By Jim Pettit
Maryland’s former Gov. Larry Hogan is positioning himself to run as a presidential candidate under the No Labels banner, the political effort underway to present an alternative to Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Although Hogan has not committed to running, he is making moves in that direction, most notably doing numerous media interviews ranging from Fox News to PBS Newshour. Hogan diligently posts favorable coverage on social media, a practice he used before announcing his first run for governor to show momentum and build name recognition. The branding tactic is now repurposed for a national audience.
With deep partisan divisions, Trump facing criminal charges, and ongoing concerns about Biden’s age and fitness for office, a viable third force in politics will get attention this election cycle. Polls suggest an opening for a third party. It’s no surprise that No Labels, with Hogan as one of its main cheerleaders, has succeeded in getting an initial round of media coverage. But the political honeymoon is coming to a premature end.
Problems of its own making
No Labels, for which Hogan serves as a co-chair, is getting panned across the political spectrum, mostly due to problems of its own making. Originating as the “Problem Solver” caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives over a decade ago, the idea then was to address national issues in a bipartisan manner. Today, No Labels suggests a “Unity Ticket” composed of a presidential and vice-presidential candidate not of the same party. Yet No Labels itself is in a state of disunity, racked by internal divisions on whether it should even be involved in a presidential contest.
Barring a dramatic course correction, their political lane is a dead end. No Labels pledged not to be a spoiler in 2024, which is important to political insiders, but meaningless to undecided voters. Most political analysts believe a No Labels ticket will siphon more votes from Biden than Trump as the former President’s supporters are more committed. Wall Street Journal columnist and Brookings scholar William Galston, who helped start No Labels in 2010, quit the group this Spring over its pledge not to be a spoiler.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal in May, Galston reminds readers of the organization’s pledge to end their campaign if it becomes clear that their ticket will be a spoiler. “The sooner they reach this conclusion, the better,” he said. Another political analyst, Kevin Walling, who helped start No Labels in 2010 told Fox News this month the group has made a “mockery of its founding principles” by positioning Biden and Trump as equals. According to these individuals, among many other insiders, a No Labels candidacy will harm Biden and should therefore stand down.
Indeed, the founding chairman of No Labels, former Senator Joe Lieberman issued a statement proclaiming “Donald Trump Should Never Again Be President.” This of course, comports to Hogan’s well-known anti-Trump position. A case can be made that No Labels is merely a “Never Trump” group by another name. If you are wondering why an organization opposed to Trump would get involved in an election that would ultimately help Trump, you are not alone.
Providing a real alternative
On the other hand, a wide political lane is open for Hogan or someone serious about providing a genuine alternative to both Biden and Trump. First, they must persuade voters why a No Labels candidate is better for the country. That is not happening, at least not now.
In perhaps the blandest messaging ever seen in politics, No Labels released what it calls an Insurance Policy which promises to work in a bipartisan manner to find common sense solutions to America’s biggest problems. Presumably this would work if Biden trips down the stairs on Air Force One or Trump winds up in prison. As for issues the country faces, No Labels offers pablum such as “to have cleaner energy, America needs to be able to build clean energy technologies.” Hogan’s main talking point is to cite polling data showing Trump and Biden are unpopular.
No Labels states that it is up to actual candidates to run campaigns. Fair enough, there is still time for a leader to emerge while No Labels staff works on the important tasks of achieving ballot access, holding a convention and fundraising. That’s assuming the organization doesn’t fall apart over disagreements on whether to be involved in the general election.
Ditching the dull insurance policy messaging, overcoming the image of a spoiler and offering a clear rationale for supporting a unity ticket is essential for No Labels to go forward from here. In the months ahead, we will find out if Hogan is able to inspire the country and offer the leadership required to make No Labels relevant.
Jim Pettit helped launch Larry Hogan’s first campaign for Governor and served under former Gov. Robert Ehrlich.