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Stung by a surging Tea Party movement, liberal Republicans and Democrats associated with Hillary Clinton are privately planning to form a “centrist” third party in time for the 2012 election. Political insiders believe if Barack Obama remains unpopular next year and the Republican nominee believes in small government conservatism, an independent run may be their best bet to keep the presidency, and one or both political parties, in their hands. It is further evidence some RINOs would rather wreck the Republican Party and let Barack Obama cruise to a second term than share “their” party with its grassroots activists.
Their likely beneficiary is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent who considered throwing his hat in the ring in 2008. The multibillionaire’s financial heft – and that alone – makes him a viable national player.
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The structure is already in place for the RINOs and PUMAs to coalesce in two years. At least two separate organizations have the capacity to put a spoiler on 50 state ballots.
Fmr. Bush Advsiors Plot “A Third Party in 2012”
The more visible of these is No Labels, whose motto is: “Not Left. Not Right. Forward.” Despite its plea to restore “civility” and oppose extremists in both parties, No Labels seems almost exclusively focused on convincing Republicans to assent to “progressive” measures. (See below.) Fronted by former Bush advisor Mark McKinnon, Michael Bloomberg, Joe Scarborough, and others, its formal public launch will be held December 13 in New York City (of course). Its organizers protest this is “neither a third party nor a stalking horse for any presidential candidate or other candidates.” Its website insists, “No Labels is not interested in encouraging the development of a third party.”
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However, in private, its leaders sing a different tune. Mark McKinnon, a longtime advisor to George W. Bush, told David Frum that he knows “some smart people working behind the scenes” working “to resolve ballot access issues and make it easier for a third party to happen.” In an October 22 speech to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, McKinnon admitted “something very exciting” was coming: “A third party in 2012.” An unsuccessful candidate who showed up at No Labels’ New Hampshire road show, Peter Angerhofer practically begged attendees to admit they were forming a minor party. “If you want to create a third party and carve out the middle, that might work,” Angerhofer offered, “but be clear about it.” The St. Louis Business Journal straightforwardly described the group as “a new third party movement.”
The second organization, Americans Elect, is more open about its aims but less well-known. Previously calling itself Unity ’12, and still earlier Unity ’08, Americans Elect plans to “nominate a presidential ticket in 2012 that will bridge the vital center of American opinion. The winning presidential and vice presidential nominees will be on the ballot in all 50 states.” AE is financed by Peter Ackerman, a former ‘60s radical and onetime protege of junk bond king Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham Lambert. Ackerman earned a Ph.D. before founding the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a group dedicated to overthrowing governments by infiltrating, then demoralizing the nation’s leadership: police, military, political, etc. Ackerman is on the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations. He recently headed Freedom House.
According to Richard Poe, Ackerman saw his theories of non-violent regime change at work as George Soros bankrolled many of his (and his mentor Gene Sharp’s) tactics for the Serbian uprising. Poe has taken a wait-and-see attitude toward Ackerman personally. So has Michael Bloomberg. The mayor’s aides say the mayor keeps a watchful eye on the work of Peter Ackerman, who donated $1.55 million to Americans Elect.
Once again, the organization has claimed no ongoing affinities between AE and Bloomberg, but the facts seem to say something else. Bob Roth of AE’s predecessor, Unity ’08, insisted in 2008 his organization and the Draft Bloomberg Committee were “totally separate organizations.” However, the two organizations shared an address, and leaders of the organization reportedly registered the Draft Bloomberg website in mid-2007. Key Unity employees worked in the Draft Bloomberg movement.
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America Elects has a head start on 2012. It is already recognized as a political party in the state of Nevada. It has reported multiple expenditures to Arno Political Consultants, headed by AE Secretary Kellen Arno, for “Ballot Access Services.” The website Irregular Times, which has monitored America Elects in depth, states the organization is using Arno’s company to gain ballot access status for a presidential ticket in Nevada and Arizona, before branching out nationwide.
Irregular Times claims Ackerman is AE’s lone donor. But that may not be the case for long – and there is absolutely no way of knowing. Americans Elect just changed its IRS status from 527 to a 501(c)4, so it will not have to disclose its donors.
However, we know many of the personalities behind the “centrist” party movement. They know you, too – and they don’t like you.
