A Third-Party Candidate Would Likely Re-Elect Trump


The danger of re-electing Donald Trump and thereby dooming American democracy – that is obviously the most important reason that No Labels and Green Party candidate Cornel West should drop plans to mount third-party presidential campaigns this year.

But in No Labels’ case, there’s another major reason: it’s relying on an utterly false justification for considering a centrist challenge to likely major party candidates Trump and Joe Biden: the assertion that both parties are dominated by extremists.

As No Labels charges on its website, Republicans and Democrats are both “dominated by angry and extremist voices driven by ideology and identity politics.” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, probably the leading candidate to be No Labels’ presidential candidate, made similar charges in interviews  leading up to the group’s “Common Sense” policy unveiling July 17 in New Hampshire.

But the truth is that only one party, the GOP, is pursuing an increasingly extremist ideology, and that party is dominated by an angry demagogue bent on “retribution” and preparing to impose personalized authoritarianism on America.

Trump not only tried to overturn the results of the 2024 election, inciting a violent mob to invade the US Capitol in the process, he now has two think tanks planning to replace up to 50,000 federal workers deemed disloyal to him with proven loyalists who’ll serve his personal political, personal and financial interests and punish his political enemies.

Certainly there are voices in the Democratic party who might be labeled extreme on some matters, but they are scarcely “dominant.” Joe Biden, for all his political difficulties, is a centrist-liberal who has repeatedly sought (often vainly) to collaborate with Republicans and has repeatedly trimmed back his initial proposals to get his programs through Congress (often successfully). Moreover, he’s a democrat as well as a Democrat and has made protecting democracy in the US and around the world one of the bedrock purposes of his presidency.

Trump is the opposite: he’s sowed distrust about the fairness of US elections and now is doing so to the criminal justice system. He has repeatedly encouraged violence against adversaries and showed contempt for the rule of law – leading to two impeachments and, recently, two federal indictments and two criminal investigations likely to result in indictments. But his plans for a personal takeover of the entire US government are his scariest move yet, covered most extensively in last week’s  Economist magazine.

Its coverage is paywall protected, so for non-subscribers, here’s a summary: Trump’s first administration had little pre-planning and his proposals – such as US withdrawal from NATO — often were stymied by “adults in the room” or federal bureaucrats.

But now more than 500 first-term officials  (including eight former cabinet secretaries) and conservative thinkers housed at the right-wing Heritage Foundation and the new America First Policy Institute are meticulously laying out policies to put in place at the outset of his second term. Further, these plans would identify loyalists and craft strategies to eliminate the administrative (or “deep”) state and give Trump personal command of the entire executive branch and all Congressionally-created independent regulatory agencies.

The takeover would be executed by reviving Trump’s late-term executive order—immediately rescinded by Biden—setting up a “Schedule F” and stripping up to 50,000 policy-making or policy-executing bureaucrats of civil service protection so they could be replaced by loyalists.

Political appointees already serve as the president’s pleasure, but a tradition of independence has grown up around the Justice Department, FBI, Internal Revenue Service, and Federal Reserve. These would be abandoned under the plan. The practical result would be that Trump could control interest rates and order investigation or prosecution of his adversaries and protection for him and his friends.

“If these carefully laid plans were enacted,” the Economist opined in an editorial, “America would follow Hungary and Poland down the path of illiberal democracy.” Once the administrative state was destroyed, “the vain and tyrannical whims of an emperor-president would emerge from the rubble.”

The country also would be deprived of the services of experienced experts whose authority to craft and execute regulations has been delegated by a Congress lacking the knowledge or time to handle complicated problems—or even pass a budget on time.

The policy agenda being drafted by AFPI includes making Trump’s 2017 tax cuts permanent, attaching  work requirements to Medicaid and other welfare programs, and keeping Social Security and Medicare fully intact. That would  expand the federal debt and do nothing to prevent benefit programs for the elderly from going broke in the 2030s.

