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Behind the group pushing for a third-party presidential candidate

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (R) was co-headliner along with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) at the 'Common Sense' Town Hall, an event sponsored by the bipartisan group No Labels, held on Monday evening, July 17, 2023 at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. The organization is looking for a potential 'unity' ticket for 2024, although Manchin has not announced whether he is seeking reelection for his Senate seat and has not ruled out a 2024 White House bid. Huntsman finished third in the New Hampshire presidential primary in 2012 behind then frontrunner and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).
John Tully for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (R) was co-headliner along with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) at the 'Common Sense' Town Hall, an event sponsored by the bipartisan group No Labels, held on Monday evening, July 17, 2023 at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. The organization is looking for a potential 'unity' ticket for 2024, although Manchin has not announced whether he is seeking reelection for his Senate seat and has not ruled out a 2024 White House bid. Huntsman finished third in the New Hampshire presidential primary in 2012 behind then frontrunner and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). John Tully for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The political organization No Labels is trying to unite Americans around a third-party candidate for 2024.

But could their efforts backfire and help put Donald Trump back in the White House?

“That’s our great worry, is that we will just blindly walk into a reelection of Donald Trump,” former U.S. Representative Dick Gephardt says.

Today, On Point: Concerns over No Labels — and whether their bipartisan initiative will ensure a partisan result.

Guests

Jay Nixon, director of ballot integrity for No Labels. Former governor of Missouri from 2009 to 2017. Former Missouri attorney general from 1993 to 2009.

Dick Gephardt, former U.S. Representative from Missouri from 1977 to 2005. He’s leading the bi-partisan super PAC Citizens to Save Our Republic, to block the third-party group No Labels from helping Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election.

Jack BeattyOn Point news analyst. Author of theAge of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America and editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America.

Transcript

Part I

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: The political organization No Labels is pushing one message for 2024: bipartisanship.

JOE LIEBERMAN: This year we hope that No Labels common sense division helps to bring our political parties back together, revives our government and reunites the American people.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s Joe Lieberman speaking at a No Labels event in Manchester, New Hampshire in July. He’s one of the founding chairmen of the group and a former U.S. Senator from Connecticut.

Founded in 2010 by Democratic operative Nancy Jacobson, No Labels has worked to create the so-called Problem Solvers caucus in Congress. Jacobson once said of its bipartisan advocacy, “No Labels doesn’t mean ‘don’t have a label,’ it just means put the label aside and work together and do what government needs to do.”

This election cycle, No Labels believes what it needs to do is influence the 2024 presidential race, and possibly run their own third-party candidate. According to a recent poll out of Quinnipiac University, that’s something nearly half of voters say they would consider. The group is pushing to get on the ballot in all 50 states, and plans on holding its own convention in Dallas next April.

But No Labels doesn’t mean no agenda. And the 2024 election is not a normal presidential cycle. Critics say that while No Labels claims to champion unity, launching a third-party candidate could instead propel the most divisive political figure in America back to the White House – the twice-impeached, thrice-indicted election denier, Donald Trump.

Political strategist Rick Wilson is one of those critics. Here’s Wilson in a June YouTube interview with Democratic activist Victor Shi.

RICK WILSON: No Labels is a dangerous and pernicious group of people. They are not targeting red states. They are targeting purple states and blue states to pull down Joe Biden’s numbers just enough to let Trump sneak by.

CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point. I’m Meghna Chakrabarti. Where did No Labels come from? And what does it really stand for? What’s behind its drive for a third-party presidential candidate in 2024?

Jay Nixon served as the former governor of Missouri, from 2009 to 2017. He’s a democrat. Just last month, he joined No Labels as the group’s director of “ballot integrity.” Jay Nixon, welcome to On Point.

JAY NIXON: Hello, Meghna. Appreciate you having me.

CHAKRABARTI: You have been out of the public eye for going on six years now. What inspired you to join Labels, just late last month?

NIXON: Well, I did have 30 years in elective office and left after two successful terms as governor, and now I practice law and teach at WashU Law School. It takes a lot, as I say, to get me off the bench, and this movement here has done that. It did it because, quite frankly, of ballot access.

