Transcript of EP 204 – Matt Bennett on the Case Against No Labels

The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Matt Bennett. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.

Jim: Today’s guest is Matt Bennett. Matt is the executive vice president for public affairs at Third Way. Third Way is one of those national think tanky things that claims that it’s champions modern center left ideas. I peruse their website and they seem fairly sane which is not too bad. Welcome Matt.

Matthew: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Jim: Matt’s got an interesting background. He was involved in the infamous Dukakis in a tank photo op way back yonder 1988 that helped sink allegedly. Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign. I remember I was a voter. What was I about 35 at the time and didn’t seem that weird to me but I think somehow the Republicans managed to capitalize on it. I mean I’ve seen clowns eating smoked turkey lakes at Iowa State fairs and stuff far more ridiculous than Dukakis with a helmet in the tank.

But anyway there it is. Later he worked at the Clinton White House first as an A. Dal Gore and then as liaison to the governors for Bill himself. He was also communications director of the Wesley Clark campaign back in 2004. Now I wonder if you knew my friend Dave Holtzman who was supposedly the CTO of the Wesley Clark campaign.

Matthew: Yeah I mean sort of he was. He wasn’t exactly the CEO because campaigns don’t really happen.

Jim: CTO I think.

Matthew: CTO yes yes he and I didn’t cross paths all that much because our jobs were quite different but yeah I was aware of him.

Jim: Yeah he worked for me back in the day and we’ve been friends since so each good guy in my opinion.

Matthew: I got it.

Jim: Way back yonder he was a lawyer we’re not going to hold that against him and he appears frequently as a commentator on various of the Blather, Medias, Cable TV that kind of stuff. So we’re going to hop in. We’re going to talk about it actually a fairly serious topic today. Many of you out there may have heard of no labels. This is somewhat a secretive and murky group and I’m sure Matt will have some things to say about that aspect of them that is organizing to potentially run a candidate third party candidate fourth party looks like now candidate in the presidential election and there’s lots of issues involved and I got connected to Matt via Yasha Monk who I had on a while back. He said oh yeah yeah because I gave some mildly positive things to say about no labels. He said oh you got to get Matt on he hates no labels.

He’s going to eviscerate him. I then thought for a minute and said hmm okay game on let’s talk. So Matt’s going to take the anti no label side. I’m going to take the thoughtfully considering no label side in this particular discussion. It’s also worth noting for our listeners that in the coming a few weeks we’re going to have two more guests on talking about labels. One is going to be a strong no labels advocate Ryan Clancy who’s their head of strategy and then early November we’ll have on Owen Pepke who’s wrote a very interesting book called the Purple Presidency which lays out in a fairly impassioned and very readable fashion a centrist agenda for America. So before we get into eviscerating them Matt I’m going to give you a little challenge which is to steal man give the argument for no labels not for their presidential campaign but for the idea of a centrist organization looking to bring the country together.

Matthew: Yeah that I’d be happy to do because in fact my colleagues and I were around at the outset of no labels and and we helped no labels founder and CEO Nancy Jacobson this is a very close friend of my colleague John Cowans and we were excited about the idea of no labels because in the beginning and really until quite recently their focus was on cross-partisan cooperation in Congress which is a thing that we very strongly support so they were responsible for forming what has become the problem solvers caucus in the house that is a group that is both Democrats and Republicans in fact you can’t join the problem solvers as a member of one party without coming with a member of the other as your partner and we really support that kind of thing we haven’t agreed with them on everything but we have never been critical of them before they launched this third party effort last year.

Jim: Okay and from their website they start out by saying are you feeling politically homeless and I got to say that resonated with me I’m one of these characters who just thinks what they think and I don’t align with the tribes probably you know one of the more extreme examples is I am ferocious on both abortion rights and gun rights so what party do I belong to I mean I’m a 99 on both of those right the climate change I absolutely take the climate crisis very seriously but I also believe nuclear energy is part of the solution and then we have to calculate an intelligent curve through the transition not you know ridiculous stuff 2016 I worked for the Bernie campaign that was for Bernie in 2020 he put up a totally ridiculous energy policy on his platform saying that we would do 100% renewable for electricity and transportation by 2030 you know I talked to some of my expert friends I know some real experts in this domain I said only Stalin could do that isn’t that right and they came back I said nope Stalin couldn’t have done it and the smartest one and wise and wise crack and said there’s only one politician that probably could have ever done that and that would have been Pol Pot

Jim: If you killed 40% of the population you sunk the GDP by 80% you might be able to do it so you know I just don’t buy the crazy stuff over there but I on the other hand some idiot like Vivek Rassanjwamy what the hell’s name is raises his hand on national TV and says climate changes a hoax this is a guy who went to Harvard and Yale by the way right obviously a demagogue he knows better another example I absolutely hate alt right nativists and racists I absolutely hate them right you know I would happily punch them in the face if I were to encounter them face to face on the other hand maybe I wouldn’t punch them but I would say some harsh things to them but I on the other hand support their right to free speech including on college campuses and there are a lot of people you know so what the where does this leave me I am a guy who when I look at these two highly polarized parties go I don’t belong either one of these damn places am I tired of the extremes on the right and left goddamn right I am and I’m looking for some common sense solutions for all of America’s problems and yeah wouldn’t that be nice common sense instead of absurdities that are driven by tribal affiliations rather than a logical scientific and rational analysis of where we are and what we need to do that would be great so count me at least in theory as somebody who is sympathetic to new labels and it sounds like Matt that at that level you are too more or less

Matthew: Absolutely I mean that rhetoric that you read from their website I agree with wholeheartedly almost everything you just said I agree with too my son works at the nuclear energy institute in part because I have raised him to believe that nuclear is a key part of addressing the climate crisis and you and I disagree on guns we disagree on Bernie perhaps but I’m virtually everything else we agree and we agreed with no labels on a lot of things on almost everything until they launched this third party thing because there is no question that the extremes in both parties have ideas that are dangerous and bad my view I’m center left I’m a democrat my view is the extremes on the far right are more dangerous because they are closer to governing than the extremes on the far left and we saw that you know just recently with the response to the horrible attacks by Hamas in Israel you had the far left reacting with the appalling disgusting things celebrating Hamas but you had the president a center left democrat being absolutely crystal clear so I don’t think there’s moral equivalency but I do think that the center is where progress is possible

