No Dice on No Labels: Why I Changed my Mind About a Third-Party Candidate in 2024


Off and on since the 2008 economic crash, a majority or plurality of voters have told Gallup that the country needs a third party. Last September, the percentage was 56 percent, down from its all-time high of 62 the year before. 

But, would Americans actually vote for such a candidacy? And is it a good idea? The  answer to both questions (so far, at least) is No. In 2024, the answer may well be a resounding NO.

The question arises anew because No Labels, a bipartisan group advocating centrist policies, has plans under way to spend $70 million to secure 50-state ballot access for an independent presidential ticket in 2024.

The group, a non-profit that doesn’t reveal its donors, says it doesn’t necessarily plan to mount a presidential campaign—it calls its effort an “Insurance Policy” in case Republicans and Democrats nominate candidates lacking public support.

Right now, a majority of Democrats don’t want Joe Biden to seek re-election and a majority of Republicans don’t want Trump. And the public views both unfavorably. I concur on Biden’s not running, based on age and undeserved chronic low support, not performance, especially if he keeps Kamala Harris as his Veep, causing legitimate worry about a weak succession in perilous times. But now it looks like it’s Biden vs. Trump, like it or not.

Ryan Clancy, No Labels’s chief strategist, told me that numerous conditions need to be met before the project goes ahead and that it’s more likely than not that it won’t field a presidential candidate. However, invested effort and momentum could override the conditions. The group has already raised two-thirds of $70 million and has plans to name a nominating committee and hold a national convention next summer..

The reason it’s a bad idea—indeed, possibly a catastrophic one in 2024—is that an attractive, moderate independent ticket could well pull enough votes away from Joe Biden to re-elect Donald Trump. In which case, I fear that America will cease to be a democracy.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat closely tied to the coal industry, and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican, both support the No Labels effort and haven’t ruled out running as its “Unity Ticket.”

No third party candidate has ever won the presidency, but third parties definitely have affected the outcome. The most celebrated case was Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 “Bull Moose” candidacy, which split the Republican party and elected Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

More recently, in 2000, Green Party candidate Ralph  Nader pulled enough votes away from Democrat Al Gore, especially in Florida, to elect George W. Bush. And in 2016, Trump got elected because libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green party’s Jill Stein pulled enough key-state votes to defeat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College.

My favorite political scientist – moderate Democrat Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution and senior advisor for No Labels since its founding in 2010 – has “separated” himself from the group over the third-ticket plan. He told the Washington Post  earlier this month that “there is no equivalence between President Biden and a former president who threatens the survival of our constitutional order. And most important, in today’s closely divided politics, any division of the anti-Trump vote would open the door to his reelection.”

Similarly, former top GOP operative Stuart Stevens, now part  of the “Never Trump” Lincoln Project, said “if you really believe that it doesn’t really matter if it is Joe Biden or Donald Trump…this is kind of harmless. If you live in a world where it does matter, it is dangerous.”

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ), Democratic co-chair of the 58-member House Problem Solvers Caucus, a group originated by No Labels, told the Post he is “not involved with or supportive of” the third-ticket plan. His GOP counterpart, Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa) sounded more favorable.

Founded and run by hard-charging (and controversial) former Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson, No Labels and the Problem Solvers have sponsored or helped along numerous worthwhile measures, including COVID relief and last year’s infrastructure, CHIPS, and gun control bills.

Clancy said that “success” for the Insurance Policy project won’t depend primarily on nominating a Unity ticket, but raising the visibility of a “Commonsense” policy agenda that No Labels will unveil this summer. The agenda, he says, will feature ideas widely accepted by the public but not supported by the Democratic or Republican parties.

These include immigration reform that combines beefed-up border security and a path to citizenship for so-called “Dreamers” brought illegally to the US as children. Also in the agenda: decisive steps to balance the federal budget and “restore excellence” to public education.

If No Labels just published its agenda, he said, it would be ignored. But if it had the possibility of being part of an Independent presidential platform, it would get traction.

Acceptance of that agenda would be one requirement for a No Labels endorsement (theoretically, Biden or Trump could win an endorsement). Another requirement is that “rigorous” polling would have to show that the public continues to want a third choice and that its ticket had a chance to win.

A huge, 26,000-sample HarrisX poll conducted by Nancy Jacobson’s husband, Mark Penn, also controversial,  showed that 59 percent of voters would be open to supporting a moderate independent presidential candidate. (Typically that openness fades as election day nears.)

Such polling is part of the reasoning behind what No Labels calls a unique moment in modern US history, when a large plurality of voters (41 percent, according to Gallup) identify as Independents (vs. 28 percent each for the two parties), big majorities disapprove of Republicans (61 percent) and Democrats (57 percent). By a 35-point margin US adults think the country is on the wrong track, and 78 percent think their children will be poorer than they were.

Moreover, Penn’s polling indicated that an Independent ticket would draw equally from both Biden and Trump.

No Labels cites exit polling on the 1992 race, when Independent Ross Perot garnered 19 percent of the vote, showing that if he hadn’t been on the ballot, equal numbers (38 percent) would have voted for Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, while 24 percent would not have voted at all.

Additionally, said Clancy, Perot ran a bad campaign, withdrawing and then re-entering, picking an unattractive running mate (retired Admiral James Stockdale) and eccentrically charging that Bush had somehow “ruined” his daughter’s wedding.

Against these arguments for an independent candidate in 2024, there is Duverger’s Law, which holds that in a two-party system where the candidate with the most votes wins, partisans are reluctant to vote for a third party for fear it will elect the candidate they oppose.  