I just get really concerned in our democracy when folks look as if they want to limit the public’s ability to get things on a ballot. We don’t have to look any further than yesterday’s results in Ohio to see how relevant that is.

CHAKRABARTI: Yesterday’s results in Ohio, meaning the ballot initiative there, that would have changed the threshold for making constitutional changes in Ohio, and that failed. So former Governor Nixon, let me ask you this. What do you think, beyond the ballot integrity piece, which we’ll come back to in a second, what do you think No Labels stands for that’s so important to have represented on the ballot in all 50 states?

NIXON: You indicated before we were at a historic time, and we really are. About 70% of the people are open to looking at a potential candidate other than the two primary candidates that are in the race right now.

We see our role as doing the ballot access work here early on so that we have the opportunity to have a ballot line in 50 states in the 2024 election. And if the system stays the way, if the situation stays as it is now, have an option then to get folks to run on that ballot line.

CHAKRABARTI: And so the ballot line, meaning getting a No Labels candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.

NIXON: And so it would be the same candidate for president and vice president, each of the states. But the bottom line is we feel the public is demanding an option, demanding an alternative to what’s out there. And in this stage of the process we’re in, we’re trying to make sure that we keep that alternative alive while having an insurance policy against being either a spoiler or someone that helps reelect Trump. Or elect.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So that is the very reason why some of your fellow Democrats are in fact advocating for keeping a No Labels candidate off the ballot. Because they say that any third-party candidate right now would indeed pull votes from President Joe Biden and help elect Donald Trump.

NIXON: Like I said, when you’re trying to present into the future what may happen, people are entitled to come up with hypotheticals. The bottom line right now is Americans do not want a rematch of this election, and there are strong reasons why at least one of those candidates should get nowhere near the White House.

No labels is fully aware of that. Folks involved are fully available to understand that risk and challenge, but we do not think that it’s the best decision to step aside now. Because of what might happen later on or potentially happen, especially when the public is so demanding that they get not only change, but leaders that they’re going to continue to support.

So No Labels is a one-time deal and it’s presidential here. This is not a political party. This is an effort to give voters in 50 states, assuming we move forward in this situation and assuming we move on, we will not be doing it if we think we’re going to be a spoiler, this will be something in it to win it, if you go.

CHAKRABARTI: A third party candidate has never even come close to winning in modern presidential elections. So what makes you think that No Labels is likely or even has a path to victory this time around?

NIXON: Clearly, these are very different times and I appreciate the historic reference.

Missouri was a big pro state, almost 20% here, but that’s not relevant to this discussion because the situation then was much, much different than it is now. The bottom line is this. Why do I think that this is the time for a path to be laid out potentially here? You don’t need to look no further than the recent news.

Trump has been indicted three times. Soon, probably the potential of a fourth indictment, and the race is still the same on the numbers against the president. You can look at that a lot of ways, but that should not make people feel sanguine. Those that are criticizing us, that anything we do might elect Trump when the current president has not been able to get any distance, shall we say, even though there’s been significant challenges to former President Trump.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. I’ve been looking at some things that even former members of No Labels have been saying. There was an analysis done by William Galston, he’s at Brookings and he was No Labels, one of the co-founders. He actually resigned when the group decided to enter presidential politics.

And his analysis shows that actually, to your point, somewhat, the Democrats are less satisfied with their party than Republicans because nearly all Republicans identify as conservative or very conservative. So therefore, any kind of quote-unquote centrist candidate is far more likely to pull from Democrats than Republicans.

And other groups have put forth analysis that say that if No Labels had won just 3% of the popular vote in 2020, Trump would be sitting in the White House. And from what I understand, even No Label’s own polling shows Trump winning a three-way race if it were held today. So this is what I don’t understand.

Representatives of No Labels continue to say we will not be a spoiler in this race. But all the analysis, all the numbers, point to the almost certainty that it will be.

NIXON: Only if you exclude the fact that if Labels gets great candidates on the ballot, they could win. All of these analysis are making, are assuming that No Labels is not going to be able to get this done.

And if they do, they will not field, be involved in fielding candidates that’ll be competitive. And that’s just the exact opposite of what the enterprise is trying to do right now.

