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Labeling the Third-Party Movement
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Labeling the Third-Party Movement

No Labels seeks to do what no third-party White House bid in recent memory has achieved—win.

Happy Tuesday! Let’s set the record straight: The 2026 Men’s FIFA World Cup final will take place in New Jersey, not New York. For Manhattanites looking to make the trek out to see the game, we know a guy who can show you the way.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Iran-backed Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for an attack near a U.S. base in Syria on Monday that killed six members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-allied militia. The SDF reported that a drone struck a training facility at the al-Omar base, the first major attack from an Iranian proxy since the U.S.’s counterstrikes in the region over the weekend. No Americans were killed in Monday’s attacks.
  • U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres appointed a panel on Monday to investigate the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) following reporting that a dozen staff members in Gaza were involved in Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack in Israel. The independent review group, led by former French Minister of Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna, will assess whether UNRWA is working to “ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches” related to its work in Gaza. Israel has alleged that 10 percent of the agency’s staff is tied to Hamas.
  • Members of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party on Monday boycotted a parliamentary session in which a vote was scheduled to ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO, further stalling the Nordic country’s entrance into the alliance. The ruling party has delayed Sweden’s NATO bid since the summer of 2022, and Hungary now stands alone in preventing Sweden’s membership after Turkey’s January approval.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Majority Whip Tom Emmer, and Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik released a statement on Monday explicitly denouncing the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill, declaring the legislation “DEAD on arrival in the House” and warning that “America’s sovereignty is at stake.” Multiple Senate Republicans—including John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—expressed their concern with the bill Monday, and Sen. Steve Daines of Montana indicated he would vote against the measure. Former President Donald Trump also panned the potential legislative deal in a post on Truth Social. “Only a fool, or a Radical Left Democrat, would vote for this horrendous Border Bill, which only gives Shutdown Authority after 5000 Encounters a day, when we already have the right to CLOSE THE BORDER NOW, which must be done,” he wrote. “This Bill is a great gift to the Democrats, and a Death Wish for The Republican Party.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday reportedly recommended his party vote against advancing the compromise bill, citing the political mood in the country.
  • Rep. Victoria Spartz, a Republican from Indiana, announced on Monday that she will run for reelection to the House of Representatives, reversing her previous decision to retire. “Earlier last year, I decided to take some time off from running for public office to recharge and spend more time in Indiana with my family,” Spartz said in a statement. “However, looking where we are today, and urged by many of my constituents, I do not believe I would be able to deliver this Congress, with the current failed leadership in Washington, D.C., on the important issues for our nation that I have worked very hard on.”
  • Buckingham Palace announced Monday that King Charles has been diagnosed with a form of cancer, discovered during a recent procedure for a benign enlarged prostate. The king began treatments Monday and has postponed public duties while undergoing care. King Charles “remains wholly positive about his treatment and looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible,” the Monday statement read. “His Majesty has chosen to share his diagnosis to prevent speculation and in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer.”
  • Country singer Toby Keith died on Monday, according to a statement from his representatives, after a months-long battle with stomach cancer. The artist behind songs like “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” “Made in America,” and “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” was 62 years old.

No Labels, No Problems

The launch of the unaffiliated political organization known as No Labels at Columbia University in New York City on December 13, 2010. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In 2020, the San Francisco 49ers faced the Kansas City Chiefs as then-President Donald Trump and then-former Vice President Joe Biden geared up for a high-stakes presidential campaign. Four years later, we’re looking at a double rematch. But lurking on the sidelines this time is No Labels—a group that can’t do anything about the Super Bowl rerun but is aiming to upset the Republican and Democratic dynasties and their deeply despised candidates.

Third-party presidential candidates historically have had terrible odds, but No Labels isn’t the typical third-party effort of recent years (e.g., the Green Party). Nor is it an attempt, à la Evan McMullin in 2016, to deny the two party candidates a victory in the Electoral College and throw the election to the House of Representatives (although some No Labels opponents would argue otherwise). Founded in 2010 to encourage more bipartisanship and common-sense policy making, the group says 2024 may get weird enough for a non-major-party candidate to win: If—and only if—polling shows a path for a successful independent bid, the group will field a unity ticket likely consisting of a centrist Republican and Democrat.

The group’s theory of victory hinges on the fact that Biden and Trump are incredibly unpopular. A January NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll found that 59 percent of respondents were not enthusiastic about a Trump-Biden rematch. What’s more, 63 percent of American adults believe that the Republican and Democratic parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed, according to an October 2023 Gallup poll—the highest level since Gallup began asking the question. No Labels itself has conducted extensive polling and modeling that show, at least on paper, an opening for a centrist ticket. The group commissioned a December 2022 national poll in which 59 percent of respondents said they’d be open to voting for a “moderate independent” for president if the alternatives were Trump and Biden. A similar poll in eight battleground states released last summer found that even more voters would consider such a candidate.  