Jim: Yep well I agree with you there and you know my regular listeners know I make fun of team red and team blue all the time however since 1992 the end of the Cold War if you were forced to project me onto the one-dimensional line yes I’d be somewhere in the center left maybe a little further left than center left you know I voted for Biden but I actually would have preferred Klobuchar probably right so that’s about as far left as if I’m forced to choose but anyway so I think we probably come from a different place we probably aren’t that far apart and somewhere near our center of our political hearts within where we are so now let’s go on to what you don’t like and have written very emphatically about which is what no labels calls their insurance plan I’m going to give their side of the story you can you know tear it apart as much as you want they’re rhetoric the best I can ascertain it is that the choice of Biden versus Trump is of a extreme perhaps unprecedented at least since 1900 of the worst choices available and they bring polling data to show that 69% of people don’t want Biden to run again 62% don’t want Trump to run again

I gotta say just in the many people I talked to in real life none of them want either of them that’s not quite true I do know a few foaming Trumpers who just think you know Trump’s shit doesn’t stink I mean how you get to that point of view I don’t know but they do exist have I heard anybody who actually wants Biden to run even people who really strongly supported him last time he’s just too goddamn old you know and all the other issues so that’s the thesis American people don’t want either and they don’t quite blatantly say it but reading between the lines I read I love to get your take on this is that if this hiccet is Biden and Trump then this is the insurance policy part they will run a third party centrist candidate for president vice president one of whom will be a democrat and one of whom will be a republican what do you take on my categorization of them

Matthew: I think that’s pretty fair and I know you’re gonna have Ryan Clancy on to talk about this in more depth but I think what you’ve outlined is basically what they’re proposing but here’s the fundamental problem with their so-called insurance policy when you buy insurance you do so with the expectation that if you need it it will pay if your house burns down you will get a check if you have insurance the problem with their insurance policy is they can’t pay the only way to pay off the insurance policy when you are insuring against a Biden versus Trump outcome that you don’t like is to have a candidate that can actually win the election and they do not have a candidate that can win the election and it doesn’t matter who they choose they could have Michael Jordan they could have Oprah Winfrey they could have The Rock it doesn’t matter none of those people are going to be president because third party candidates do not win presidential elections in America they don’t come close to winning so rather than winning what their candidate could well do is spoil the race and if that happens it is virtually certain that they will spoil the race on behalf of Trump and help reelect him and that is our fundamental problem

Jim: I would agree with that by the way that that is the biggest risk and I think the email I sent back to you and kind of the little back and forth after Yasha introduced this I proposed the following game theory analysis let’s call a Biden victory minus 20 and just some arbitrary scale let’s call a no labels win plus 20 I think I proposed Kristen Sinema as their candidate I kind of like her I literally a little zany but she’s closer to my views on average than most politicians and let’s call Larry Hogan as vice president I actually my very first thing in campaigning when I was 16 was handing out leaflets for Larry Hogan’s father when he first ran for congress he was a great guy a really good guy Larry Hogan senior don’t know much about Larry Hogan jr

But anyway let’s put in this hypothetical game theory framework Trump at minus 100 right this is what we definitely don’t want at least I don’t want 2016 I publicly said I would vote for Sodom Hussein before I’d vote for Donald Trump and Sodom Hussein was dead at the time and I still feel that way in fact way worse actually turned out he was worse than we thought and I thought he was an impossible piece of shit in 2016 so minus 100 minus a thousand whatever number you want but actually it’s called a minus 100 so we can get at the analysis but this is where game theory gets fun right which is we have two losing numbers one small loss one big loss but we have one moderate positive

Is there a principal way for someone like no labels to navigate that space and attempt to get to the point where they can get us the plus 20 which is to win, which you say they can’t do, but I’m going to push back on that a little bit later, while having a ripcord, which they said they would have, that if they assess that they can’t win, they will cancel their campaign. And I think that is the question, because I buy your argument that if, you know, we don’t want just a blind stumbling forward that ends up with no labels getting 22% and I buy your analysis that, you know, that probably is plus three for Trump at least, and plus three is probably enough for him to win. Gag, gag, gag. So I want you to respond to the idea of is it worth thinking about or why is it not worth thinking about a clever, stepwise, assessing strategy to move towards the goal of plus 20, but being prepared to bail if that could be demonstrated not to be feasible?

Matthew: Well, I think there’s a bunch of problems with their theory here. First of all, I just want to stipulate that I’ll accept for purposes of this discussion that Joe Biden would be minus 20 and that cinema or whomever would be plus 20. I don’t actually believe that at all. And I think it’s important to start there because one theory that they have in terms of your game hypothesis is that they will move the candidates in their direction. So they’ll move Joe Biden from your minus 20 to whatever, plus two by putting pressure on him to become more centrist. I don’t think that even in their wildest imaginings, they think they can move Trump in any meaningful way, but they probably do think, I guess, that they could do that with Biden. The problem is what would that look like? I mean, Joe Biden has signed seven bipartisan bills into law and two fully partisan bills that were written by Joe Manchin, one of the most centrist members of Congress. So he is a demonstrably decent and good person. I think you could argue that he has governed from the center for the most part. His response to the attack on Israel certainly was deeply centrist.

He has led the world in the anti-Russian coalition in Ukraine. He is not a wild-eyed radical in any way. There are things that he’s done that even centrist like me don’t particularly love, like the student loan stuff, but for the most part, Joe Biden has been the president that no label says that they want. So the problem with their theory about moving the major party candidates in their direction is that he’s already there and there’s not much more room for him to go. The subtext, though, and what I think you might want to consider pressing Ryan about, is they don’t actually think that Joe Biden is in charge. What they have made clear to their supporters is that it’s not about Biden, it’s about Harris, it’s about Bernie and Warren and AOC, and they’re the people really in charge of the party, and that is just baloney. That is malarkey, first grade malarkey. I mean, it is just completely ridiculous. Joe Biden is absolutely in charge of this government, so that makes no sense. So the theory that they’re going to somehow move the Democrats in their direction doesn’t work. And then the other theory is that they can win the election. We can talk about whether or not that’s credible.