CHAKRABARTI: I just want to go back to your position for a second as a director of ballot integrity. Again, just because the concern that you and No Labels have about the efforts that Democrats are putting forward to keep a No Labels candidate off the ballot.

I’m seeing here though that No Labels has successfully gotten on the ballot in what, five states so far.

NIXON: I don’t have the exact number this morning. I know we’re finishing up a couple of more, hopefully to this week and next week. So that number is moving up. Continuing to move up.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. And then simultaneously No Labels was sent a cease-and-desist letter by election officials in Maine when it was discovered that people who were asked to sign, to give their signatures supporting a third candidate on the main ballot, didn’t know that by signing No Labels literature, they were also signing to have their party affiliation changed.

So that seems to be something that could potentially interfere with a person’s, to be represented appropriately in terms of their voter registration. So do you have concerns with that, regarding ballot integrity in Maine?

NIXON: I think that clearly the folks are working very hard in the field to make sure they educate people as to what they are supporting and providing an additional choice.

I find it extremely, extremely interesting that these things like cease-and-desist letters and all that sort of stuff there’s no, I don’t, I’m not, I’ve reached that time in my political career where I’m just not going to say bad things about folks. I just, I did that for 30 years.

I played in that world. I will tell you that it’s pretty clear that it’s organized effort to limit the ability of No Labels to do what is constitutionally and statutorily protected in all 50 states. The ability to get on ballots, the ability to have citizen initiatives, I consider it extremely dangerous when folks put their efforts behind limiting.

Whether it’s No Labels or somebody else, citizens having the right to petition directly their government. And that is what is going on. And plus, it’s odd to be out here in the heartlands. And I don’t mean anything negative to you or any of the interviewers here, but this just appears to me to be kind of Washington speak in its own self.

They are Democrats saying you shouldn’t have ballot access. And Democrats at the same time saying, “Ohio needs ballot access in order to protect other rights.” And I think their karma is running over their dogma here.

CHAKRABARTI: I will point out though that Nancy Jacobson, the founder of No Labels is a creature of Washington, if I’ve ever seen one.

Former finance director for the Democratic party, et cetera. Washington speak might be in the eye of the beholder. But Governor Nixon, standby for just a second because we’ve got a lot more questions to ask you when we come back. This is On Point.

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point. I’m Meghna Chakrabarti, and in just a moment we’ll be pulling Jack Beatty, On Point’s news analyst into the conversation. But we are joined today by Jay Nixon. He’s the former Democratic governor of Missouri, and now he’s the director of ballot integrity for the political group No Labels.

Governor Nixon, I agree with you about your concern on any efforts to prevent candidates or ballot questions to appear before voters. You’ve said a couple of times already in this conversation that you believe it doesn’t say good things about our democracy when that happens, but do you think that is a greater threat to our democracy, then the possibility of Donald Trump, who is pretty clearly on the path to authoritarianism, the possibility of Trump returning to the White House?

NIXON: I think the situational analysis of comparing the erosion of a pillar of democracy to any singular election is a mistake. That being said, I think these pillars of democracy need to be protected.

And when folks go start attacking them, then I am here. I’m not being paid or anything like that. This is just, I think, exceptionally important. And I think that while that is a false choice, because we have not moving forward, if we’re going to be a spoiler, working to make sure that Trump is not there again, obviously all of us, in that sense.

So just that’s my sense of it. I’d be glad to take follow-ups. I may be floating around a little bit.

CHAKRABARTI: But if anyone’s attacked pillars of democracy, quite ruthlessly in recent memory, it is Donald Trump. He worked to overturn a presidential election, a free and fair presidential election.

You know that as well as I do.

NIXON: And he’s going to pay the penalty for that, in my view. And I think he should. Like I said, I’ve never, you can search everything in my life. You’re not going to find me being a Trump guy, ever, in that sense. I understand the talking point of saying if there’s additional competition, even though 70% of Americans want additional option, or if that is even discussed, that it is somehow going to automatically elect Donald Trump, voters elect people.

Voters get to vote. We’re treating these voters as if there’s some sort of statistical model or some sort of, and that’s just not the way it is. We need to have real campaigns about real issues that Americans connect to, that we can get focused on, bringing ourselves together to move forward.