RINOs, and PUMAs, and Bloomberg – Oh My!
The No Labels movement has attracted a constellation of mediocre RINOs fleeing a GOP they see as “too conservative” – and where, coincidentally, they see little room for self-aggrandizement. Former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman literally wrote the book on the topic. After leaving the Bush administration as head of the EPA, she penned It’s My Party, Too, a RINO manifesto that laments the fact that someone as wonderful as she has no hope of winning the GOP presidential nomination. She now heads the Republican Leadership Council, dedicated to slapping the Tea Party’s hands off the levers of power. Another No Labels supporter is Rep. Christopher Shays, a liberal Republican from Connecticut who co-sponsored the House version of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform.” Former Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA, and former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-NY, are also scheduled to attend the December kick off.
The No Labels launch has been talked up by the more aesthetically appealing half of Parker Spitzer. In her Tuesday column, Kathleen Parker wrote that No Labels made her heart flutter. Why, everything an inside-the-Beltway squish could want is here. “All that’s missing from a centrist movement that could be formidable is a leader,” she wrote. “Anyone?” Former Conservative Digest editor Richard Viguerie has called Parker a “pleasantly wishy-washy, mostly plain vanilla Republican” – and he was being generous to a lady and a fellow Southerner. She boasted on CNN, “I led” the character assassination of Sarah Palin, with a September 26, 2008, column stating Palin was “out of her league” and calling on her to drop out of the race.
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John P. Avlon is another No Labels organizer. Avlon, a longtime speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani and a policy director for Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign, is now a columnist for The Daily Beast. He has authored two books on centrism and made a career by attacking the Tea Party movement. Avlon is married to Margaret Hoover, a social progressive who is best known as one of the “culture warriors” on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, where she too sides against conservatives on social values.
However, its most public spokesman has been Mark McKinnon. The Texan began as a songwriter associated with the brilliant and personable (as well as tone-deaf and politically insane) Kris Kristofferson. A longtime Democrat, he advised George W. Bush in Texas and John McCain, but stopped advising McCain ‘08 when the Democrats nominated Obama, because he did not want to do anything to hurt Obama’s chances of election.
Frum: I have heard more talk about a third party possibility in the past four months than I’ve probably heard in the previous 15 years.
McKinnon: I agree. I think there’s a reason for that. I think a) because people want it; and b) because there’s some people working on it.
Frum: Interesting. And so, if it were to go anywhere, how do you see it going somewhere?
McKinnon: Well, I’m reluctant to talk about it right now, David, because I know about some things that are happening that just haven’t been announced yet, and so I’m reluctant to pull the cord on that just yet.
Frum: But you think that this time it is more than just gum chewing.
McKinnon: It’s way more than gum chewing…There’s some people working very hard to make sure that there won’t be those legal hurdles in the way, that the ballot access issues will be resolved, so if anybody wants to run, they [sic.] can run in 2012.
Frum: Is this something you would personally lend time to?
McKinnon: Absolutely. I’m for anything that’s disruptive to the current system, because I think we need some real disruption, and I think any sort of third party effort would do that.
McKinnon said the leaders of this shadowy movement should be ready to make a public announcement by “March at the latest.” Frum called this development “extremely tantalizing.”
Frum followed up the podcast with a column entitled, “How a Third Party Could Work.” In it, he wrote many people on both sides of the aisle had told him they were ready for a new party they could manage in 2012. “I heard the same thing last week from a senior Republican congressional figure. A couple of weeks previous, a big Democratic donor suggested the same thing over breakfast.” To drive the point home, Tim Mak at FrumForum wrote a companion piece.
Significantly, No Labels recently tested its message in New Hampshire.
Just this Wednesday, Frum joined NPR’s Talk of the Nation to popularize the movement. But he has not the first elite opinion maker to make the pitch.
New York Times Columnist Wants a “Centrist” Party – to Obama’s Left
For reasons that elude us, many consider Thomas Friedman of the New York Times a latter day prophet. Friedman noted in his column “Third Party Rising” that “I know of at least two serious groups, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, developing ‘third parties’ to challenge our stagnating two-party duopoly that has been presiding over our nation’s steady incremental decline.” He decided “to hazard a prediction: Barring a transformation of the Democratic and Republican Parties, there is going to be a serious third party candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election’s outcome.” But in the name of centrism, Friedman lashed Obama for failing to be more liberal: Obama, he wrote, was “only” able to pass a “limited stimulus,” “a suboptimal amalgam of tortured compromises,” and a regulatory bill he feels is too generous to Wall Street. “Plus, Obama had to abandon an energy-climate bill” – Cap and Trade – “altogether.” He went on to lay out a program that does not include reducing the deficit, reforming entitlements, eliminating government dependency, or securing the border.