Other dubious policies include completing Trump’s wall along the Southern border, “ending the war on fossil fuels,” and cutting back federal support for solar and wind power, and eliminating diversity and environmental goals from subsidies to private companies. Foreign policy plans aren’t entirely clear, but may involve cutting or eliminating aid to Ukraine and, if not leaving NATO, de-emphasizing military preparations in Europe and the Middle East and deploying them against China.

As much as Trump’s second-term plans are authoritarian and extreme, the stances of other levels of Republican officials – and majorities of the rank-and-file – are little better.  

In  state after state, GOP legislatures and governors are imposing restrictive and sometimes punitive abortion laws in defiance or public opinion. Several are loosening gun laws in spite of almost-daily mass shootings. Others are banning books on gender and race or stimulating local bans despite opposition from 70 percent of Americans.

In Congress, the GOP House has been dedicated to proving corruption on the part of Biden and his wayward son, Hunter. Without citing any, Speaker KevinMcCarthy told Sean Hannity that evidence so far is “rising to the level of impeachment inquiry.” He’s said the same about Biden’s attorney general, Merrick Garland.

Republicans are also investigating alleged “weaponization” of the federal government against conservatives, including investigations of Trump. Meantime, Congress has passed just three bills that were signed into law. Other bills (to expand oil drilling and repeal Biden’s expansion of the IRS to limit tax avoidance) were blocked by the Senate. To Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s credit, Congress did agree to a debt-limit increase.

Trump’s nearest rival for the GOP nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – polling an average of 33 percent behind Trump (52 to 19, according to RealClearPolitics) – doesn’t carry anything like Trump’s moral and legal baggage, but he does lean authoritarian like Trump.

DeSantis criticized Trump’s indictment on charges of mishandling classified documents and promised to “bring accountability to the DOJ, excise political bias, and end weaponization once and for all.” DeSantis later said he’d “be aggressive in issuing pardons” for “victims of weaponization or political targeting.” He has not said whether those pardons  include Trump.

He also declared that the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion was a “protest that devolved into a riot, not an insurrection” as “spun by the media for partisan and political aims.” He criticized Trump only for not acting sooner to call off the invasion.

The Florida governor has made fighting “wokeness” the centerpiece of his campaign, by restricting instruction in schools about race and gender, by battling with the Disney Corp. for opposing that policy, and by backing legislation requiring state approval for all books used in schools, with violators subject to felony prosecution. So far, 170 books have been removed, including a biography of Rosa Parks.

Meantime, 66 percent of rank-and-file Republicans still view Trump favorably, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll (vs. 35 percent among all Americans ). According to a July, 2022, Washington Post review of polls, 61 percent of Republicans consider the Jan. 6 invasion a “legitimate protest.” 

No Labels’ primary justification for its $70 million effort to secure 50-state ballot access for a centrist independent ticket is that both Trump and Biden are deeply unpopular and that most Americans don’t want either to run. They also note  polling data suggesting that a majority of voters would consider voting for a third choice.

Indeed, Biden’s favorability rating among all Americans is just 39 percent, little better than Trump’s. And, despite falling inflation and strong job growth, plus passage of significant legislation to build infrastructure, manufacture computer chips, lower drug prices and address climate change and gun violence, and Biden’s unification of the Western alliance in support of Ukraine’s resistance to Russian invasion, Biden’s job approval rating is still in the low 40s. 

By 73-26 percent, US adults don’t want Biden to run for re-election, including 53 percent of Democrats.  Only 30 percent of adults want Trump to run again, though 55 percent of Republicans do want him to. 

The most common objection to Biden is his age, 80 now and 86 when his second term would end. Trump will be 78 in 2024, but age doesn’t seem to be the handicap for him as for Biden. I’d prefer that Biden would retire with his solid record and not risk a disability that would put not-very-strong Vice President Kamala Harris in the White House. 