Continuing to run the same people with the same issues and challenges is not going to get that done. And quite frankly, I think the long-term existential problems of this country, of getting people to work together, getting our house in order and moving forward in a united way, is exceptionally, people need to be able to talk to their relatives around the table at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Okay? This is, we’re in a pickle in that world and I think this provides one alternative option that the public wants, that we’re still in the early stages of getting ballot access on, as it develops and as this stuff moves forward, I think that it is a very strong and important task that No Labels is about. To give, in essence, to people what they clearly desire.

An opportunity to look at a third party.

CHAKRABARTI: But why this year, because it suddenly occurs to me that challenges to ballot access happen all the time. The very process that candidates and even ballot questions have to go through, they vary state by state, but there are lots of hurdles that they have to overcome.

So why so much passion around putting a third-party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states this time around. When in fact, you’ve acknowledged as much, there is so much at stake regarding, it’s not just one election. It’s an incredibly consequential one regarding who ends up back in the White House.

NIXON: I don’t think we as Americans should give up our rights just because Donald Trump exists and there are some risks that he might get enough votes to be returned to the White House. That is not what our framers thought about. That is not the way you should de deal with constitutional principles, and I’m the first to admit that Trump is faulty and flawed in myriad of ways.

Okay? But that is not the time then to say, “Okay, we’re going to make it really hard for people to put constitutional amendments on. We’re going to make it really even harder to get on the ballot. And even if you follow the law, the way we are doing, to get the signatures and get all the stuff, then we’re going to continue to fight you and we’re going to continue to make it hard and potentially litigate with you through the process.”

That is a playbook towards reducing dramatically the ability of the citizens to speak in the 50 states, through the processes that currently exist. The other thing I think some people get confused on, these are 50 separate state statute requirements, and they are ones that our folks are following.

But yeah, I agree with you. There’s been a great deal of contention on these ballot proposals. I’ve litigated, when I was Attorney General for four terms, I litigated a lot of this and we’ve got ’em going on here in Missouri. Our state auditor and our state attorney general are litigating each other on a ballot issue.

This is important, but they’re in court and it’s real, it’s not being blocked to prevent them from having that appropriate discussion. By folks saying, “No, you shouldn’t be able to gather signatures. No, you shouldn’t be able to get access.” I think that the rights of the citizens through the 14th amendment, through associational rights, all of that sort of thing is extremely important.

And as we divide as a country, and that is what it appears to be going on over the last few years, these sorts of limits on the powers of the people in a democracy are dangerous and I view wrong. Let me pull in Jack Beatty here, On Point news analyst. Hello there, Jack. What do you think about Governor Nixon’s assertion that a vast majority, in his words of the American people are actually seeking other options when it comes to their presidential candidates.

JACK BEATTY: There’s no question, but the polls show that people are not happy with a repeat of 2020. That’s just clear. And until recently, even a majority of Democrats weren’t happy that Joe Biden was going to be their nominee. They seem more reconciled now. Republicans much more unified around Mr. Trump.

But the electorate as a whole, feeling we don’t want either of these people.

CHAKRABARTI: But Jack, you were also talking before this show, you and I were talking about the idea that if there were another candidate on the ballot, would people actually vote for that person? Americans like to think they have an independent streak when it comes to presidential candidates or politics.

But does that actually play out when they go to the ballot?

BEATTY: Not usually. The Wall Street Journal estimates that only 10% of voters cast a ballot for a different party in successive elections. That’s your independent voter, that 10%. The others are leaners, and they tend to fall predictably in the direction they lean, election after election.

So the independent voter is an illusion. And this party, or this group which says we’re going to go after that independent voter is staking its claim on something that may not exist. Moreover, you’ve emphasized, Meghna, the risk that’s being run in terms of electing Trump, but when you look at what the pollsters are saying, NBC, Cook Political Report, 538, et cetera, with one voice, they say, what John Della Volpe at Harvard says, quote, “Donald Trump cannot win reelection without No Labels.” And No Labels’ own polling seems to show that. A poll from December, which they trumpeted as showing the opening for a third party, shows that they would take an otherwise tied presidential election and it would be split.