I think that there is literally 0.00 probability of that happening. And then the final theory and one that Ryan himself has talked about on television is in some ways the scariest of all, and that is a contingent election. And Ryan has said one of the things that they’re looking for is if they can win one or two key swing states, they might be able to deny each of the candidates 270 electoral votes, and then they can negotiate with Biden and presumably with Trump to somehow either get their electors in the states that they want to flip to one of the other candidates, or it would go to the house where the states would vote by delegation and Trump would win. That is an incredibly anti-democratic, irresponsible thing to do in any era, but doing it with Donald Trump on the ballot in the wake of January 6th is absolutely bananas. And those are the only three theories.

Jim: I’ll agree with you, by the way, that it turns out that that’s really what I assess no-label theory is, throw the election to the house, thumbs down on no-label. I’m not going to play that game because, you know, per the Constitution, as you pointed out, the states vote by delegation. So Rhode Island and California have the same one vote, and I think usually there’s a fair number of states that are evenly divided and presumably they don’t get to vote. Last I saw, the Republicans were ahead two states

Matthew: That’s right

Jim: Of those that were not evenly divided, and that’s close enough, could switch the other way, but in any case, not a good thing to do, to throw to this extraordinarily undemocratic one-state-one-vote thing, which was the result of some very complex compromise at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and it would not survive the light of day if we were to redesign the Constitution today. So if that’s his theory, I’m going to tell him to buzz off because I’m not interested in that one at all. I also agree with you that moving Biden very much is not going to happen, and I also buy that Biden, where he’s positioned politically, is not terrible, is not minus 20. In fact, I might give him a, you know, plus five or something. The reason that I think it’s time is too goddamn old, and also he’s a mediocrity. He was a mediocrity his whole career, right? And he stumbled into the presidency because he was perceived as a way to save the country from Trump versus Bernie, and Bernie had gone nuts by 2020, and Bernie was going to lose even against Trump. And so Biden was a tolerable stopper of Trump. And let’s just leave it there. That would be great. Democrats have some wonderful people. Whitmer, I really like Whitmer. Klobuchar, who my wife and I supported, gave money to.

She’s a wonderful candidate. Paulus in Colorado is a good guy. The new governor in Pennsylvania, Shapiro, perfectly reasonable character. Democrats have plenty of good candidates, but for some reason, they have fallen into electing a guy who’s going to be 86 by the time he’s done with his second term. And, you know, I’m older than most of my listeners. I’m going to be 70 this year, and I could probably be president of goddamn it. But truthfully, I think we ought to have a constitutional amendment that bans anybody from becoming president on inauguration day, who’s older than 65. And 82, which is what he would be on inauguration day, is way too old. And let’s be honest, if he had a very clear, centrist, strongly capable person as vice president, that issue would be less. But he’s got Kamala Harris, who’s a loose cannon. Well, she’s not a far lefty. She’s well to the left of Biden himself. And so those are the issues that I’m concerned about not trying to move Joe three points to the center. And so I’m only interested in no labels if they can have a shot at winning.

Matthew: Right. And I think that is, look, I’m not agreeing with your assessment of Biden or Harris, but I am agreeing with your assessment of the no labels, so called insurance policy, which is to say, if somehow they presented a credible case that they could win the election, then that would be a different conversation. The other thing I think it’s important to emphasize is they’re basically putting on the table a second theory about how to prevent Trump from becoming president again. There are now two theories. Theory number one is you support an incumbent president with a pretty moderate record, which is a thing that almost always works. Theory number two is that you support some unnamed person to run as a third party candidate, which is a thing that has never come remotely close to working. Those are it. Those are the two theories. And I’m going with theory one.

Jim: If it comes down to Trump versus Biden, I’m voting for Biden, you know, no doubt about that in my mind. I vote for Sodom fucking who’s saying I vote for Vladimir Putin, right, who’s at least probably sort of sane, you know, rather than Trump, you know, who’s obviously an insane person. But that’s not really my game theory argument. My theory is it comes down to it, vote for Biden. But can we maneuver so that we can get something better than Biden and yet minimize the chance of getting Trump? And you mentioned the candidate that nobody knows. And again, that is indeed where we are today. It’s a pig in a poke, hot nose who it could be. It could be somebody who’s just not suitable at all, in which case they would quickly diminish in the polls and go away. On the other hand, if they somehow find this paragon, who it is, I don’t know, did some research this morning, as I always do. I looked at who are the most centrist senators, Joe Manchin right in the middle. To my surprise, Tom Carper is the second most centrist senator from Delaware, Delaware being a pretty blue state, Joe Biden’s home state, and Susan Collins on the other side of Joe, Lisa Mikowski, Angus King going back into the the blue side, a real one that I found very surprising,

Rand Paul. What the hell, right? And then a person I think would make a great president, Mark Warner. So you take those seven centrist people, I would toss Rand Paul out, but the other six, they might be able to do it, particularly Mark Warner. He’s really a strong guy. I looked at the governors and recent ex-governors, not clear any of them have strong enough branding to overcome the power of the partisan game, but Charlie Baker, former Republican governor of Massachusetts, a very capable guy, was the most popular governor in the United States during his term, a Republican in Massachusetts. Rachear in Kentucky, pretty reasonable guy. Sununu in New Hampshire, somewhat reasonable guy. Kasich, I got my issues with Kasich, but he also has some stature, he could do it. So we don’t have to make this decision with a pig in the poke. They’re going to have their convention, I think it’s in April probably.

Matthew: Yes

Jim: And so by April, the way the Super Tuesday stuff worked, by April, we’ll have a damn good idea who the presidential nominees are likely to be under most scenarios. There’s some tale scenarios where it’s not settled into June, but probably by April, we’ll have a damn good idea. And if they put up somebody who really captures the imagination of the American people, I think the possibility of an actual win could happen. Because we say it never, Kevin came close. The counter example, and I thought you were going to refute it in the essay that you wrote that had this title, but you didn’t really, which was Perot. Again, I’m old enough to remember Perot, and I actually supported Perot initially. This was, you know, H. Ross Perot, kind of a little guy with the big ears who mostly running on deficit reduction and anti-nafta 1992 against Clinton and George H. W. Bush. And that’s pretty funny that people were horrified by that choice.