The surveys are encouraging for No Labels, but even the group itself admits a hypothetical candidate wouldn’t get anywhere near that amount of support—Americans like the idea of a credible third-party ticket, but have very different opinions of what that ticket should look like. “The way it works is 59 percent of people will say ‘I’m open to something,’ and then a ticket gets named and then some big chunk of them will say, ‘Well, yeah, I liked the idea but not that person,’” said Ryan Clancy, No Labels’ chief strategist who once served as a speechwriter for Biden when he was vice president. “But when your ceiling is that high … in a multi-candidate race, you might only need 34, 35, 36 percent of the vote to win 100 percent of the electoral votes.” No Labels’ modeling shows “a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican” ticket securing a plurality of the vote, 34 percent, compared to Biden’s 33.3 percent and Trump’s 32.7 percent.

Over the last two years, No Labels has invested heavily in ballot access across the country. The group is currently on the ballot as a placeholder—meaning it can reserve a spot on the ballot without naming candidates yet—in 14 states and will ultimately be on the ballot in 32, Clancy said. The remaining 18 states require a named candidate to be on the ballot or are more challenging for placeholder ballot access. Yet Clancy is optimistic. “We have every reason to believe this ticket will be able to compete in all 50,” he told TMD. “Ross Perot at this point [in the 1992 presidential election] hadn’t even started gathering signatures, and he ended up on all 50.”

A No Labels super PAC, New Leaders 2024, has also started ramping up activities. The PAC, co-led by Republican operatives Rob Stutzman and Kathleen Shanahan, would support a No Labels ticket’s campaign with events, voter turnout activities, advertising, and messaging. “We’re not a party committee because there’s no party,” Stutzman told TMD. “But we are focused on preparing to provide that essential support.” Part of the PAC’s strategy would be assisting a hypothetical campaign in states that aren’t normally competitive. “This will change the map,” Stutzman argued. “There will be tens of millions of Americans who otherwise are not in swing states that would now be in swing states.”

Stutzman acknowledged that an eventual ticket would have “very little runway to take off and launch itself,” but a number of figures—from Sens. Joe Manchin and Mitt Romney, to former Rep. Liz Cheney, to New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, to former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan—have been rumored to be under consideration. (Hogan stepped down as a No Labels co-chair this year, potentially suggesting aspirations to become the group’s nominee.)

Despite all its organizing, No Labels hasn’t officially decided to pull the trigger on a bid, and has run into plenty of speed bumps along the way. “These are talented people, but they’ve never done anything like this,” a source close to the group told The Dispatch’s David M. Drucker a few weeks ago. Clancy said a decision over whether to formally launch a campaign will be made after March 15, when a) it’ll be more clear if the country is headed for a Trump-Biden rematch and b) the group will have more data to determine whether it has a clear path to victory and that its presence on the ballot wouldn’t have a spoiler effect that would make it more likely Trump is elected.

No Labels’ public commitment to not be a Trump-favorable spoiler, however, hasn’t stopped Democrats and anti-Trump groups from fiercely attacking the group. Longtime Democratic strategist James Carville described No Labels’ efforts as “f—ing bullshit,” and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last fall the group “is perilous to our democracy.” 

Third Way, a centrist Democratic group; MoveOn, a progressive policy advocacy shop; and the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump PAC, have emerged as some of No Labels’ most ardent critics, believing a moderate independent ticket would help elect Trump by siphoning off disaffected Republican voters who would otherwise vote for Biden. On a private call organized in December by Third Way, the coalition outlined plans to destroy an independent ticket that included legal opposition and even borderline threats targeting potential No Labels’ candidates and donors. “Through every channel we have, to their donors, their friends, the press, everyone—everyone —should send the message: If you have one fingernail clipping of a skeleton in your closet, we will find it,” one speaker said in a recording obtained by Semafor. “If you think you were vetted when you ran for governor, you’re insane. That was nothing. We are going to come at you with every gun we can possibly find.” No Labels has even requested the Justice Department investigate such threats, arguing they amount to a potentially criminal conspiracy to intimidate its supporters.

But less vociferous opponents also think a No Labels ticket could lead to a Trump victory. William Galston, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who helped found No Labels, parted ways with the group last summer, arguing an independent bid would hurt Biden more than Trump. Galston told The Atlantic last month that No Labels is “completely convinced that Biden versus Trump is a contest that a majority of Americans do not want.” He agreed that “the evidence suggests that premise is correct” but, “they conclude from that fact that you can mobilize at least a plurality to choose someone other than Trump or Biden. The conclusion doesn’t follow straight from the premise.” 

