No Labels reaches new low in false equivalence while Dean Phillips flails. But Manchin's constructive criticism can construct a stronger Big Tent.
There are currently three centrist efforts to upend the 2024 presidential election. Two of them, No Labels and Dean Phillips, are explicitly betting on chaos.
This morning, No Labels announced it seeks a criminal investigation of those opposing their third party presidential bid, an approach that The Washington Post deemed “untested and unusual for a political group.“
The announcement coincided with another article about the No Labels presidential bid that broke new ground. No Labels has long drawn a false equivalence between extremism on the right and left in their effort to throw the country into chaos through a deadlocked election. But they crossed a new threshold in false equivalence in an interview released this morning by Alex Roarty:
No Labels officials say both political parties, Democrats and Republicans, have blitzed past the will of moderate, typical Americans — that both have proven incapable of pursuing common-sense ideas and that both have partaken in their own bouts of destruction.
For Trump and Republicans, there was Jan. 6, 2021. For Democrats, well, among other things, Sen. John Fetterman was temporarily allowed to wear sweats when walking through Congress.
“It wasn’t a Republican who said Fetterman could wear shorts from sleeping to the Senate floor,” Jay Nixon, the former Democratic governor of Missouri and a No Labels leader
Meanwhile, Dean Phillips is also flailing. His promises to avoid friendly fire that would damage Biden are now forgotten, while his public events today in New Hampshire are limited to joint appearances with the disastrous Andrew Yang. The two most notable Phillips campaign events have been no one showing up, and Bill Ackman directing his campaign policy via tweet.
The Other Joe
Amid this absurdity, it may be hard to discern something valuable. But it is worth listening to Joe Manchin, who has practiced the type of partisan centrism that trumps anti-partisanship. Manchin has actually has laid out a constructive path forward: try to move Biden to the center, and actually meet with him.
After four years of confirming judges, being vindicated on inflation, and urging Democrats to focus on their (legit!) bipartisan achievements, Manchin has kept alive the possibility of an independent presidential bid while maintaining a level of coherence that eludes the Chaos Centrists.
Listen to Manchin’s actual words, and you’ll come away grounded in the type of reality that also led him to, well, confirm all those judges and be right about inflation and focus on bipartisan achievements.
Manchin is clear: he tried to keep Biden in the center, but watched him get pulled left.
Democratic moderates are being put in an incredibly difficult position: acknowledge Biden was pulled left, work to pull him back to the center, and also fight off the false equivalence of No Labels.
There are few more credible messengers for that than Manchin.
And there are few less credible messengers than No Labels, which has actively worked to undermine the accomplishments of moderate Democrats.
Partisan Moderation Hurts Professional Anti-Partisans
More dangerous than comparing January 6th to wearing shorts is No Labels’ professed ignorance at their role in diminishing the bipartisan accomplishments of moderate Democrats.
In the same interview that compares wearing shorts to storming the Capitol, No Labels “Chief Strategist” Ryan Clancy both downplays the bipartisan accomplishments of Biden AND touts No Labels’ own role in achieving such consensus.
Clancy kicked off this morning’s press conference by touting the “landmark” infrastructure bill that No Labels claims credit for. Yet he also claimed in the interview released this morning that the legislation was so inconsequential as to show the system is broken:
“I mean, infrastructure is roads and bridges,” Clancy said. “This is not immigration. This is not abortion, guns. This is not like the hot-button issues.”
He then goes on to wonder why Biden doesn’t get more credit:
Clancy, for his part, said that he doesn’t consider himself “anti-Biden” and conceded that the public hasn’t always given him the proper dues he deserves.
“I don’t know exactly the reason why Biden has not gotten the credit from the public for some of the legislative achievements,” Clancy said.
Why would No Labels undermine the moderation that they preach? Because it is a threat to their business model. The stronger the moderate wings of each party are, the harder it is to pitch an anti-partisan model.
We explained this phenomenon earlier this year in The Bulwark. The No Labels model made sense at one point, and had the potential for a real constituency with laudable goals. But it is also true that making real progress, in the form of strong moderate factions that can work across party lines, actually undermines their case:
Instead of building up moderate factions within the parties—which is a centrist strategy that carries a strong recommendation from political scientists—anti-partisans like No Labels suck up resources and attention to ensure that neither party actually builds the type of partisan moderate infrastructure that could produce bipartisanship and sideline extremists.
No Labels has said their third party presidential bid is an “insurance policy”. In one way that analogy is apt: the anti-partisans spent a decade weakening a building, and now stand to profit off the option to fully destabilize it. For moderate Democrats - and their Never Trump allies - the task is to strengthen the building while keeping the arsonists at bay.
Construction is needed. And constructive criticism is essential, and can be productive as Manchin shows:
Manchin said Sunday he would not support former President Trump despite having concerns about his own party’s leadership.
“Constructive criticism. Let me make very clear: I love my country too much to vote for Donald Trump. I love my country too much, and I think [it] would be very detrimental to my country,” Manchin said when asked about his criticism of President Biden on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”
Manchin is constructive.
No Labels and Dean Phillips are not.
Discerning the chaos centrists from the constructive centrists is key to rebuilding the Big Tent that beats Trump.