I wrote a piece recently on how Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made himself unelectable by doing the politically foolish thing of changing his position on abortion—denying abortion access after six weeks or even earlier.
Former President Donald Trump has also made himself increasingly unelectable as he does more and more to strengthen his hold on the Republican nomination. We hardly need more evidence than the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court race to see how even the most swing of swing states will go strongly for a Democratic candidate when there is a stark choice on abortion access, especially up against a Republican candidate who also embraces extremist views.
We should ask the same question about Joe Biden—is there anything that might also make him unelectable? And while this question cannot be answered with quite the definitiveness that recent evidence suggests why both DeSantis and Trump are unelectable in a general election, there is clearly a developing issue that could deny Joe Biden re-election.
The issue that could make Joe Biden unelectable is not in his control and is a far greater threat to his re-election than any single policy question. The threat is the effort to create a so-called unity, bipartisan ticket, consisting of a moderate Democrat and a non-MAGA Republican to run as a third-party independent choice in all 50 states. The theory behind this initiative, driven by the centrist group, No Labels, has a well-meaning rationale—giving voters a third option in keeping with the fact that 41 percent or more of the electorate identifies as Independent. The idea is that with Biden’s approval rating not being much above 40 percent, and a wide majority of the country not wanting Biden or Trump to run again, that it would be possible for such a unity ticket to win the presidency.
The history of third-party candidates in the United States is not one that would give any credence to the notion that a fusion ticket consisting of a Republican as president and Democrat as vice president, or vice versa, could win. No third-party candidate has won even one Electoral College vote in the last 50 years. Even Teddy Roosevelt, an enormously popular national figure who after being president ran a third-party campaign under the Bull Moose Party did not come close. Roosevelt split the Republican vote, ending up with 88 Electoral College votes, resulting in the presidency going to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
More recently, in 2000, Ralph Nader, running as the Green Party candidate, did not even get 3 percent of the national vote, but the 97,000 plus votes he received in Florida, were enough to give George W. Bush a 537-vote margin of victory (when ballot counting was stopped) that cost Al Gore the presidency.
No Labels indicates that it would only pull the trigger on actually holding what it says would be an April 2024 national convention, (about six weeks after the Super Tuesday primaries), if there appears to be a path to victory for an independent candidate who would draw voters equally from both parties. Much of the consideration by those organizing this effort has been focused on putting forward a slate just for the scenario that seems to be developing—if the two parties nominate Biden and Trump. No Labels would no doubt point to the recent NBC News poll which indicates that 70 percent of the country, including over 50 percent of Democrats, do not want Biden to run again, and only 35 percent of the country want Trump to run again.
Beyond the fact that it appears very far-fetched that an independent candidate ticket could win the election, many factors weigh very heavily on this effort significantly undermining Biden’s candidacy. Remember, Biden only won the election by a total of 44,000 votes in three states—Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. When dealing with such an incredibly narrow margin predicting with certainly the impact any third-party candidacy would have in April 2024, six months before the election, is impossible.
According to Pew Research, people who voted for third-party candidates in 2016 voted 53 percent to 36 percent for Biden over Trump in 2020. That would suggest the negative impact to Biden would be far more significant than to Trump. In addition, a number of polls suggested that a much higher percentage of Republicans identify as conservative or very conservative, as compared to the percentage of Democrats who identify as liberal or very liberal. Meaning, there are a lot more people in the Democratic voting block who would be susceptible to voting for a moderate candidate than there are Republicans likely to make that selection.
The No Labels effort has already been successful in getting a ballot position in four states, with a well-funded petition drive aimed at getting access far more broadly. Two of those states are Arizona and Colorado, where such a ticket could easily draw decisive numbers of voters. What all this adds up to is that the No Labels effort would result in being a spoiler effort relative to the Biden candidacy. The fact that many left-leaning groups have spoken out against this effort, while Republican groups have not, underscores the threat this creates for Biden.
Though unlikely at best, the No Labels effort could result in the unity ticket winning in a small number of swing states. Yet, if that were to happen, then no candidate would win enough Electoral College votes to win the presidency outright. In such a circumstance, the Constitution provides for the presidency to be decided in the House of Representatives on a state-by-state delegation vote where the Republicans now have a majority of state delegations. With the impact of gerrymandering there is very little likelihood that that majority will change in the 2024 elections.
If you believe the greatest disaster for American democracy would be the re-election of Donald Trump, as I do, this No Labels effort that might well make Joe Biden unelectable is an enormous threat. It appears it is going to take a significant amount of pressure from all elements who would consider another Trump presidency to be a complete tragedy to back off No Labels from pulling the trigger. Hopefully, those very smart, well-meaning No Labels operatives can be convinced not to pull the trigger.
Is Joe Biden unelectable? No, of course not. But do not underestimate this threat.
Tom Rogers is an editor-at-large for Newsweek, the founder of CNBC and a CNBC contributor. He also established MSNBC, is the former CEO of TiVo, and a member of Keep Our Republic, an organization dedicated to preserving the nation’s democracy.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.