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The opaque $70 million scheme that could make Trump the next president
No Labels, the purportedly non-partisan organization that supports Republicans and conservative Democrats, is making preparations to promote a third-party presidential ticket in 2024. The group says it is "laying the groundwork for a potential independent unity ticket in 2024" as an "insurance policy" in case both major parties "nominate candidates most Americans don’t want to vote for." It claims that a "centrist" third-party ticket could win an "outright victory in the Electoral College in 2024." The far more likely outcome of No Label's strategy, however, would be to help Trump return to the Oval Office in 2024.
This is not a fly-by-night operation. No Labels said that it has raised $70 million for the effort and will seek to secure a line on the ballot in all 50 states. It has "already gained ballot access in Arizona, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon." Where did No Labels get all this money? The group has not revealed any of its donors. It's an odd position for an organization dedicated to restoring "trust" in institutions. In response to a request for comment, a No Labels spokesperson said the organization does not release its donors because it is not required by law, and "agitators and partisan operatives try to destroy organizations they don’t like by attacking and intimidating their individual supporters."
No Labels says that it will only run a presidential ticket if Republicans and Democrats "nominate candidates who empower or cater to the extremes." Would Biden fit the bill? No Labels will not answer that question either. But No Labels has produced graphics equating Trump and Biden, characterizing both as an unacceptable choice:
In any event, the No Labels strategy appears focused on siphoning off votes from the Democratic candidate. According to a projected map circulated by the group, it projects to win about two-thirds of their Electoral College votes from states that supported Biden in 2020.
Of course the far more likely scenario is that No Labels does not win any Electoral College votes at all. Nevertheless, a No Labels ticket could swing critical swing states like Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Michigan to Trump. No Labels is courting voters who are dissatisfied with Trump and Biden. According to an analysis by Third Way, a centrist organization that opposes No Labels’ plan, voters in 2020 that disliked both candidates voted for Biden over Trump by a margin of 15 points. Today, No Labels' own poll shows "Democrats, liberals and urban voters to be more open to a moderate independent candidate than Republicans, conservatives or rural voters." The poll found an "unnamed 'moderate independent' candidate was supported by 20 percent of registered voters, compared with 28 percent for Biden and 33 for Trump."
Even if a No Labels ticket defies the odds and secures Electoral College votes, the idea that it could secure an outright majority is remote. A more plausible outcome is the No Labels ticket secures enough Electoral College votes to deny either party an outright majority. That means that the House of Representatives would elect the next the president, with each state delegation receiving one vote. Republicans currently represent the majority in 26 states, meaning that the House of Representatives would almost certainly vote to install Trump for a second term.
Giving a distinct advantage to Trump in 2024, however, may be the point.
No Labels' history of supporting Trump
In January 2016, No Labels honored Trump for agreeing to its "Problem Solver Promise" at an elaborate event in New Hampshire. At the event, New Hampshire state Rep. Stephen Stepanek (R), who was representing Trump, said he believed that all of the principles promoted by No Labels "fit under the label, Make America Great Again." The event also celebrated four other Republican candidates, and one Democrat, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.
O'Malley used his address to criticize No Labels for including Trump. "When Donald Trump says all immigrants are rapists and criminals, that's not being a problem solver," O'Malley said. "There are other adjectives for that – one of them being ‘racist’... I would encourage you not to dumb down this label."
Last year, No Labels criticized the January 6 Committee — a group of Democrats and Republicans investigating Trump for inciting a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol — as "a partisan exercise about which the public is skeptical."
A No Labels video, which was produced before the Committee held public hearings, said the Committee was "unlikely to produce results that will bring the country together." It compared the Committee unfavorably to the highly-partisan Republican special committee that investigated the 2012 Benghazi attack on a U.S. embassy. It said the fact that, according to one poll, only 23% of Republicans supported the Committee's work proved it was ineffective.
No Labels history of opposing Biden
No Labels publicly opposed Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) legislation, the signature legislative proposal of the Biden administration. The package, which originally included efforts to combat climate change, increase the corporate tax rate, expand the Child Tax Credit, and improve healthcare, was copiously cut down from Biden’s original proposal, largely due to opposition from Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ).
Throughout the legislative process, No Labels stood by Manchin and Sinema and applauded their efforts to kill the legislation. In a leaked email from September 2021 celebrating the paring down of BBB, No Labels praised Sinema’s “heroic efforts” for her work on the bill. No Labels also ran ads commending Manchin for “hit[ting] the brakes on BBB” and hosted him at a “billionaire-backed gathering” amidst BBB negotiations.
According to the Intercept, No Labels reportedly “raised hundreds of thousands for a special fund to bolster the efforts of a group of conservative House Democrats opposed to a stepped-up version of the Build Back Better package.” In August 2021, nine members of the House worked to “force” former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to hold a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal before considering the larger BBB bill, scuttling the Biden administration's plan to link the two votes, according to Axios.
What we know about No Labels' donors
No Labels has a policy of not revealing its donors. But in 2018, the Daily Beast obtained "internal documents" that provided key insights into its funding. The documents revealed that "prominent executives from Fortune 500 companies and leading financial-services firms have contributed to No Labels’ 501(c)(4) dark-money group and its affiliated 501(c)(3) charitable arm." This included large donations from top executives running hedge funds and private equity firms, including Bain Capital, Centaurus Advisors, Oaktree Capital Management, Trian Fund Management, and Apollo Global Management.
Notably, this is the same group of people who are disappointed with the Biden administration. As a Senator from Delaware, Biden was perceived by the financial industry as friendly to corporate America. But his administration has aggressively regulated securities and mergers, angering Wall Street dealmakers.
Last week, Semafor reported that "Wall Street backers of U.S. President Joe Biden are holding back on supporting him in the 2024 race, citing rules proposed by his Securities and Exchange Commission that target the financial services industry." These executives are particularly upset with SEC chairman Gary Gensler who "has taken on everything from climate disclosure regulations to market-structure rewrites."
According to Semafor, Biden's approach to financial regulation "has left a sense of 'buyer’s remorse" for some on Wall Street. Financial industry lobbyists are reportedly "beyond frustrated.”
No Labels' efforts could be a way for the Wall Street crowd to vent their frustrations — and keep Biden from winning a second term.