If they entered the race, it would be Trump, 33. Biden, 28. No Labels, a distant 20. Throwing the election to Trump by their own polling.

CHAKRABARTI: So to that point, Governor Nixon, I know I only have you for 30 more seconds. I just want to put to you something that a Missouri resident wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who responded to an article that you had written. And said, “You can’t both sides this. The No Labels effort, if it ever gets on the ground, will simply give never Trumpers who could never vote for a Democrat, a safe place to vote so they can sleep at night. Governor Nixon is a smart man, but he is being played.” Your response to that, governor.

NIXON: First of all, I don’t think I’m being, it’s nice he said I’m smart. I’m not being played. I feel very strongly that these constitutional rights we have are important, that when 70% of the public are not happy with what’s the candidate on either side, that it would be wrong for us not to continue to move forward at this point to put the ballot access in place, so that if we want to use this insurance policy, if there is a path forward that’s not a spoiler, that has a real and substantial chance to win, then that option should be provided to the public.

Jay Nixon is director of ballot integrity for No Labels. Thank you so much for joining us.

NIXON: Thank you very much.

CHAKRABARTI: Jack, let me turn back to you here. I repeatedly heard Governor Nixon there equate the threats of a candidate, a third-party candidate having difficulty getting on the ballot in 50 states. And the threat to democracy that poses and the threat to democracy that the reelection of Donald Trump might pose.

What do you think of that?

BEATTY: That’s Apples and kumquats. There simply is no comparison there. Donald Trump is a real and present danger to democracy. He’s not hiding it. He wants to have a second term built around vengeance, retribution. He means to essentially gut the civil service and make it Trumpified.

We’re right on the cusp pier of authoritarian rule. And meanwhile, look at the kumquats getting on a ballot. As you say, this is the stuff of politics, that when it goes on in every election, Ralph Nader complained about all this, and rightfully. These are contested issues.

People have different positions. It’s not as if, as I understand it, the Democrats are somehow in a smoke-filled room crowding the good people of No Labels off the ballot. It seems to me there are legal and formal procedural matters that are just part of the nature of politics.

CHAKRABARTI: I think he does authentically reflect frustration that many Americans have with both political parties.

I’ve heard oftentimes, listeners have told me that on some aspects of politics, they don’t actually see that much daylight between Democrats and Republicans, although on other aspects of politics they do. But as you pointed out, the frustration with the candidates that are being put up is fairly substantial.

So is it, a counter argument would be why wait for a time when there’s a less threatening Republican candidate or democratic candidate, why wait for that time and instead, act now to offer Americans a different choice?

BEATTY: I think you have stated why now is not the time, just simply because of the dimension of danger that Trump poses.

If Trump were now, in the 30’s vis-a-vis Biden at 43 or 44. We might say, “It looks like it’s going to be Joe.” … He’s tied with Biden, which means in effect, if the election were held today, he would very well, could very well win it.

This is and Trump seems to think, and the evidence seems to show that the worse he does legally, more indictments, the better he does politically. And more indictments are coming, at least one more perhaps. And is that going to boost him even more in the polls? So the risk is just too great. It isn’t a normal year.

And there’s a kind of failure of civic imagination and moral imagination, I think, on the part of these No Labels people, not to see that.

CHAKRABARTI: I have to say that we are hoping to get former house speaker Dick Gephardt on the line here. He’s been speaking rather passionately about No Labels efforts in recent weeks and months.

And he’s also head of the bipartisan super PAC called Citizens to Save Our Republic, which is one of the very groups that is aiming to stop third party groups such as No Labels from running third party candidates, one of the groups that I think Jay Nixon was thinking about when he was talking about ballot access.

So we’re waiting to get him on the line, Jack. But it, while we do that, let me ask you, I think I heard the tone of authentic sincerity in former Governor Nixon’s voice when he said No Labels is simply fighting for, what are the pillars of democracy? But the group does not want to be a spoiler, does not want to put forward the candidate that would end up being a spoiler in the election.

Authentic belief, but is it a somewhat delusional one?