Oh my God. Two very reasonable, centrist, professional, sane guys, right? I ended up voting for Clinton in that election, but not with any great love. But I was just sick and tired of the old tired Republicans, by that point. But anyway, Perot at one point was in the high thirties and gaining ground until he went nuts on TV and said, oh yeah, they’re trying to screw up my world-class daughter’s wedding and there’s North Koreans and black pajamas running across my front yard. And I immediately said, this guy’s nuts. I ain’t voting for him. And a lot of people made that decision at that point, but he still ended up with 22% of the vote. And, you know, my naive sense is that if he had just kept his mouth shut and continued with his little homey power points, I like wearing power boards, like they were hand drawn little slides, he would have won. He would have got 38 or 39% of the vote and he would have won. I really like there’s a very good chance of it. A lot of people I’ve talked to in retrospect have looked back at that and said, probably, or at least maybe. So I think that one’s a less easily disposable argument than many of the others.

Matthew: Okay, well, there’s a lot to unpack there, but a few things. First of all, the list of names that you mentioned, none of the senators are going to be running on the No Labels ticket. The only one who’s even been toying with the idea of the senators you mentioned, just Joe Manchin, but the New York Times just reported that No Labels is going to put a Republican at the top of their ticket. And there is literally no way that Joe Manchin is going to be the number two on anybody’s ticket. So Manchin’s off the board and the rest of those guys are not going to do it. I would bet my house that none of them would be interested because it’s the end of their career. They’re done after that if they do this and they’re unsuccessful, which they would be. When it comes to the pro analogy, I worked on the Clinton campaign. I was watching that campaign from the inside. I can tell you that I am Absolutely certain that Ross Perot would not have won that election, even if he had not done the daughter wedding crazy thing. But obviously that’s a counterfactual, we have to agree to disagree on that point. What I would say though, is that the Ross Perot phenomenon is entirely different than the one that we’re facing now.

First for two reasons. One is to your point, the downside risk in the Perot race was either Clinton or HW Bush would be president, which is a very, very low risk. I mean, two safe pairs of hands, if Perot served as a spoiler for either side, it wasn’t going to end up in catastrophe. Very different scenario here. Literally the worst person on planet Earth could end up as president if they get this wrong. But the second and more importantly, I think for this analysis, is that Perot was the product of a mass movement behind him. He was essentially drafted into running by a movement of people that were deeply concerned about his core issues, which were the deficit and trade. He was opposed to both. And we can debate whether or not he was right about those things, but those were very deeply resonant ideas that he was peddling. And people really liked the idea of this self-made, plain spoken, interesting guy with a very colorful background. And it was a product of the grassroots. By contrast, the No Labels thing is 100% a product of a elite donor driven process. It was dreamed up in Georgetown and it is being promoted by a bunch of very rich people that No Labels will not disclose. They have their donors are secret. They are many of them billionaires.

One of them is Harlan Crow, who is Justice Thomas’ benefactor. So this is a donor driven thing as opposed to a grassroots driven thing. Then the final point I’ll make about this is that if you look at the polling in the spring, when third party candidates are on the ballot, it is always a mirage. So you mentioned that Perot right before he dropped out was polling at 34%, which is true. And he ended up at 22%, which by the way netted him exactly zero electoral votes. But all of the third party candidates that have run in the modern era have been way ahead of their final tally in the springtime because people flirt with third party candidates and marry major party candidates, at least most people. So John Anderson, when he ran in 1980 against Reagan and Carter was polling way ahead in April of what he ended up with. That was also true of Ralph Nader in 2000, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson in 2016 of all of the modern third party candidates. So I just don’t buy it at all that there’s any path for anyone, no matter how disgruntled people may be about their choice between Trump and Biden.

Jim: Well, I think you do make a good point here. I will give you credit for the one that one big difference here is that neither HW Bush nor Clinton would have anything like disastrous. You could argue one was better than the other, but it was about this much, right? In this case, we do confront a disaster, which is Trump too. Big point for your side on that one. With respect to the lack of grassroots, I think that’s also a relatively good point because certainly the deficit and NAFTA were the two big, you know, the great sucking sound on the job going to Mexico, right? Those were two very salient issues, particularly with regular working people. People had to balance the home budget and people who were at risk of losing those good paying union or other industrial jobs to NAFTA. And indeed it turned out a lot of them did get screwed by NAFTA, right? Probably good for the U.S. economy overall, very good for the Mexican economy. But a lot of individuals got screwed by all that.

So those things are both legit ones. I would suggest though that there’s an alternative force field at work that may or may not be of equivalent power. It’s not as organized as the anti-deficit and anti-NAFTA stuff, but it is the growing disgust with our political establishment. You look at the ratings for Congress, 9% on a good day, right? What? How can the Congress of the United States, designed by James Madison, end up with a 9% public approval rating well below aluminum siding salesmen and used car salesmen? And, you know, again, when people ask about is the country on the right track or the wrong one, it’s 65% now on the wrong track. So I would say the potential replacement for trade and deficit is systemic disgust with the status quo. And man, I talked to a lot of people, and if you frame it that way, you get a whole lot of heads nodding. And it’s also worth noting when I did dig through the new labels platform, they do hit on deficit as a core issue of theirs. And that’s a good one because in the last 20 years, it’s been both the Republicans and the Democrats that have been just off to the races to see how much money they could spend.

So anyway, I’m going to suggest disgust with the status quo is potentially a strong enough force field and second bullet lower level anti deficit, which is becoming much more salient. Those big deficits were fundable in a era of 1.5% 10 year T bills. When we’re getting that 5% soon 10 year T bills, how the hell are you going to pay the interest on that alone? Let alone pay back any of the principal.

