 32 votes from GOP senators and House members.

And even with their help, Clancy said he was still frustrated that the law was subject to what he described as a long, trying legislative process, one that left him doubtful the country was ready to take on more intractable issues.

“I mean, infrastructure is roads and bridges,” Clancy said. “This is not immigration. This is not abortion, guns. This is not like the hot-button issues.”

His frustration over the infrastructure law wasn’t incidental. The chief strategist says that the immediate aftermath of the law’s passage was that No Labels’ members’ more abstract conversations about launching a third-party run became more concrete. It was what Clancy considers the real beginning of the No Labels-backed presidential bid. For the previous decade, the group had focused on Congress.

“I thought to myself, for all we’ve achieved in Congress if passing something like this is such an uphill struggle, maybe there is something more fundamental that’s needed, that you can only do so much by building from below in Congress,” Clancy said. “Maybe you really need a different kind of conversation at the highest level, which is the presidential race.”

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No Labels’ leadership says it is still waiting to decide whether to move forward with its bid, a decision contingent on whether Trump and Biden, as expected, win their parties’ primaries and whether the group can recruit a candidate with enough credibility and skill to do something no presidential nominee has done, arguably, since Abraham Lincoln launched the Republican Party in 1860.

The group’s leaders say they won’t play spoiler in 2024, maintaining they want to enter the race only if they can win. Because of all the criticisms aimed at No Labels, the one its leaders bristle at the most is the suggestion they are secretly trying to help Trump.

“We are about as anti-Trump as anybody I know,” Nixon said. “And that’s why it frosts everybody so much when Third Way and some other people say, ‘Oh, yeah, they’re just trying to help Trump’ and all that stuff. That’s why we get so jumpy.”

Nixon joined No Labels as a volunteer last summer to help make sure the party gains access to the 2024 ballot, no easy task in some states that require thousands of voter signatures. He estimates he spends six to 12 hours a week working on No Labels’ behalf.

Even if he doesn’t like Trump, however, the former governor is blunt about why he became involved: The public deserves a better alternative than Biden and the Democratic Party.

The list of ways Biden has failed as president is lengthy, according to Nixon and his colleagues, encompassing his domestic agenda, foreign policy and public persona.

They frequently mentioned the soaring number of migrants entering the country through the U.S.-Mexico border, empty shelves at convenience stores like Rite Aid, and the trillions of dollars in new spending Biden’s administration has authorized, including a coronavirus economic aid package that passed on a party-line vote shortly after he took office.

“As president, he yielded to the left, which saw this as an opportunity, not just to respond to COVID, but vowed to get as much spending on all of their favorite projects as they possibly could,” said Lieberman, who also listed the president’s attempt to revive the Iranian nuclear deal and his decision to withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan in 2021 as disappointments.

Of course, they also dwell on Biden’s age. He’s 81 now and, if he wins in November, his birthday month, he’ll be 82 when he starts his second term.

“The trouble is all of us know somebody 82. And none of us think that person should be president,” said Nixon, who said he envisions a No Labels-backed president being able to communicate fluently and regularly with the American public through a series of modern-day “fireside chats.”

Nixon, Clancy and Lieberman each described Biden as a well-intentioned leader with a long history of moderate politics and bipartisan dealmaking, and Lieberman went as far as to say he doesn’t think his old Senate colleague has been a “bad president.” Clancy, for his part, said that he doesn’t consider himself “anti-Biden” and conceded that the public hasn’t always given him the proper dues he deserves.

“I don’t know exactly the reason why Biden has not gotten the credit from the public for some of the legislative achievements,” Clancy said. “I suspect it has more to do with just more simple, visceral things like, ‘I don’t really feel safe,’ ‘cereal is nine bucks a box,’ and you know, ‘the world seems to be falling apart.’ Some of that isn’t Biden’s fault at all, you know, but it’s just the situation.”

But regardless Clancy said that a public hungry for a candidate promising a reasonable agenda won’t find that from either Trump or Biden.

Election 2024 Trump
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

“We are headed to one year of absolutely apocalyptic rhetoric,” said No Labels’ chief strategist. “That’s going to be Trump saying, ‘Vote for me or America is done, we’re going to turn into the Soviet Union.’ And Biden and Democrats saying, ‘Vote for me and the MAGA fascists are taking over and we’re not even going to have an election again.’ I mean, that’s the election we all know we’re getting.”

Democrats, led by Biden, are actively making the country’s political debate worse, No Labels leaders say.

“Democrats are contributing,” Nixon said.

The former governor’s comparison of Democratic and Republican misdeeds – and the equivalence he drew between Jan. 6 and Fetterman’s shorts – received a scathing rebuke from Bennett, who was provided a partial transcript of Nixon’s interview for his reaction.

“In my entire career, in my life, I’ve never seen false equivalence as completely insane as that offered by Governor Nixon, comparing Chuck Schumer’s decision that he later repealed to allow John Fetterman to wear shorts to the insurrection and coup against the United States,” he said.

Bennett and other Democrats point out that Biden’s tenure coincided with an unexpected surge in congressional dealmaking, in which lawmakers agreed to measures ranging from infrastructure and gun safety to high-tech manufacturing and the election code. They also say Biden’s foreign policy, led by his unequivocal opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and support for Israel after Hamas’ attacks of Oct. 7, is rooted directly in the country’s political middle.

What’s more, they say it’s self-evident that Biden hails from the party’s more conservative wing and has always shown a natural inclination to push back against liberal excesses, including when he opposed calls during the 2020 election to defund the police or back the Medicare for All Act.

In public, at least one No Labels leader, former Republican Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina, hesitated to push back against that more generous characterization of Biden. When asked at a December forum hosted by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy whether he considered Biden a reasonable and patriotic leader, he openly demurred.

“I’m not getting into that trap,” McCrory said.


Alex Roarty is a reporter at NOTUS.