Editor’s Note: Joe Lieberman, an independent, is a former US Senator who represented Connecticut from 1989 to 2013. He was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in the 2000 presidential election. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
When Ralph Nader ran for president in 2000, he offered a simple rationale for a bid that would ultimately help “spoil” the election for the Democratic ticket I was privileged to be on with Al Gore. In Nader’s view, the two parties were ideologically indistinguishable.
That argument was baseless. There were significant differences in policy between the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney ticket — which ended up victorious, in part thanks to Nader — and ours. For Nader, this wasn’t really about the “two-party duopoly,” as he coined it. This was about his desire to push Gore and the Democratic Party to the left.
Today, of course, no one can reasonably argue that the two parties aren’t ideologically distinct. The core problem in Washington, DC, is that they’re too divided to get much done.
Though a majority of Americans long for the era when Republicans and Democrats worked together to find bipartisan solutions to big problems, many members of Congress refuse to work together on immigration, the debt ceiling and other issues critical to the nation, even when bipartisanship is the way to restore our common prosperity and security. Indeed, today, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats the Senate, bipartisanship is the only way to pass any legislation.
While undoing the divisions plaguing our political system will not be simple, there is one step that can be taken — and it begins with giving voters a real alternative in the 2024 presidential election.
Most often, when Americans cast their votes for president and vice president, their ballot has only two viable tickets: one nominated by the Democratic Party and the other by the Republican Party. But what would happen if they had a third viable option?
The process for adding that third viable option is not only arduous and time-consuming, but it varies from state to state and in the District of Columbia.
Today, No Labels, a nonprofit organization that I co-chair, is laying the groundwork for such a campaign in 2024. Since early 2022, our team has been diligently working across the country to obtain ballot access for a potential No Labels ticket, typically by collecting a certain number of petition signatures from voters in each state.
If we are successful, a unity ticket — comprised of one Democrat and one Republican — could be presented to voters right next to the Republican and Democratic nominees.
We think of this as an insurance policy for the country — an option to be deployed if, and only if, both of the two major party nominees fail to offer voters a choice of candidates they’d like to vote for or a way out of the partisan divisiveness that now dominates in the nation’s capital. We will be consistently monitoring the sentiment of Americans through our own research and polling, as well as public polling, to make that determination.
In this and several other ways, No Labels’ effort could not be more different from the “spoiler” campaign that Nader attempted two decades ago.
First, if No Labels were to lend its ballot lines to a presidential ticket, the presidential candidate would be a Democrat and the vice presidential candidate would be a Republican, or vice versa. As such, it would appeal to some voters who might otherwise have voted for the Democratic ticket, and other voters who might otherwise have voted for the Republican ticket. And it would appeal to still other voters who would not have voted for either.
These nominees would be selected by a diverse and distinguished group of citizens serving on a committee — and would be ratified by delegates who would gather at the No Labels National Convention planned for April 2024. This convention will occur about six weeks after the March 5th “Super Tuesday” primaries, a day which historically has clarified who the major party nominees will be.
Second, No Labels’ 2024 effort is not designed to push the Democratic nominees to the left or Republican candidates to the right. Rather, it’s intended to force one or both parties to appeal to America’s growing commonsense majority. If they don’t, our ballot line will create the opening for a unity ticket that will.
According to recent polling by CNN, the number of individuals who identify as independent is on the rise, now comprising 41% of the electorate — compared to only 28% who described themselves as Democrats and 31% who described themselves as Republicans. These numbers are more evidence that there could be a potential path to victory for an independent ticket in 2024.
But if there doesn’t appear to be such a path in the months ahead, No Labels will stand down, focusing instead on the work we have done over the last decade to elect and organize members of the House and Senate who have demonstrated the courage to reach across the aisle — including members of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus.
It seems the Biden administration already may be beginning to recognize the imperative of appealing to the commonsense majority. President Joe Biden recently signed into law a Republican measure to strike down a Washington, DC, crime bill reducing penalties for those who commit violent crimes, and he announced more stringent border control policies.
Our hope is that the Republicans jockeying for their party’s nomination will similarly see the need to reach out beyond their base instead of appealing to divisive policies and politics.
In the end, No Labels hopes not to have to offer our ballot line to an independent unity ticket. We want the parties to come to their senses. But judging from the angry and apocalyptic reactions of strategists in both parties at the thought of No Labels’ insurance policy, it is clear that party leaders now know that there could be a political cost to ignoring the commonsense majority. And that’s a reason to hope for a better future for our government and our country.