Matthew: Well, on that point, I would urge people to take a look at the policy platform that no labels put out in July, which is 70 pages of Pablum. Good luck fighting your way through it without falling asleep. But on deficits, they mouth interest in dealing with deficits, but their solution is a bipartisan commission. Okay, fine. I mean, very few centrists would object to a bipartisan commission, but we’ve tried that before. Obama tried it. It didn’t work. And it didn’t work because Congress rejected the findings of the commission. The last time a bipartisan commission like that did work, Alan Greenspan was running it and Reagan was president. So that is not a solution. That is just a process point. And the real problem on deficits is that once they get a real person and not to your point a pig in a poke, that person’s going to have to, if they’re really serious about deficits, the first question going to be like, well, okay, what are you going to cut? What are we cutting?

Jim: Yeah, you do mention these commissions and the Simpson-Bowles group actually did a damn good job, I thought.

Matthew: They did.

Jim: But to your point, then you got to sell it to Congress.

Matthew: Right.

Jim: But they didn’t have a president. Obama disavowed it, right? And Congress wouldn’t go for it. But if you had a president who was not aligned with Team Red or Team Blue, not beholden to the teachers union on one side and the fomers on the other and was going to back it up, maybe there’d be a chance.

Matthew: Yeah, I mean, you say they wouldn’t be aligned with Team Red or Team Blue, but I don’t buy that either. I mean, the people they’re talking to are politicians. They come from one party or the other. I get that running as a third party gives them a little bit of distance. But the reality of being president is that you can’t do anything without Congress. You are essentially rubber stamps. You got to negotiate. And so let’s say Larry Hogan’s the president through some sort of miracle. He would have to have a coalition in Congress that supported him, or else all he would be doing is banging on a podium and demanding things that weren’t happening. So I just don’t think the notion that the fact that they’re running as an independent gives them independence from the ordinary requirements of governance.

Jim: Well, if I were fighting this as a war, not just as a battle, and there’s always a difference between a war and a battle. Let’s say I end up as Larry Hogan or Kristen Sinema in his president. First thing I’d do is I would put the commission together to come back with the report. And then I’d say, if you guys enact this, all’s good. If you don’t, no labels is running a complete slate of senators and congressmen in 2026. And hold that over their heads. They don’t go along. We’re going to vote a hell of a bunch of you out, or at least we’re going to produce a whole bunch of noise in the congressional elections.

Matthew: Look, I think that theory is actually more sound than the other. But I would come at it from the other direction. What no labels should be doing is threatening to run third party candidates for Congress and trying to create real movement in both house and senate for centrist solutions and for senators, for example, who would go to the leadership and say, this house is divided by one or two votes, you need all whatever five, six, seven of us, and we are not moving unless you moderate these positions and you do it our way. That’s the kind of power, I think a centrist faction could actually wield. You could actually win a few elections. I mean, Lisa Murkowski won a right in election for Senate. Angus King routinely wins elections for Senate running as an independent, as does Bernie Sanders, by the way, although that’s a different story. Kristen Sinema might win a three way race for Senate in this cycle. That is not crazy. That is not a unicorn. That is a real theory of how you move to the center. I don’t think the presidential is.

Jim: Yeah, I’ve been following the forward party a bit also, and they have chosen not to run a presidential candidate this time, and they are more interested in state and local races and sub-presidential national things. But notice how little publicity they have, how little heat they get. I think the argument is that, yes, in a perfect world, it would be best to build from the bottom, but the realities of our media driven world means that running somebody for president, you’re going to get 100 times as much visibility than if you run a bunch of people for state legislature at a few uncontested, only one party candidate congressional races.

Matthew: My answer to that is who cares? Who cares if they put you on the Sunday shows? I get that it’s fun for Larry Hogan to go on Sunday shows, and it probably beats mowing the lawn on Sundays, but you could actually make a difference doing that versus this thing that you’re doing that is generating a lot of heat is generating no light at all. And what you’re doing is offering people this illusion that they’re going to have some kind of choice in a presidential election that is going to come down to the D or the R, and you could very well be moving us towards what could actually be the end of American democracy the way we currently think about it. And that is not only an insane risk to take, it is the wrong strategic path to follow if your goal is more moderate government.

Jim: If it fails. I told Yasha in the interview, I’m for no labels, but only if they’ll win, which is like, okay, I realize the absurdity of that statement. But I then stopped and thought about how could you assess whether they would win and again in their own propaganda, I am concerned about you talking to me telling me that Clancy is wants to throw the damn election to the house. That’s not acceptable. No, no, no. But assuming that they actually were going to go to win, I stopped and thought about it a little bit, which is as you pointed out, historically, there’s been an evaporation of votes from third parties towards it. Now you could actually go back and map historically how much evaporation is there six months to election day, four months, three months, two months, a week, a month and a week.

You could then take whatever they are in the real clear politics consensus, discount it by that curve and shouldn’t fall below 32% or something. No labels could either pull the ripcord or those of us who are strategic game players could say, nope, can’t vote for them, they’re going to lose. And that way you could have a reasoned analysis every week leading up to the election on when have they fallen below a plausibility number. So that’s, I think, one way that they could manage the risk. The problem with us as voters is that we’re not all sane and rational game theorists, right? So maybe a 20% of their voters might be but that could still leave them with 22% of the vote and the king of fools back in the White House.

Matthew: Exactly right. And look, there’s a bigger problem. That’s an interesting hypothesis, but I think in reality that would be very, very hard to do not only because, well, there’s two huge problems. One is a structural problem, which is early voting and vote by mail begins in September. So you’d have to get their person off the ballot very early to avoid the ballots being printed with their name on it because, you know, even if you say people wait, no, don’t vote for me, that may not be enough. And there’s all kinds of rules that very by state about when the Secretary of State can no longer remove a name from the ballot. And some of those states, it is a week after you put that name into nomination. So it’s a very hard thing to do to get yourself out the ballot. That’s the structural problem. The bigger problem is your hypothesis about the curve heading towards the election would require extremely accurate state by state polling. Because remember, unlike a D versus R election where you basically are taking off the board 43 states, 43 states are assumed that are there in the bag for the for the red team or the blue team. The only states that anyone cares about are seven.

And then you are, you know, looking at those seven as carefully as you can. And even in that case, a lot of the polling is way off. In the case of a third party, you would have to poll all the states and understand where they are. Well, not Idaho, I mean, not tiny states that are super red or super blue, but you would have to know what’s going on in Texas, because in their path to 270 map, they claim they’re going to win Texas, you’d have to know what’s going on in Delaware, Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware, which they know labels claims they can win, which would not be on anyone’s polling radar in a two way race.

