Sun. May 19th, 2024

Inside the secret battle to stop No Labels

By 37ci3 Apr15,2024

WASHINGTON – Once upon a time, from multimillion-dollar negative campaigns and “one conspiracy making threats, intimidating voters and committing other criminal acts. Good friends.

The people who run No Labels and Third Way, Washington’s most prominent centrist organizations, all came together in the small world of Clinton-era center-left politics.

Nancy Jacobson, an early recruit of Bill Clinton and founder of No Labels, helped raise the seed money and get the necessary political blessing to start The Third Way. The think tank was founded by John Cowan, whom Jacobson views as a mentee. Cowan, now president of Third Way, even signed the ketubah (Jewish wedding contract) at Jacobson’s wedding to Mark Penn, whose firm No Labels conducted the survey.

Then came the 2024 elections – and Labels have no decision Attempting to run a bipartisan “unity ticket” against both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, backed by a $70 million budget. The third wayA centrist who may be, but who is staunchly Democrat, saw it as a misguided, desperate effort that could only spoil the election for Biden and help re-elect Trump with potentially disastrous results.

“There were deep vested interests and relationships,” Cowan said.

A centrist civil war has broken out in the C-suites and steakhouses of Washington and Manhattan. Like many internal conflicts, this one was deeply personal. Betrayal, a double agent, a secret team of political operatives, some very unlikely allies, and a decisive victory for one side leaving the other seething and bitter.

Even some people close to No Labels admit that the campaign against him has largely succeeded in its mission: to dissuade potential candidates from joining his ticket. But the cost, they say, will be a gaping wound at the heart of what remains of American centralism.

“What does the third way go back to?” asked former Rep. Max Rose, a moderate New York Democrat, speaking to NBC News at Jacobson’s request. “Because it doesn’t seem logical that an organization that considers itself a centrist political organization should accidentally go to war against another organization.”

Or as Holly Page, a longtime moderate Democratic strategist who has worked for both groups but falls into the No Labels camp, told The Third Way: “They sold out the center so they could have a seat at the table. [former Biden chief of staff] Ron Klein.”

No Labels was so upset by what the Page anti-Labels campaign called “petty fraternity games” that the group protested. complaint with the Ministry of Justice. In a letter and angry press conference, they accused their old friends and new allies of engaging in an “unlawful conspiracy to disenfranchise Americans,” violating anti-racketeering laws typically used to prosecute mobsters. There is no indication that the Justice Department has taken any action on the request.

And the Third Way and its allies believe they are real moderates here. They formed a de facto bipartisan coalition of groups from Republicans to progressives to support a moderate Democratic president and stop Trump, stopping the moderate idea of ​​the few. praised As a “troubleshooter” during the 2016 campaign.

“You’re not building a pro-Biden coalition; it’s an anti-Trump coalition,” said Sarah Longwell, publisher of the conservative website The Bulwark and Republican strategist, who supported the No Labels effort. “When push comes to shove, they’re going to completely take out the people who are going to vote for Joe Biden.”

Similar beginnings go their separate ways

In many ways, the Third Way was a difficult marshal for the No Labels counterattack.

Both have long been dismissed by the left as staunch corporatists and crypto-republicans, and the Third Way and No Labels exist in overlapping social circles, come from similar funders, and promote a common ideology. Third Way’s previous campaigns have been on the left, such as when it fought progressive opponents in House primaries and tried to prevent Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., from winning the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

“Everybody in the centrist donor universe knew No Labels was running this ticket and everybody knew we were leading the opposition. You were on one side or the other,” Cowan said. “And on the other side were the richest people in the country, and they were very angry with us.”

Third Way lost a pro-No Labels board member, and its leaders received word from several other unhappy donors that they shouldn’t expect another cent.

But while Third Way is essentially a Democratic body, Jacobson has fallen from the party ranks (or been pushed out, depending on who you ask), and now No Labels sees itself as the only group fair and innovative enough to think outside the red. – blue division.

Again, this familiarity meant that Third Way spoke enough of No Labels’ language to understand it and the people who funded it, and how to reach the potential candidates it was trying to recruit.

Third Way’s moderate credentials helped him pick his potential No Labels allies. members of congress New York Times columnist David Brooks – the first big sound raise the union ticket flag, only then lower it — To the Clintons, the first family of Democratic centrism.

The threat posed by the former president and secretary of state’s third-party campaign to Biden didn’t take much convincing — Hillary Clinton partly blamed the Green Party for her 2016 loss. So over dinner last July at their home in Chappaqua, N.Y., the Clintons, each accompanied by a top aide, discussed strategy with Cowan and Third Way Vice President Matt Bennett and pledged to help privately through their networks, according to three familiar sources. . by appointment.

