A coalition of Democratic and Republican anti-Trump groups are organizing an aggressive, multi-front campaign to stop the independent group No Labels from injecting a third major candidate in the upcoming 2024 election.
Their plans, laid out in a private, roughly 80-minute call obtained by Semafor, include legal attacks, opposition research and warnings to potential candidates and donors that involvement with No Labels could make them politically toxic.
No Labels, founded in 2010 by a top Washington political fundraiser, Nancy Jacobson, bills itself as an answer to America’s divisive partisan politics, and has sought to present a poll-tested centrist platform. Democrats believe any such effort is far likelier to pull votes from Biden than from Trump, whose supporters are more committed to their candidate.
The call, organized by the center-left Democratic group Third Way with the help of the progressive Move On, also included representatives of End Citizens United, the Lincoln Project, American Bridge, Public Citizen, and Reproductive Freedom for All. Attendees included prominent anti-Trump Republicans Sarah Longwell and Bill Kristol, former Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, and an aide to the Democratic billionaire Reid Hoffman, Dmitri Mehlhorn.
“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 during the call. “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. We did not do that with Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, we should have, and we will not make that mistake again.”
The group laid out plans to discourage a set of possible candidates, including: former Republican Reps. Liz Cheney and Will Hurd; sitting Republican Governors Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire; former Republican governors Jon Huntsman of Utah and Larry Hogan of Maryland.
Other prominent names were advised to be struck from the list: Third Way co-founder Matt Bennett said of Senator Joe Manchin (D. WV)’s well-publicized flirtation with a run that the group has “a lot of information from a lot of very credible people that that is not happening.” (A source close to Manchin Tuesday dismissed the idea that Manchin had made up his mind not to run as “bullshit.”) Another attendee said they’d recently spoken to the businessman Mark Cuban, who had said “no way” to the idea.
The coalition also laid out a strategy to attack No Labels in the courts. A representative of End Citizens United said the group is planning to file an IRS complaint against No Labels, with one goal being to force No Labels to disclose its donors — something the person said would be “a huge hit to their entire operation.”
No Labels is “masquerading as a (c)(4) when it’s putting out there that it’s a political party,” a representative of Public Citizen said during the call, referring to No Labels’ tax status as a “social welfare” organization. “Obviously, not only not disclosing donors, but not following contribution limits, not registering with the FEC as what they really are. So all things that democracy groups care about a lot,” the Public Citizen representative said.
The groups is also planning an email blast warning donors of repercussions should they get involved in No Labels.
“What we want to do with donors is continue to build the idea in the minds of the political elites and the people that they talk to that this is a road to nowhere, that if you get involved with this, you are throwing, you’re really risking your entire reputation and your legacy,” Bennett said during the private meeting. “It’s a very, very bad investment.”
The multi-faceted effort to stop No Labels also involves opposition research. American Bridge, a representative said, is assembling dossiers on a list of Republicans, highlighting key issues and preparing deeper dives on vulnerabilities should any of them actually try to run.
“We’re looking at any and all ways to connect to the press and center these messages, both on the record, off the record, both formally and informally,” another attendee added.
The groups are trying to keep their efforts under the radar. Bennet urged attendees to keep the call confidential, noting that the New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher had already inquired about the gathering.
Hoffman’s aide, Mehlhorn, also said he’d been directly in touch with No Labels’ Jacobson, who’d expressed an interest in working with Hoffman. Mehlhorn said Jacobson stressed during an email that their exchange had to remain “confidential.”
“Reid and I never agreed to that, so every time she said everything, I forwarded it on everybody I knew. Eventually, she figured that out and stopped engaging,” he said.
The anti-No Labels coalition is clearly setting itself up for an all-out war against the non-profit organization. Attendees on the call believe that a No Labels candidate would serve as a spoiler to help re-elect Donald Trump — but also expressed concern about other third party candidates. Through it all, the most promising alternative to most seemed to be pressure campaigns aimed not at the group or its donors, but at potential candidates themselves. The message: Engaging with No Labels or running for president under its name would ruin their careers and reputations.
The View From No Labels
“This is why the public is so desperate for another choice in this election in the first place,” Ryan Clancy, chief strategist for the group, told Semafor. “Here you have these partisan operatives scheming and plotting behind closed doors to prevent a choice that most Americans so clearly want. And instead of dealing with the real problem, which is that they are closing ranks behind a candidate who may not be able to win in 2024, they’re turning their fire on No Labels, which happens to be the only ones who are listening to what voters actually want.”
A recent op-ed in Politico by Jim Messina agreed with this coalition’s assessment that No Labels will ultimately help elect Trump. Messina wrote: “The idea that a “unity ticket” featuring a Republican and a Democrat could somehow produce a nominee with “a clear path to victory” is worse than a political fiction. The group behind it, No Labels, is pushing a dangerous lie that would simply serve to put Trump back in the White House.”
As early as August, Democrats worried about a potential No Labels bid were pressuring lawmakers to come out publicly against the effort, Axios reported at the time – an indication of just how long this sort of anti-No Labels effort has been in the works.
One reason for Democratic hostility toward No Labels is the role of Jacobson’s husband, Mark Penn, a former Clinton aide who has long been a divisive figure in the party.