No Labels CEO Nancy Jacobson said the group won’t field a ticket unless polls after Super Tuesday next March indicate a third-party candidate can win the election. “We will not be a spoiler for either side. The only reason to do this is to win.” A former major Democratic fundraiser, Jacobson says about the possibility its ticket could siphon votes from Biden and elect Trump, “Categorically, that will not happen. The effort – we’ll  pull it down.”

Maybe so, but analyses show that historically third party candidates never win the presidency—and that they always end up getting less support than they show in early polls. In June 1992, Ross Perot actually led the field in a Washington Post poll with 36 percent of the vote to 30 for George H.W. Bush and 26 percent for Bill Clinton, but he ended up with 19 percent (to 43 for Clinton and 37.5 for Bush) and won no electoral votes.

If  Democrat Manchin teamed up with either former Utah Gov. John Huntsman or former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, both moderate Republicans, they might be attractive enough to lead the field next March when No Labels makes its go/no-go decision. But the past pattern is likely to repeat itself by November and put them behind.

Still, either No Labels or Cornel West could well hurt Biden and help Trump. In 2016, Green Party candidate Jill Stein took enough votes away from Hillary Clinton in battleground states to get Trump elected. And in 2000 Ralph Nader took enough votes from Al Gore in Florida to elect George W. Bush. In a close race (and presidential elections lately have been very close, especially in swing states), Manchin could pull votes from Biden among moderates and independents, who strongly supported Biden in 2020. West, a prominent Bernie Sanders supporter in 2020, could similarly cut into Biden’s support among left liberals and Blacks

No Labels further insists that its ticket, if it fields one, would draw voters away from Republicans and Democrats equally, but studies by both the political website 538 and NBC News support the conclusion that No Labels and West would draw most from Biden and help Trump. (538 based its study on recent polls while NBC based its analysis on exit polls showing that third party turnout dropped from 2016 to 2020, helping Biden win nationally and in key swing states Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.)

The bottom line is that No Labels and West should forgo running next year and not risk causing the possible end of American democracy.

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) RealClearpolitics.com, mainly to advance the cause of political reform.


  1. What a complete gutter ball. Has American politics sunk to the level of “But the other guy sucks more!”? So Trump wins another election? I can’t believe Liberals have so little faith in America. Yeah, another round of Trump would be a complete disaster, but the nation would live though it. I’d guess we’d come out stronger in the long run.

    Why don’t you just go hide under your bed until the 2024 election is over, Mr. Kondracke? In fact, just leave the public sphere altogether? Spreading fear and actively trying to suppress candidates from running for public office? You are the problem, not the solution. OK Boomer, it’s way past your bedtime.

    • . . . but the nation would live though it.”

      Kind Sir:
      Nearly all of us Americans would prefer a higher bar. Simply living through something would be for cancer treatment. Never this.

  2. Thank you for this informed commentary. (I so remember arguing with otherwise intelligent friends, who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. We know how well that turned out.)

    I’d love to virtually billboard this on every highway:

    “…No Labels and West should forgo running next year and not risk causing the possible end of American democracy.”

    I completely agree, it’s that precarious in America. We could elect a candidate who’s out on bail.

  3. Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant demonstrated against Hillary Clinton and backed Jill Stein in the 2016 election. Worth remembering, not that Seattle voters will likely have a chance to vote for Sawant again.

  4. I agree with you, Mort. We should de-fund the police, reconstitute CHOP, keep pretending the border is secure and that drugs are not pouring in, The polls on people dissatisfied with the economy are wrong, we are all safe on the streets, guns fire by themselves, and keep polarizing by race, gender, etc…that Repubs are extreme and only Democrats are honest. Maybe Hunter should be Joe’s VP…Good Goin’!!

  5. “… the group won’t field a ticket unless polls after Super Tuesday next March indicate a third-party candidate can win the election.”

    “Can” is too ambiguous here. What polling result would be enough to practically guarantee victory for their candidate? Whatever that would be, it isn’t attainable. They’re getting ready to be spoilers. The voting system used here simply does not support third parties.


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