Jim: Yeah, that is an interesting problem because getting from a national aggregate to a prediction of electoral college is tricky, right? It’s even tricky with just team red and team blue. And it’s kind of reversed. It used to be that the Dems had electoral college advantage, people forget this, but in 2004, if Kerry had come up with 200,000 extra votes in Ohio, he would have been president, even though the shrublet had 3 million more popular votes. And the reason was the red states were very, very red in those days. And since then, the red states have become somewhat less red, and the blue states have become somewhat more blue, a lot more blue, actually. And this arguing about big states and little states turns out to be a canard. It’s more or less a wash. The small states are almost equally divided between red and blue. So it’s really the intensification of the vote in the bigger states. Texas is a lot less red than it used to be. California is a lot more blue than it used to be. Now it’s kind of reversed, and now the Republicans seem to have about a two-point advantage from popular to electoral.

I’m not quite sure exactly where that comes from. I haven’t done the analysis, but we’re not sure about that. And that was even somewhat of a surprise in 2016 that two points was enough. A lot of people said 1.4, but they were wrong. So the point is even projecting red, blue from popular to electoral is difficult. In a three-way or a four-way race, it’s going to get a lot spicier.

Matthew: Yes, indeed.

Jim: That does put a bigger error bars on, that’s called the epistemology of making the decision, right? It’s also useful to know that some of these dates for getting off the balance are quite early. Well, I won’t point out, I don’t know the data here exactly, but we can find it, we can look at it. It happens all the time in the primaries where people drop out, but they’re still on the balance. I don’t think they get a lot of votes. They must get some because there are a lot of idiots out there.

Matthew: They don’t, but remember, looking at those numbers, you’ve got to remember you’re not looking at the totals in terms of whether they’re competing to win. You’re looking at the totals to see, would they have any impact? And to your point, I mean, last time 43,000 votes divided the two candidates across three states. This is a game of inches. And Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, there’s some debate about whether they actually caused Hillary the election. But if it wasn’t certain that they did, they came within a hair of it. They got very few votes because no one had ever heard of them and they had no money. That would not be the case with no labels.

Jim: I’m going to get a little nerdy and mathematical here. And in our pregame at night, Shaddle, but he confessed to be a liberal arts guy big time. So

Matthew: No math skills.

Jim: I’m not going to push him too hard on this. I’ll try to, I’ll try to use as much common sense and plain language as I can here. And this is the issue of the abandonment of third party support and people going back to their home of red or blue. Because you do point out in one of your essays, and I understand this to be true, that the vast preponderance of so-called independence are actually leaners. They lean red or they lean blue. And in the normal course of events, when push comes to shove, they will lean their way. And the number of true independence is way smaller, nowhere near enough to be credible to win. However, in complex systems theory, already a big word, oops, there’s an idea of bifurcation, which is that trajectories, as things move along, will reach a point sometimes where the nature of the field that’s moving the particle through space fundamentally changes at almost exactly one sharp spot. And then the trajectory takes a completely different line. And, you know, one of the examples is water freezes at exactly 32 degrees. You know, why is that very complicated? Not going to go into it, but it’s a bifurcation point.

Both low 32, it’s solid above 32, it’s water. And I’m going to suggest that a possible bifurcation in this system of this sort is the perception of possible victory. That if the perception is that the victory is unlikely, then leaners, even if they hate both parties, but they lean, they hate one a little bit less than the other, will return home because why shouldn’t they? That’s a strategically correct thing to do. But the instant, like 32 degrees, the instant the perception is in the air at large, that it is possible that this entity could win, that evaporation could actually go the other way, become condensation. People who wouldn’t even consider it, because like generally myself, I would say that the institutional structures are very heavily aligned against third party success, but it’s not impossible.

But I do understand the institutional barriers are very high. But once, you know, let’s say it’s August 15th, and they’re polling at 42%. And people go, shit, even if you discount it by the normal evaporation factors, they’re still in the 30s. And that’s close enough that they have a real shot. So I want to put forth the idea that we haven’t seen any candidate get there other than Perot briefly before he went nuts. But if a candidate establishes something stronger than plausibility, but not much stronger than plausibility, all these forces of evaporation may just disappear. And we may actually get the opposite of condensation.

Matthew: Well, I’d have two responses to that. One is historic and one is modern. The historic is that beyond Perot and his freakout, the only other candidate in American history to really sell the idea as a third party that they were going to win was Teddy Roosevelt.

Jim: Bull moose

Matthew: And he had left office four years prior as one of the most popular presidents in American history. 15 years after this fact, he was carved into Mount Rushmore. So he was pretty goddamn popular. He had a very plausible case that he could win the election. People were unhappy with Taft, Wilson was a Democrat, didn’t like that. And he was still in the prime of life and people love the guy. When he was running for president, he was shot and he then delivered the rest of his long speech before being taken to seek medical care. That’s where the term bull moose came from. This fit is a bull moose. So the guy was a really credible candidate and he ended up with fewer than 90 electoral votes and he was a spoiler for the Republicans and he ended up electing Wilson or helping Wilson probably would have won anyway. Point being that theory that you posit never happened with Teddy Roosevelt, who was overwhelmingly popular, had universal name ID, couldn’t have been a stronger third party candidate. There is no one like that today. And then the second point I’d make is when you go from the pig and the poke polling, the way that some have asked the question is would you vote for Trump or Biden or an independent moderate?

That polls in the neighborhood of the low 20s coming in third, but you know, respectable third. When you name someone, Larry Hogan or Joe Manchin, you’re in the low single digits. Maybe the high single digits, depending on the poll, but it’s somewhere below generally 10%. Now, what no labels would say is, well, of course, no one’s ever heard of these guys, we would do all kinds of advertising and everyone would love Larry Hogan when we were done with him. And what I would say in response is you would be doing that in the face of $1 billion each in advertising coming from the Biden and Trump campaigns. So good luck with that. Good luck with convincing America that Larry Hogan is the answer to their prayers when they are just besieged by an incredible deluge of ads. So I just don’t see that that moment ever arrives. They’re never going to be the condensation moment for anyone.

