Are you ready for a Manchin-Sinema presidential ticket?

Sen. Krysten Sinema
Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) Photo: Gage Skidmore

One of the enduring fantasies of the inside-the-Beltway crowd is that Americans hunger for the political center. If only we could return to the glory days of moderate bipartisanship, all our problems would be solved.

The fact that all the evidence shows that Americans have sorted themselves into highly partisan camps doesn’t seem to faze the believers in this fantasy. Unfortunately, they have the money to play out their dreams, and they are likely to do so at the expense of President Joe Biden’s re-election.

A group called No Labels has been on a roll raising the $70 million it needs to launch a third-party presidential campaign. The group, which was founded in 2010, purports to be the voice of bipartisanship in Washington. It has an adjunct in Congress called the Problem Solvers Caucus, made up of members of both parties who get together to offer compromise solutions to thorny issues.

No Labels’ fundraising has Democrats worried, and rightfully so. Given the small margin by which Biden won in key states, a third-party effort could siphon off enough votes from the president to deliver the presidency to the Republican nominee, presumably Donald Trump. According to a leaked transcript of a call from the group, No Labels is close to qualifying for the ballot in 20 states.

Democratic members of the Problem Solvers Caucus are in open revolt at the idea. “No Labels is wasting time, energy, and money on a bizarre effort that confuses and divides voters, and has one obvious outcome — reelecting Donald Trump as president,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) said in a statement. 

Still, No Labels insists it’s not trying to help Trump win. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the group’s founding chairman, says that the group’s effort to qualify to get on the ballots next year is just an “insurance policy” against “unacceptable” candidates. (Lieberman should know better, having lost as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, thanks in large part to Ralph Nader’s spoiler candidacy.)

Nancy Jacobson, the head of No Labels says that the group would nominate a Democrat and a Republican for the presidential ticket. Right now, a lot of speculation is centered on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who helped block a lot of the Biden administration’s agenda. Also high on the list is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Manchin’s pal in that effort. Sinema has declared herself an independent after being elected as a Democrat.

Both senators are up for re-election next year. Both are tanking in the polls. Manchin is a paltry 38% in one recent survey. Sinema barely shows a pulse in hers: 14% of Arizonans would vote for her.

Which raises the question: if the people who know them best won’t vote for them, why would the rest of the nation?

The problem with No Labels – well, one of the many problems with No Labels – is that all it stands for is problem-solving. That sounds lovely; after all, who is against solving problems? But it doesn’t actually have a stand on policies. Does problem-solving mean raising taxes to solve debt problems, or does it mean cutting programs? Does problem-solving mean supporting Ukraine or finding some middle ground with Russian leader Vladimir Putin?

Plus not everything is a problem. Sometimes you actually have to take a proactive stand. No Labels shtick is to run against the other parties without having to say what it stands for.

As is, No Labels doesn’t seem to rank protecting LGBTQ+ rights as one of the problems that is worthy of solving. Among its advisors is former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who signed the state’s disastrous anti-trans bathroom bill into law. One of the other presidential candidates whose name is being floated is former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an adamant opponent of LGBTQ+ rights, even the most basic ones like marriage equality that the vast majority of Americans – presumably the group to which No Labels would appeal – support.

No Labels’ cites polls claiming that the “vast majority” of Americans aren’t satisfied with either party’s likely nominee. Maybe. But that was just as true in 2020, and 158 million people voted.

When push comes to shove, people will make a choice, even if they aren’t happy about it. They don’t live in a fantasy world where they can pretend to vote for pretend candidates with no positions and no records. Only No Labels can do that.

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