WASHINGTON — No Labels is facing increasing scrutiny over the possibility it could play a spoiler role in the 2024 presidential election, and its founder and CEO said in an exclusive interview that she vows to end the group’s third-party 2024 effort if it risks putting Donald Trump back in the White House.
But Nancy Jacobson repeatedly declined to offer any metric on how the group would determine whether to stand down.
“As a Democrat? Categorically, that will not happen,” Jacobson said in response to a question about concerns that a third-party ticket, running on the ballot line No Labels is seeking in every state, could siphon off votes from President Joe Biden and benefit Trump. “This effort will nev — we’ll pull it down.”
Jacobson immediately added: “We will not spoil for either side. The only reason to do this is to win.”
It’s a bold statement in a nation where the most successful third-party presidential effort in the last century finished a distant third. And even as the No Labels effort stepped out this week with a public campaign-style event in Manchester, New Hampshire, much of its political effort remains secret.
The group doesn’t reveal its donors and isn’t publicly discussing its deliberations over whom it may recruit to run on its planned bipartisan ticket. The details of how it’ll operate its convention in Dallas in April also aren’t clear, though the group has no plans to hold traditional primaries or caucuses in which voters select a presidential nominee. Jacobson said the group will assess its standing after Super Tuesday and the Florida primary next year.
Jacobson worked as a major fundraiser for the Clintons and the Democratic Party before she formed No Labels in 2010, helped create the congressional Problem Solvers Caucus and aided moderate members of Congress from both parties in their elections.
Jacobson, a Democrat, demurred when she was asked whether Biden represented the bipartisan leader No Labels has hinged its efforts on. Biden ran his 2020 presidential campaign on the promise to work with congressional Republicans. His campaign has often pointed to the passage of the CHIPS Act, the infrastructure package and the debt ceiling deal — deals celebrated by No Labels’ allies in Congress — as evidence of the president’s work.
“Joe Biden is a good man. There has been a lot of tremendous legislation, but the point is it’s about the voters. It’s not about us,” Jacobson said. “It’s about the voters, and the voters of this country right now are not saying they want him as a choice — right now.”
Aspects of current polling are grim for Biden. Though he retained a slight lead against Trump in the most recent NBC News national poll, his approval rating stood at 43%. And 44% of voters, including a larger share of Democrats than Republicans, say they’re open to considering a third-party candidate.
It’s against that backdrop that national Democrats have expressed deep concern about the consequences of No Labels’ presidential efforts.
“I don’t think No Labels is a political party,” Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., said Sunday on CNN. “I mean, this is a few individuals putting dark money behind an organization, and that’s not what our democracy should be about. … I’m obviously concerned about what’s going on here in Arizona and across the country.”
Jacobson said the group wouldn’t disclose its donors, saying, “There’s nothing nefarious going on here.”
She said the group isn’t legally obligated to reveal its financial sources.
The Arizona Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Arizona secretary of state’s office last week, arguing that No Labels should be suspended as a political party for failing to follow the same financial disclosure rules as the state’s Republican and Democratic parties.
Even though it registered as a political party, Jacobson denied the group — which is incorporated as a so-called social welfare nonprofit organization — is acting in the capacity of a party, arguing that it will only make its ballot line available for a presidential ticket, not actually operate the eventual campaign.
“That’s just language,” Jacobson said. “That’s not — you know, we are not functioning — we are one ticket, one time.
“A party — [the] definition of a party is running candidates up and down the ballot. That is not what we’re doing,” she continued.
Some Biden allies, seeing No Labels as a clear potential spoiler, have questioned the true motivations behind Jacobson’s mission. But one of her longtime senior advisers, William Galston, who left the organization in April over his opposition to the presidential ticket operation, defended her intentions in an interview.
“I do not question the motives or the patriotism or the integrity of anybody involved in this effort,” Galston said. “My opposition is a simple matter of political analysis. I believe there is a gap between what No Labels wants to do and what its efforts will, in fact, achieve.”
Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, helped Jacobson start No Labels in 2010 but left the organization in April over his opposition to the presidential ticket operation.
“I cannot see a serious possibility that an independent, bipartisan, centrist, third-party ticket can succeed and win the presidency,” said Galston, adding: “I fear that despite its intentions to the contrary, if it proceeds, it will end up — it will end up helping Donald Trump.”
According to the NBC News exit poll, most of those who voted third-party in 2016 decided to back Biden four years later, helping deny Trump re-election. Now, Democrats worry that a growing third-party vote in 2024 would lower the threshold Trump needs to win again — as it did in 2016, when 47% to 48% of the vote was enough for him to capture key swing states.
Jacobson defended the organization’s credibility in her interview, citing the numerous nationally recognized figures affiliated with it.
“Because we’ve been around for 13 years. They can see the leaders around this,” Jacobson said. “They can see Sen. Joe Lieberman. They can see Gov. Larry Hogan. They can see a civil rights leader, Ben Chavis. They can see all the leaders. They can see our work for the last 13 years.”
Monday in New Hampshire, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Jon Huntsman, the Republican former governor of Utah and ambassador to China, headlined No Labels’ “Common Sense Town Hall” at Saint Anselm College.
Manchin said in an interview that “nothing is off the table” regarding his moves in 2024, leaving the door open to joining the No Labels ticket. He said he would decide “next year.”
“Let’s see where everybody goes. Let’s see what happens,” Manchin said.
Last week, businessman Mark Cuban offered praise for the organization’s presidential ticket plan but ruled himself out of the mix for consideration.
“I like that they are trying a new path. I think the two-party system is broken,” Cuban said.