But Joe Lieberman, No Labels’ founding chairman and a former Democratic senator from Connecticut, believes that Democrats’ current strategy is what will lead to a Trump victory. “Right now, looking at the polling, it’s not No Labels that’s going to re-elect Donald Trump,” he said in December. “Right now, it looks like it’s Joe Biden who’s going to re-elect Donald Trump.” 

No Labels argues that its ticket can win outright. “People can say ‘independents never get traction; we’re a two-party system for better or worse,’” Clancy told TMD. “But they are underestimating the depth of frustration that the public has with their current choices.” He argues that the conditions for success are better than they were in 1992, when Ross Perot siphoned off nearly 19 percent of the vote nationwide. There are more independents now, and both Trump and Biden are more extreme than the relatively centrist orientation of both Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in ‘92.

No Labels’ own polling has suggested that a “moderate independent” entering the race would help Trump nationally, but if the ticket was headed by a Republican, it would draw more votes from Trump than Biden in seven out of eight battleground states. Trump has publicly criticized No Labels, saying last month the group would try to use its ticket to hurt his chances. “How an independent impacts the race depends on who the independent is,” Clancy told TMD. “There are flavors of independent that hurt Biden more. There are flavors that hurt Trump more. There are flavors that are kind of a wash. The unity ticket, by definition, is one that will be designed to appeal to the vast middle of the electorate.” It could also end up denying an Electoral College victory to either Trump or Biden, throwing the election to the House of Representatives, where things could get pretty squirrely. Clancy said such an outcome was not No Labels’ plan, nor “a scenario we’d consider ideal.”

Some political observers believe the other third-party candidates in the race—such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jill Stein, and Cornel West—represent the real spoiler threat. “The collective Democratic fixation on No Labels increasingly looks misplaced—or at least disproportionate given how the 2024 political landscape is taking shape,” argued Politico’s Jonathan Martin. “How many more polls do there have to be of Kennedy near double-digit votes in swing states before he’s taken seriously? And: how many Biden speeches must be shouted down until Democrats realize that a hot war in Gaza this fall may mean 30,000 fewer votes apiece in Madison, Dearborn and Ann Arbor and therefore the presidency?” 

The third-party candidates already running in the race aren’t nearly as concerned about their potential spoiling effects as No Labels. Clancy said the group could withdraw its ballot line as late as July if it doesn’t look like there’s a path to victory. “It’s possible you could put up a ticket, let that ticket run for three or four months, and see if it captures the imagination of the public,” Clancy told TMD. “If it doesn’t, then you pull the line down.”

In the next month or two, all the controversy and political intrigue surrounding No Labels could be for naught if the group doesn’t settle on its candidates. But the group has generated a sizable amount of support and attention that could potentially stick around beyond 2024. “If we don’t ultimately offer up a ticket,” Clancy said, “what we would hope is whatever we do next we will now have a bigger and more influential movement behind us, which will give us more leverage to create positive change.”

Worth Your Time

  • A “volunteer army of nerds” is working to uncover the long-concealed writings in the Herculaneum papyri, scrolls of texts preserved in Pompeii by the volcanic eruptions but rendered unreadable by their ashen encasements. Nat Friedman, amateur historian and former CEO of GitHub Inc., launched a project last year hoping to encourage techies to develop AI programs that could read the scrolls. “Friedman and his academic partner Brent Seales, a computer science professor and scroll expert, plan to reveal that a group of contestants has delivered transcriptions of many more than four passages from one of the scrolls,” Ashlee Vance and Ellen Huet wrote for Bloomberg. “While it’s early to draw any sweeping conclusions from this bit of work, Friedman says he’s confident that the same techniques will deliver far more of the scrolls’ contents. ‘My goal,’ he says, ‘is to unlock all of them.’”

Toby Was Made in America 

Presented Without Comment

Fox News: Biden Tells Crowd He Recently Met With [François] Mitterrand, Former French President Who Died in 1996

Also Presented Without Comment

Wall Street Journal: Nikki Haley Asks for Secret Service Protection After Increase in Threats

Toeing the Company Line

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! The team will discuss the news of the week and, of course, take plenty of viewer questions. Keep an eye out for an email later today with information on how to tune in.
  • In the newsletters: Kevin analyzed (🔒) the crimes corrupting our public institutions, the Dispatch Politics crew checked in on the mostly dead Senate immigration deal, and Nick argued (🔒) that said immigration deal should be sent to the House.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David invite District Judge Vince Chhabria on the pod to explain the state of multidistrict litigation and answer the question: Why does he listen to Advisory Opinions?
  • On the site today: Charlotte explores whether war between Hezbollah and Israel is imminent, Chris Stirewalt measures the threat RFK Jr. presents to Trump, and Annalise DeVries offers an explainer on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Let Us Know

What is your definition of a centrist, third-party presidential candidate that could win? Does such a person exist?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.