No Labels' Colorado sham: Why they're working very hard to help Tea Party senator win

The centrist "problem solvers" have determined that Mark Udall is apparently a huge problem who must be destroyed

Published October 28, 2014 5:37PM (EDT)

Cory Gardner             (AP)
Cory Gardner (AP)

Our morally superior post-ideological post-political friends at the No Labels organization seem really intent on getting Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner elected to the Senate.

The centrist advocacy group, founded in 2010 "to move America from the old politics of point-scoring toward a new politics of problem-solving," has obviously had zero success in that -- except in providing a modest amount of cover-by-association to politicians in unfriendly territory. Think Joe Manchin in West Virginia. He is a Democrat, but being a member of No Labels allows him to say that he is against political partisanship. And so on. Convenient.

No Labels found itself in an uncomfortable position over the summer when a confidential strategy memo prepared for its executive board leaked to the press. The document mentioned how Republican control of the Senate would present excellent business opportunities for No Labels.

“Should the balance of power in the U.S. Senate flip following the 2014 midterm elections and Republicans gain control, No Labels sees an opportunity to bridge the gap between Congress and the White House,” the document reads in its “Break Through Strategy” section. “With Republicans holding control of both chambers in Congress and a Democrat in the White House, the likelihood of gridlock will be higher than ever before.

“We have already begun back door conversations with Senate leaders to discuss this increasingly likely scenario,” the document continues.

As Yahoo also reported at the time, No Labels had poisoned its relationship with Democrats earlier this year when it decided to "support" Gardner over Sen. Mark Udall. That doesn't seem like much of a post-political problem-solving move so much as a means of helping Republicans gain control of the Senate. No Labels argued that the support wasn't an "endorsement," explaining that "any candidate could be backed by the group if they just agreed to be a member." Cory Gardner, meanwhile, went around telling everyone that he was endorsed by the important problem-solving group No Labels.

Now Real Clear Politics reports that No Labels "will actively support Rep. Cory Gardner in the final days of his challenge against Colorado Sen. Mark Udall." The group "will be staging independent Get Out The Vote efforts to support our Problem Solver members," like Cory Gardner. Again, though, it's not an "endorsement" per se, just backing a politician who's won the No Labels Seal of Approval. There really is a thing out there called the "No Labels Seal of Approval" that Gardner has but Udall doesn't:

“The No Labels Seal of Approval is awarded to members of the Problem Solvers Caucus who have worked across the political aisle and support a national strategic agenda of shared goals for the country,” said Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to George W. Bush and a No Labels co-founder. “We are happy to award the Seal to people running in the same race.”

Why doesn't Udall go get himself a shiny No Labels Seal of Approval? Doesn't he want to be in the Problem Solvers Caucus? Maybe he thinks it's stupid. (It's stupid.) At least on paper, it doesn't seem that hard to win a No Labels Seal of Approval. Here's the criteria from No Labels' website:

1. The Problem Solver Seal serves as recognition that the candidates endorse a process to create a National Strategic Agenda for the country where leaders of  both parties agree to the following goals:

  • Create 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years
  • Secure Medicare and Social Security for another 75 years
  • Balance the federal budget by 2030
  • Make America energy secure by 2024

2. Be committed to working on at least one of the four goals.

3. Publicly state that they support the process for creating a National Strategic Agenda and the four goals in a press release and on their campaign website.

4. Work to solve problems in a bipartisan way.

5. Participate in annual review to sustain the seal.

Note: The seal can be revoked if No Labels deems there is behavior not befitting a problem solver. This is not an endorsement and cannot be advertised as such. 

OK, so you have to say that you're "committed to working" on any one of these four bland goals. They're so hazy that I'm sure Mark Udall, being a sentient human, is committed to all four of them. Maybe he just didn't want to send out the dumb press release like No Labels requires you to do.

Or perhaps the Seal was revoked, or not granted in the first place, because Mark Udall showed "behavior not befitting a problem solver." As RCP describes it, Udall's campaign strategy has been "largely negative in tone and focused on depicting Gardner as radical and anti-women." As if Cory Gardner has run a campaign premised on sunshine flowers and Unicorn rainbows. If Udall's campaign can be boiled down to "Cory Gardner hates women," Gardner's would be "Mark Udall wants ISIS to kill all Coloradans." There's not a whole lot of inspiration to be found here.

What's especially strange about No Labels' insistence on terminating Udall's Senate career is that he does have bipartisan gravitas -- just not on an issue that No Labels deems important. There are plenty of other cookie-cutter Democrats out there who've done nothing. But Udall has been a leading voice on one of the few issues over the past couple of years that does corral a bipartisan coalition: surveillance reform. Udall, like Rand Paul, has been railing against NSA overreach both before and after the Edward Snowden disclosures. And he sits on the intelligence committee, where his rank would rise in the next Congress. He'd have significant sway on this issue that alarms segments of both the Democratic and Republican parties. That sounds like a significantly stronger qualification for the Problem Solvers Caucus than offering some rote babble about how you'll work to create a million bajillion jobs over the next 20 years by cutting Social Security or whatever.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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2014 Elections Centrists Colorado Cory Gardner Editor's Picks Mark Udall Nsa Senate Surveillance Tea Party