BEATTY: It certainly sounds like it, and I agree with you. He certainly, you could hear the frustration. He’s meeting with the resistance, it seems, that at least the Democrats are putting, to even allowing the people to have a choice.

But there’s an element of hypocrisy here. Governor Nixon says, quote, “Voters elect people.” The voters aren’t going to elect the delegates to the No Labels convention next spring in Dallas. It has been more or less accurately described as a small, private convention funded by secret money with self-selected delegates.

That’s not exactly the people’s choice, that’s a bunch of people. Because there aren’t going to be any prime — there’s not going to be a primary to decide who they’re going to nominate. People are just going to nominate themselves and with this dark money supporting them, go to Dallas and pick the next president. It’s undemocratic, you could say.

CHAKRABARTI: So Jack, about that April Convention with No Labels is planning. The current co-chair Dr. Ben Chavis said, and others with No Labels have said that in fact they would shut down their efforts for a third-party candidate if Biden shows that he’s ahead of former President Trump in the polling around April of next year.

And here’s what Chavis said specifically. He said, “After Super Tuesday next year, and before the No Labels convention, there will be a decision.” Here’s the key part.

“If we find that the polls are changed, and Joe Biden is way, way out ahead, and the person who the Republicans may choose, if they continue to choose Donald Trump, even though he’s been indicted, then No Labels will stand down.”

What do you make of that? That they’re putting forth this hurdle of Biden having to be way out ahead. They’re not defining what that is though.

BEATTY: No, and they’re saying if it doesn’t matter, that is if Trump is going to lose, clearly, if it doesn’t matter, we won’t nominate a candidate. If it does matter, if the election is close, if Biden isn’t way, way ahead in the polls, we will nominate a candidate.

The logic is simply, it’s like saying, reelect Donald Trump. In other words, if it’s a competitive election, they’re going to nominate somebody who every piece of data we see indicates we’ll take more votes from Biden than Trump. So it’s an irresponsible position, it seems to me that Chavis has taken there.

CHAKRABARTI: And as I quoted earlier, even No Labels current polling says that if there were to be a race today, Trump would win. Because of the third-party candidates draw of votes away from the Democratic nominee. When we come back, former house speaker Dick Gephardt will be joining us to give us his perspective on the No Labels move in presidential politics.

Part III

CHAKRABARTI: Joining us now is Dick Gephardt. He is head of the bipartisan super PAC called Citizens to Save Our Republic, and it’s one of the groups that’s actually aiming to stop or dissuade No Labels from getting its candidate, whomever that might be, on the ballot in all 50 states. And Dick Gephardt is also former U.S. representative from Missouri. He served in that position from 1977 to 2005, also was former House Democratic leader during that time. Dick Gephardt, welcome to On Point.

DICK GEPHARDT: Great to be with you.

CHAKRABARTI: It’s interesting, it suddenly occurred to me that it’s something like Missouri Day today, because earlier in the show we were talking with former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who as has recently joined No Labels as their director of ballot integrity.

And Governor Nixon was telling us that in fact he’s quite concerned about groups like yours, Mr. Gephardt, and the fact that there’s efforts going on to try to stop a No Labels candidate from getting on the ballot. He said that was attacking one of the pillars of democracy and equated that to perhaps even the threat that Donald Trump poses if he returned to the White House.

What do you think about that?

GEPHARDT: Jay doesn’t have to worry about this group Keep Our Citizens to Save Our Republic. We’re not attacking their ability to get on the ballot, and we won’t, we never even thought of that. Other groups may be doing, that’s not what we’re doing. And I would further say that if these were normal times, I would have no trouble and no problem with what No Labels is trying to do.

It’s a free country. Anybody can run for president, and anybody can set up another party then the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. But these are not normal times. We avoided having a broken election in 2020 by a whisker, only because Mike Pence and five or six other Republican state election officials stood up against tremendous pressure from Donald Trump.

Did we have a trusted, accepted, valid election in 2020, and the man who caused that great concern, Donald Trump, is running for president again. He has never conceded that he lost in 2020 and he has convinced millions of Americans the election was fraudulent and was stolen. So as Liz Cheney said, we cannot allow him back in the White House again. Because if he gets back to the White House, it probably means the end of our experiment in self-government called a republic or a democracy.