Jim: Okay, let’s think about the bull moose example. It’s an interesting and strong argument. However, it was a fractional fight within the Republican Party. And TR was a progressive Republican, quite liberal for his day, at least in certain ways. While Taft was a stodgy old conservative conservative, more so than TR thought he was. So this was a family feud amongst Republicans. And it really hard to win a war against the other side when you’re having a civil war at home. So I’m going to say that’s not directly comparable to an intentional centrist campaign. And then point number two, arguing in the alternative like a good lawyer, that if you were right, then we don’t have anything to worry about that the no labels nominate Larry Hogan and Kristen Sinema, everybody goes, yawn, and they never get above 7%. And they then follow through with what they say they will do. And at the end of June, they pull the ripcord and say, we’re out of here. Sorry, it was a good shot, but it didn’t work.

Matthew: Let me start with the second point first. We absolutely positively do have something to worry about, even if they’re polling low, because I think it’d be very hard for them to pull out of the race at that point. And if they didn’t, or even if they did, a small but meaningful percentage of voters couldn’t end up voting for them anyway. And that would be very, very bad. I mean, remember, all they have to do is perform roughly at the Jill Stein, Gary Johnson level, because we expect this election to be very, very close. And then they are a spoiler. On the Roosevelt point, I will grant that it isn’t a perfect analogy, but it’s more than 110 years old. So it’s never going to be. But I would say, despite the notion that whomever they pick will magically get a new political brand by virtue of the fact that they’re running as a no labels candidate, I don’t think that that’s true. I think if they nominate Larry Hogan, which you’re looking at is a factional fight within the Republican Party again, just like you had in 1912. And if they changed their mind, and nominated Democrats can be the same deal, because there is no one that they’re going to pick who would be a credible candidate, who they really could go forward with, who does not have a Democratic or Republican brand attached to them already. And that brand would not be erased by linking itself to a brand that no one outside of the kind of political insider classes ever heard of.

Jim: Now Larry Hogan is not a credible candidate to say win the Senate as a Republican anywhere in the United States. He’s way too far to the left for that. If he’s center right, it’s by two millicons, right? He’s a completely non credible Republican. No Republican would ever nominate him even for the Senate in any state where they were capable of winning. Maryland, where I grew up, is one of the bluest states in the union, right? And from time to time, they do elect very reasonable Republican governors. And I’ll tell you why. It’s also one of the more corrupt states in the union. The stealing gets out of hand when they control all three branches, just like in Massachusetts. Massachusetts is also a corrupt state. New Mexico, where I used to live, is a very corrupt state. And after eight years of all of Team Blue, things get out of control, and they say we got to stop the steal. So let’s find a good government Rhino and elect him, governor, to keep an eye on the other two to at least reduce the stealing to a reasonable level. So I think calling Charlie Baker or Larry Hogan a Republican in anything other than name only actually is not accurate. And he could easily, you can just ask him about any list of issues. People say, wait a minute, what would Ted Cruz say about that? Ted Cruz would say, this guy’s a Rhino.

Matthew: Whether or not it would be a factional fight inside Republican politics isn’t really relevant to the modern context. One of the things that no labels has been telling people is that they need to nominate a Republican at the top of the ticket because that addresses the charge that they would simply be a spoiler for Trump because they would draw more Republicans and Democrats. That’s nonsense. That is ridiculous. Trump has a very, very hard floor to his support, which is to say people don’t leave him. People who are going to vote for Trump aren’t going to say, oh, now I have the chance to vote for Larry Hogan. I’m going to go do that. The people that would be attracted to Larry Hogan or to anyone that would be on their so-called unity ticket would be soft Biden supporters. And that’s the real danger here. So it is unimaginable that they could nominate someone who a Trump supporter would find more attractive than Trump himself. I mean, I guess perhaps Marjorie Taylor Green. If she were their presidential candidate, she might get a few Trump voters. But there really isn’t anyone. So the danger isn’t in any way impacted by who they should vote for.

Jim: You know, there is certainly a fomer faction, Trump Uberalis, right? They’d vote for Trump if Jesus Christ himself came back, right? And I don’t know what that is, but it’s probably on the order of 22, 25% of the electorate. That still leaves an awful lot of the electorate. They vote for Trump versus Biden. In fact, I know a lot of people like this, my hunting buddies, right, who are successful small businessmen in small town Virginia. And they will all say, Trump, he’s an asshole, but he’s better than Clinton or he’s better than Bush. Goddamn Republicans, why can’t they nominate Marco Rubio, who is one of their favorite candidates? I’d vote for Marco Rubio and R.P. Some of them were even closer to abandoning ship, one of them on election day in 2020. Sheepishly confessed that he had voted for Trump, even though I thought I’d gotten him to Biden. And why was that? Because his wife is a vehement Republican, and she knew he was slipping.

And so she was going to ask him and he couldn’t lie to her enough. He told her the truth, life would be hell. That was his rationale. So like in most physical systems, things are on a continuum. They’re not bright. They’re not bright lines. There isn’t, you know, 42% of Americans will absolutely vote for Trump. It’s more like 22% of Americans will actually vote for Trump. And the rest are on a continuum of probability of switching, depending on who the candidate is. You know, it was John Kasich. You’d get a bunch of Republicans to vote for him, but you wouldn’t get very many Democrats. So he probably wouldn’t be a credible candidate for no labels, but they would, a bunch of Republicans would move over to a John Kasich. Call him sort of the right side of the center. Larry Hogan, I don’t know how many would vote for Larry Hogan, but somewhat.

Matthew: Perhaps, but I can tell you that that analysis that you just offered, it’s plausible. And I get the anecdotal power of your friends, but I can tell you the data doesn’t support it. What the data show so far from polling is that there is a group of what the pollsters call double haters, the people that don’t like either candidate. And the double haters, if they’re given a forced choice between Trump and Biden, break for Biden by 39 points. Those are the people that are most at risk of peeling off to a third party. Of course, there would be some people that would vote for Trump in a two way that would peel to a Kasich or a Huntsman or what have you in a three way. There would be some, but vastly more soft Biden supporters would peel off. And it’s what we saw in the contrast between 2016 and 2020. So in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, the three decisive states in 2016 that Hillary lost the blue wall states that collapsed in 16. Obviously Trump won them in 16 he lost them in 2020, but his share of the vote in all three rows. The reason is that there were no third party candidates in 2020. Those votes were distributed and Biden share of the vote relative to Hillary’s rose more. So it is very clear that the Democrat in these close Trump versus whomever races are the ones most at risk of losing votes to a third party.