As the political site 538 explains, America now isn’t set up for third party victories.

In the past, I’ve been a supporter of third parties and Independent candidates on the grounds that the Democratic and Republican parties constitute a “duopoly” conspiring—for all savage  battling they do—to freeze out competition and marginalize moderates in their own midst. The result has been polarization and gridlock.

One reason for my change of mind is that without political reform—especially widespread adoption of ranked choice voting—I doubt Independents can win, especially the presidency. And in 2024, if it’s Biden vs Trump, the prospect that No Labels’ Independent ticket could elect Trump is just too great a risk for this voter to take.


Mort Kondracke
Mort Kondracke
Morton Kondracke is a retired Washington, DC, journalist (Chicago Sun-Times, The New Republic, McLaughlin Group, FoxNews Special Report, Roll Call, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal) now living on Bainbridge Island. He continues to write regularly for (besides PostAlley), mainly to advance the cause of political reform.


  1. Thanks Mort, I agree! I also agree that ranked choice voting is a good idea and I hope it spreads widely. Of course, if the Ds and Rs see ranked choice voting as a threat to their duopoly, they may devote considerable resources to blocking its spread. Also, if we imagine for a moment that an independent could win the Presidency in our current electoral system, how would Washington function? The Houses of Congress would, presumably, still be mostly populated by Democrats and Republicans who would, presumably, still organize themselves accordingly, but neither caucus would be aligned with the White House. The President’s initiatives would have no army in Congress to fight for them. Most initiatives, then, might come from Congress, with the President standing by to sign or veto, plus leading the executive branch day-to-day. Populating the appointed offices in that branch would also be an interesting exercise without party factors, as would nominating judges.

  2. Independent or third-party groups should focus their attention on winning Congressional and state legislature seats. If they can grab a sizable number of seats like 10-15 percent, they’ll have sufficient clout to affect what bills get passed. The Electoral College means that a presidential campaign would be a waste of time and money.

  3. This is an excellent piece, Mr. Kondracke, and I agree with your analysis. I’m wondering if with your work in journalism you are familiar with the life and work of Stewart Udall. I have recently completed a film about his life and would be happy to share it with you. It is now being screened throughout the US. If you’d like to see the film email me at: best, John de Graaf

  4. Thank you for this excellent article.
    For “No Labels” to run an “independent Presidential ticket” would be a disaster. They say it’s a “contingency” Against what. They would risk giving Trump the Presidency and if it happened would be rightly vilified.
    But can they please find a way to replace Kampala Harris?
    I am concerned about her as President if Joe should falter.

  5. The real value of a third-party candidacy is to float, and thereby legitimatize, new ideas. These candidates need to pretend they are serious candidates, so they get on the stage for debates and for mainstream coverage. No one need seriously worry that they will get elected, since voters in the final weeks worry about throwing their vote away as these candidates sink in the polls. But the nation badly needs new ideas about education, foreign policy, immigration, and economic policy. No other way I know of to penetrate the fog of tired ideas.

      • It’s a terrible strategy in the current US system, where every party gets on the ballot and voters have to simply choose (and the Electoral College …)

        As mentioned above, with Ranked Choice, it would be a whole different situation, with the advantages Brewster cites substantially enhanced by the much more significant potential for the candidacies to be successful. Even Washington’s top two primary – there’d be no Nader on the ballot for a state office, unless he had enough votes to make the top two.

  6. Wow! For someone so esteemed by so many in the habitat of political and legal reporting, Mort demonstrates his proclivity not to deviate from the standard mode of thinking. In this piece, he reflects this tendency by discussing third party presidential attempts without a single mention of the U.S. Constitution. Thus, he fails to acknowledge, much less discuss critically, how provisions within the document exist to facilitate representation of third-party voters other than the repeatedly disinterred concept of ranked choice voting.
    Without question, third parties need to develop political credentials by nominating and electing representatives to Congress. The election of President, however, is governed by an entirely different set of rules. Foremost among them, the Electoral College represents what every elected legislator should understand but does not: federalism. The states and people elect the President.
    A constitutional solution exists; one that originated prior to and independent from political parties. Each state can determine the method it wants to send electors to the Electoral College. Most states select “winner-take-all” methods. Under those, all electoral votes for the state sent to the EC are those of the popular vote winner in the state.
    Two states, Maine and Nebraska, select the method that better reflects the will of its voters: congressional district nomination. The plurality vote winner within those states receives the two electoral votes that represent the Senate.
    Third party votes would be represented and each vote for President would be afforded equal weight. They are already excluded in the present system. The proposed National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would only aggravate the error.
    Ranked choice voting dilutes votes and exists solely because of the injection of political parties and the idea that such an actual, not perceived, difference exists. Also, the proper ballot that California once had, the blanket primary, has long since been deemed unconstitutional by a court more interested in the association rights of political parties than those of the voter.
    Mort patronizes third party presidential campaigns as nothing more than issue-raising advocacies by citing Duverger’s Law (that is based solely on party affiliation, not ideas), 538, and personal friends who happen to have removed themselves from No Labels. All of these survive, in part, by maintaining the two-party system.
    Any time third parties arise, one of the parties has a patellar reflex against it, stating it will lead to election of the other. One or both will collude to create procedural roadblocks, primarily by denying ballot access. Ultimately, the claim that America is not designed for a multi-party system is not true, unless you disregard the U.S. Constitution and have as your ultimate objective maintaining the faux adversarial party relationship. Steady as she goes, Mort!


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