Bill Clinton joined the anti-recruitment team working against No Labels, making personal appeals to two prominent No Labels targets — Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Republican — that a third-party candidate could not. the winner

“Pearl Harbored”

Jacobson expressed anger, fear and a sense of betrayal at the Third Way’s actions. “We were Pearl Harbored,” he first said in a call to supporters informed by Puck.

Bill Clinton’s lobbying effort was part of a larger campaign that included dozens of groups and prominent figures from the left, center and right, built around a Third Way “war room.”

As Bennett said at the group’s first major meeting, they had to “create an idea in the minds of the political elites and the people they’re talking to that … if you get involved … you’re really putting your whole reputation and legacy at risk.”

Third Way identified a long list of potential No Labels targets and began to find mutual friends and allies among potential candidates and the anti-No Labels coalition—people who would be seen as credible ambassadors. No Labels said that 30 candidates passed. And in the end, the opposition coalition says it has reached every island that emerges.

Third Way leaders worked on the Democratic side of the aisle after receiving the blessings of party leaders at the White House, Capitol Hill and the Democratic National Committee. Meanwhile, his anti-Trump GOP allies and a secret team of 10 to 20 Republican operatives have worked to “besiege” potential candidates with appeals, including a poll by former Rep. Liz Cheney that concluded they couldn’t win with No. Labels.

Each potential candidate received a message from dignitaries such as local business leaders, clergy and former aides tailored to their pressure points—financial needs, legacies, future political prospects.

The main goal was to make it impossible for No Labels to deliver the big ticket they promised.

“It was run by the elite,” Bennett said. “We knew they had enough donors that we couldn’t deny them money. But we knew enough about their donors that they would expect a candidate of some stature and not accept someone who was clearly not credible.”

Their targets included well-publicized suspects like Manchin, Hogan and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, though they were particularly concerned about former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam because he is a self-funded billionaire.

Possible allies

It wasn’t just anti-Trump Republicans like the Lincoln Project and former Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol who joined Third Way’s efforts to roll back No Labels. Mainstream Democrats like Klein and former Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama were joined by war-mongering left leaders uncooperative with the Third Way.

Dining with Bennett and working with his group helped him “humanize” people he viewed as “the enemy,” said Melissa Byrne, a left-wing activist who has often clashed with moderate Democrats on issues such as student debt.

Byrne emphasized — “print it in all caps, in bold,” he said — that he would go to war with the Third Way again over politics.

Bennett and Rahna Epting, executive director of the liberal group MoveOn, ended up working closely, continuing their odd-couple work in a series of meetings on Capitol Hill, in the media and even in public debates against No Labels strategists.

“Our partnership with Third Way to come together and stop No Labels may come as a surprise to some, but it’s a testament to how high the stakes are in keeping Trump out of the White House,” Epting said.

Meanwhile, some Republicans have joined the Democratic campaign because of a similar calculation: Despite their policy differences, they are united by opposition to Trump and a shared belief that a third-party candidate could be his decisive boon.

“If you want to experiment with third-party products, go crazy — just not this year,” said Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson, another cornerstone of the Anti-Labels campaign.

The broad coalition even included a secret member from the most unlikely of sources: No Labels itself.

No Labels has made every effort to keep the names of its representatives, donors and potential candidates confidential. But the anti-Labels campaign felt they had a good idea of ​​what was going on behind the scenes, thanks to a disillusioned No Labels representative who began to infiltrate the other side.

He was what Cowan and Bennett would only say was an “average citizen” who initially joined No Labels with a sincere belief in its mission, “which has been incredibly helpful to us and done so at some personal sacrifice and risk,” Bennett said.

People familiar with No Labels’ thinking did not dispute that they had a leak and said they had no idea who it might be.

But No Labels allies say such dagger-and-dagger tactics highlight the hypocrisy of supposed champions of democracy and voting rights who oppose another party’s entry on the ballot.

“It’s just disheartening to see partisans and politicians protecting their turf,” said former Rep. Joe Cunningham, a South Carolina Democrat who works with No Labels.

Rose, a former New York congressman, said the No Labels presidential ticket was always a long shot, so the victory lap of his opponents was simply “someone who saw where things were going anyway and tried to claim credit.”

“No Label really considered something that didn’t have legs and made a pretty noble decision not to follow it,” he said.

Although No Labels’ 2024 sweep is over, third-party candidates are still campaigning, notably another former Democrat who could affect Biden’s chances in November: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. However, the fight against Kennedy will be very different. Third Way conflict, despite Biden’s commitment to fighting third-party foes.

Third Way turned out to be the right band to unseat No Labels. Can they also bring down the outsider?

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By 37ci3

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