So the No Labels effort, in my opinion, and in the opinion of a lot of people will simply elect Donald Trump. It’s too risky, it’s taking too much of a chance that this could happen, and we are urging the people with No Labels, and I like all of them. I’ve worked with all of them.

We are asking them, begging them to step this thing back and to not do it.

CHAKRABARTI: Could part of the problem here that No Labels is identifying be actually a true source of the challenge that President Biden is facing? I mentioned earlier before we got you on the line, Dick Gebhardt, that there’s some, there’s quite a bit of analysis that shows that there’s more discontent within the Democratic Party for the candidates that the Democrats put forward than there is amongst the Republican party.

Because most Republicans identify as conservative or very conservative, so they’re very likely to stick with Donald Trump. So the fact that Joe Biden isn’t able to strongly shore up almost all the Democratic support he can get, including the support from swing voters who aren’t necessarily super followers of Donald Trump.

Isn’t that part of the problem that’s attracted so many of your fellow Democrats, or at least several of your fellow Democrats to support the No Labels movement?

GEPHARDT: I can understand that. But let me remind you that in our history, whenever sitting presidents are running for reelection, there are always lots of second thoughts within his party.

I remember when Jimmy Carter was running for reelection in 1980 and Ted Kennedy ran against him in the primaries. There were a lot of Democrats who voted in the primaries for Ted Kennedy. Carter had not done a good enough job in their view. So this often happens. You look, we all want the perfect human being to be our president.

We know that it’s the toughest job in the world by far. So there’s no human alive who can really, every four years, make us believe that they are qualified to do this job. But it is what it is. And I’d say to the No Labels people, if the weakness of Biden is your problem, run for president, run against him, run.

You’ve got a whole bunch of primaries coming up all over the country, anybody can run against them that wants to run. That’s fine. That’s the way the system works, but don’t set up a third party that will elect Donald Trump. This is an unusual time that we’ve never been in in this country. We’ve never had a candidate for president who would not accept the obvious results of an election.

We are threatening our ability to continue to have self-government in this country. So please don’t do it.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. It’s interesting because that is very much echoes the argument that Jay Nixon gave us about why he joined No Labels. I have to admit Mr. Gebhardt, I had trouble getting a clear answer from former Governor Nixon about what No Labels stands for and what it’s actually trying to achieve beyond his focus on quote-unquote ballot integrity. I don’t know if enough people who are part of No Labels to help give some clarity on this. Is it about their belief in the partisan, oin the possibility of unity in America, is it about money?

They’re not being transparent at all about who are their donors. They’ve done some actions or supported some folks in the past who seem to care more about saving, preventing taxes from being levied on the wealthy in this country. I don’t, I still can’t figure out what they are about.

Do you have any insight on this?

GEPHARDT: I’m sure there are many different motivations. on many people’s part within No Labels. And I understand the desire for bipartisanship. Look, when I was leader of the Democrats for 14 years in the house, I worked every day, all day to try to get bipartisan solutions, which is the only way you can get a compromise to get something done.

I’ve been a big supporter of the Problem Solvers, which No Labels really brought into being. I’m a big fan of that group. That’s 30 Republicans, 30 Democrats in the house, five of each party in the Senate. They really wrote the infrastructure bill that got done about a year ago. I’m a big fan of that whole effort, so I understand that motivation and I applaud it.

I’ll go back to what I said a minute ago. We are in an abnormal time in American history. No Labels says from one side of their mouth that their goal, as I’m sure Jay told you today, is to not have Donald Trump be reelected, and that’s why they’re doing this.

Out of the other side of their mouth, they say that they’re only going to exercise this plan if the two parties nominate Biden and Trump. Which is it? If your main goal is to keep Donald Trump out of coming back to the White House, why don’t you say now that you will not do this if the Republicans nominate Donald Trump? They won’t say that.

Why won’t they say that’s the only issue? We’re doing what we’re doing not to protect Joe Biden, not to protect Democrats. It has nothing to do with any of that. We’re trying to save the democracy.

CHAKRABARTI: Yes.

GEPHARDT: Why don’t they share that view? Every American should.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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