The centrist plan to sabotage Joe Biden

Centrist groups like No Label seek to undermine President Biden's re-election. Do they secretly want Donald Trump?

By Heather Digby Parton


Published April 17, 2023 9:00AM (EDT)

Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Here we go again. It seems as if every other election cycle or so for the past few decades has produced dreams of a centrist third party "unity" ticket that would appeal to all the Americans who say they want the partisan bickering in Washington to stop. The Beltway media gets excited at the idea of "the grown-ups" being in charge and the Big Money Boys lick their chops at the prospect of a party based entirely on their needs and their needs alone. This year it looks like the perennial group that calls itself No Labels has decided to throw a monkey wrench into our closely divided electoral college map and possibly send Donald Trump back to the White House in 2024 — in the name of unity, of course.

No Labels is already gathering signatures to get on the ballot and is trying to recruit a Democrat and a Republican to run as a bipartisan ticket. Joe Manchin D-W.V., Kirsten Sinema, D-Az., Susan Collins, R-Me., and former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan are the names mentioned most often. (At least they aren't pulling former Democrat turned Independent pain in the neck Joe Lieberman out of mothballs for another run.)

The New Republic obtained a video the organization is showing to donors to illustrate why this ticket is needed.

"With the extremes on both sides dominating the primaries," the video warns, "the two parties are on a path to nominating candidates most eligible voters will find unacceptable." Above these words, the video shows photos of four political figures—in order of appearance, Donald Trump, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

That's right. Nowhere in the video is that dangerous left wing firebrand, incumbent president and presumptive nominee Joe Biden even mentioned. It does give away the game, doesn't it? The only people who would respond to that message would be the rich Republicans who fund No Labels. It's not a mystery why this video has not been distributed publicly. Most normal people know that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are not running for president and that the mainstream warhorse Joe Biden beat Warren and Sanders in the 2020 primary and Donald Trump in the general. 

The ad is bizarre, to say the least. No Labels may think Biden is too liberal but you simply can't say he isn't bipartisan. He managed to get through more major bipartisan legislation on infrastructure, climate change, domestic manufacturing, election integrity, gun safety than any president in recent memory. Is bipartisanship what they really want or are they more interested in preening about "unity" while lobbying under the table for corporate interests? It's so off base that even the usually compatible centrist think tank Third Way has denounced this effort.

There have been these "centrist" movements for quite a while. I recall back in 2008 a big gathering at the University of Oklahoma led by Michael Bloomberg, then considering a third party run, who shared this stirring message:

"People have stopped working together, government is dysfunctional, there's no collaborating and congeniality," Bloomberg said to applause from the crowd.

Same old same old. In 2012, they really revved up with "Americans Elect" yet another dark money big donor group with the same agenda:

By its own account, the group is driven by civic-minded citizens who feel that moderates and independents have been disenfranchised by the tendency of the two parties play to their bases, especially in primaries, when independents cannot vote in many states.

No Labels was launched in 2010 when centrists like Joe Lieberman decided that President Barack Obama was failing to reach out to the Republicans and work toward common solutions to America's problems. The fact that this was complete and utter nonsense (remember the Grand Bargain?) didn't matter --- there was money to be made and this group was going to get a place at the trough. The group was launched by a former Democratic fundraiser named Nancy Jacobson a noted "radical centrist" who got billionaire funders Michael Bloomberg and Andrew Tisch to sign big checks right away. They were the first of many although we don't know exactly who they all are because it's a dark money group that is not obliged to name its donors. But there have been reports of fundraising appeals made to everyone from David Koch to PayPal founder Peter Thiel to associates of George Soros. Considering the mission, I wouldn't expect many liberal-minded billionaires to join up but I suppose you never know.

This year they are reported to have already gathered 70 million for a spoiler third-party presidential campaign. In our very closely contested, antiquated, and undemocratic electoral college this is just what the doctor ordered to give the Republicans another go at it.

It's hard not to assume that's the plan. Jacobson is married to shady pollster Mark Penn who was affiliated with the Clintons back in the day but has steadily become hostile to the Democratic Party over the years. Penn has been intimately involved with No Labels. One of his most famous contributions to their attempts at sabotage was back in 2017 during the Obamacare repeal attempt. As the Daily Beast reported at the time, Penn tweeted this inane bit of political advice:

The Democrats missed their chance to shape healthcare and let the Freedom Caucus be the key swing actor. Time to get off the sidelines.

I don't know what he was smoking or drinking but the idea that the Freedom Caucus has ever been or ever will be a "key swing actor" is delusional. They would rather cripple their own agenda rather than ever compromise on anything. (And they have.) The notion that the Democrats should help them destroy the party's signature health care plan has always been ridiculous, although many centrist types like Penn have argued for it from the beginning.

There are always third party gadflies in presidential races and they can have an effect. Ross Perot in 1992 arguably shifted the race to Bill Clinton and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader's 94,000+ votes in Florida certainly cost Al Gore the White House in 2000. There's an argument to be made that Green Party candidate Jill Stein's run in 2016 made the difference in the electoral swing states that Donald Trump won narrowly. The stakes were high then but we can attribute that to the fact that like most of us, it was inconceivable to those voters that so many people would vote for the bizarre Donald Trump for president. I think most Americans have been properly schooled about that by now.

Well, except for these centrists who seem to be living in some kind of insular dream world where the electoral college isn't closely divided and the stakes aren't monumental. To compare Trump and Biden when Trump is currently under indictment and likely to be indicted in several more cases, after having incited an insurrection is daft. What's Biden's crime? Passing too much bipartisan legislation and not paying off porn stars?

This is nothing more than sabotage and it couldn't come at a worse time. Let's hope it fizzles like these centrist third party bids have done in the past. Let them meddle somewhere else. We don't have the luxury of indulging another high-dollar, dark money vanity project right now.  

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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