Jim: I think that’s certainly true when we’re down in the nine or 10% range,

Matthew: Right

Jim: But let’s take this plausibility attractor. Once it gets the plausible, I think the game is very different and we don’t know what that game really looks like. And so if I were going to defend the new label strategy, I would say nominate the best candidates you can get if they fall to single digits or low double digits. Pull the rip cord in June. You’re out of here. If you seem to be on a road towards plausibility, push it for a while have some second date August 15th. 15th maybe and if you’re not at plausible even with a little bit of a discount for evaporation pull the ripcord but if you are then go forward and it’s something we haven’t ever seen in American history at least since 1860 where we had four candidates all of which had at least an arguable chance to win and further there was no polling so nobody knew what the fuck was going on anyway right so something like that would be you know steel manning their position as a way to proceed that might might give us that chance to harvest the plus 20 of a no labels victory

Matthew: I mean I guess so but you would be putting a whole bunch of faith in two things one is the accuracy of polls and two is the ability of the no labels leadership Ryan and Nancy Jacobson and others to convince the candidate that they nominated back in April to do the right thing they will not be in charge at that point it will be a presidential campaign it will be Hogan for president and nobody will care what Nancy Jacobson says at that point he will have to decide for himself

Jim: That is an interesting point right this is the machinery of doing the right thing in a game theoretical sense may not exist

Matthew: Right

Jim: On the other hand let’s say it is Larry Hogan he could put out a statement of course we know politicians lie and go back on their words all the time but they could put out the rut algorithm in black and white I’ll write it for him and he will say I will run on this and if the polls say this on this date I’m out of here if they say this on that date I’m out of here but if I’m above this number on August 15th I’m going for it and he could say that

Matthew: he could but boy that puts a very heavy weight on a very thin read which is which polls is he choosing is it Mark Penn’s polls I mean the polls that no labels uses now are by Harris X Harris X is a part of a larger company called Stagwell the CEO of Stagwell is Mark Penn a pollster he is married to Nancy Jacobson so is it the Harris polls that we’re going to decide the future of the republican

Jim: I would say the real clear politics consensus poll will be it’s not perfect but it’s probably the best we

Matthew: got but it would require that whomever they nominate sticks to their word and doesn’t come up with some squirrely excuse about why the rcp average is wrong

Jim: You’ve raised some good points here these are really excellent points and you’ve given me some ammo to go after uh Clancy uh with next week so that’s good but now let’s go to another now the game gets more complicated we’re no longer playing checkers or Chinese checkers we’re now playing five-dimensional chests RFK Cornell West whoever the greens put up there’s some rich dude trying to resuscitate the libertarians what happens if we have five or six candidates that are on track to get one percent or more of the vote

Matthew: Yeah that’s very troubling I mean our take has been anything that divides the anti-trump coalition is scary and bad and we don’t know where those votes would come from there was a lot of speculation about RFK that he would hurt Trump more than Biden I don’t buy that at all first of all it only matters really in the seven swing states so whatever the kind of weirdo lefties who don’t like vaccines do in California or the weirdo maga lunatics in Idaho do that’s irrelevant what matters is what do people in maricopa county do and people in milwaukee and my fear is that there are low information voters that don’t like Biden or Trump might vote for Biden in a two-way, but they get in the booth and they’re like, oh, Robert F. Kennedy. That sounds good.

Jim: He’s a Kennedy. He’s got to be a good guy.

Matthew: Exactly. And so even though Robert F. Kennedy is in reality a complete lunatic, what his name implies to a lot of people is Camelot. So I worry about him. Cornel West has fairly narrow appeal, I think, but appeal to voters that we desperately need, which is for the most part African-American voters. So any of these folks taking any share of the vote away from Biden is very, very dangerous. The good news, I think, is that both RFK and Cornel West have announced they’re running as independents, so they’re not running on the green or libertarian tickets. They need to get ballot access, and that is hard. No labels has the money and they’ve been out in a long time. They’re going to have ballot access. It isn’t clear to me that those two guys have the wherewithal to do it.

Jim: I doubt that Cornel West will be able to. I suspect his will litter out. When he was running for the greens, I said,

Matthew: yeah,

Jim: that could be. Well, he has a lot of African-American support. He also has a lot of support on the very far left of the white super progressives.

Matthew: Yes, that’s right.

Jim: And I think maybe more than because, you know, black voters are generally culturally pretty conservative, right? In many cases. And Cornel West is not culturally conservative at all.

Matthew: No. He is not.

Jim: I will say it’s a bit of a sigh of relief that he decided not to go for the green.

Matthew: That would be

Jim: In that regard. But now let’s also think we have this shit show. We have RFK polling at 7%. We’ve got Cornel West at 1%. We have whoever the greens are at half a percent. The libertarians at 3%, but we know they’re only going to get at 1.25 because they always get 1.25 on a good year with a guy with a lot of money. So now that changes the calculus a fair bit. It makes it easier for no labels to sneak in. They don’t need 35 or 36. They only need 30 or 31.

Matthew: Except that the people that have peeled away to those other fringe candidates are probably coming out of their vote. I mean, these are the people that don’t like either Biden or Trump. Some of them are hardcore anti-vax guys who would only vote for RFK or their, you know, super wicked far left people that only vote for West or, you know, people who only vote for libertarians. But I think for the most part, any of that vote is coming out of the double hater category. And that is no labels base. So I think while their threshold may go down a little, depending on how those others perform, their base also goes down probably by roughly similar amounts.

Jim: Could be. We’ll see. Right. Well, Matt Bennett, did a great job. Gave me some things to think about. Gave me some ammunition for next week’s conversation. And I really want to thank you for coming on the Jim Rutt Show and, you know, making your position very well.

Matthew: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Jim: Yeah, it really was a lot of fun.