His non-centrist platform has its echo in the No Labels movement.
Not “Centrist” – Astroturf
If Frum believes the announcement is “tantalizing,” No Label’s positions are tantalizingly vague. Its “Issues” section covers only four topics, two of them political reforms to make a third party easier to form. None of the sections seems to endorse much in the way of a solution, although they offer links to others who have.
Not exactly a profile in courage.
The closest thing to its beliefs are embodied in a piece Mark McKinnon wrote for The Daily Beast entitled “A Centrist Manifesto.” He again protests he is simply holding the middle ground, where he takes fire from both sides. He frequently says the media are fascinated with the Tea Party but “the real story is in the middle: A third of all adults are not affiliated with either party. And the middle is growing.”
McKinnon is absolutely wrong that independents are “in the middle.” They are not. Many independents are Tea Party members left behind by RINOs like Frum and McKinnon – and their ranks are swelling. According to a Gallup poll taken in June, 36 percent of all independents consider themselves conservative, while 41 percent call themselves “moderate.” Gallup notes, “While this is similar to 2009, it represents an increase in conservatism among this group since 2008.” Fully 42 percent of all respondents considered themselves conservative or “very conservative.” Gallup notes, “The ideological orientation of Americans seen thus far in 2010 would represent a record-high level of conservatism (since at least 1992) if it is maintained for the full year.” (Emphases added.) Politico summarized a number of polls thus: “independents have increasingly sided with conservatives in the belief that government grew too large, too fast under Obama—and that it can no longer be trusted…Many other polls have confirmed this trend over [a several-month-long] period, even though it has been vastly overshadowed by coverage of more provocative characters and themes on the Right.”
If Americans really wanted a moderate, pro-amnesty, environmentalist willing to curse the Republican Party’s conservative base and “reach across the aisle” to “my friends” in the other party, it had one in John McCain – and he got shellacked. Even McKinnon probably did not vote for him.
The millions McKinnon rightly calls disenfranchised are not in the middle. Upon reading his manifesto, it is clear McKinnon is not, either.
Among McKinnon’s planks – which include common sense budget cutting and modest entitlement reforms – is a demand that conservatives affirm: “Repealing the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy in the U.S. military and legalizing same-sex marriage are issues of equality for all.” Another offers “the 11 million already in this country” a “tough but fair path forward” to full citizenship.
There is nothing “centrist” about much of his platform. The vast majority of Americans oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants and same-sex “marriage.” How does embracing the extreme liberal position represent “the center”?
The platform and its supporters show the would-be party is to the Left of popular opinion. Indeed, it has essentially no constituency beyond the Beltway intelligentsia and well-financed corporate titans-turned-politicians.
Here Comes the Money
No Labels calls itself a “citizens movement.” To date, it has raised just over $1 million, chickenfeed by national political standards, and claims it has “more than 1,000 people” ready to attend its launch on December 13. But it has the potential to tap into some deep pockets.
Howard Fineman notes No Labels’ “anti-partisan yearnings are common these days, but what makes ‘No Labels’ potentially significant is its organizational ambition and big-buck backers.” One of these is Nancy Jacobson, a longtime fundraiser for retiring Indiana Democratic Senator Evan Bayh who has worked for Hillary Clinton. She is married to Mark Penn, a former Clinton pollster. Fineman calls Jacobson “a prodigious fundraiser with wide contacts.”
Of course, her contacts are in the Democratic Party – and they have two reasons to favor an independent presidential candidacy. Some Hillary supporters remain bitter over the 2008 Democratic primaries, which many assert were stolen through rampant election fraud. Having Obama lose because of a third party candidate saves Hillary the need to run against him and frees her to run in 2016. Other No Labels supporters are hangovers from the Democratic Leadership Council who, with other Democrats facing election, believe Obama has gone too far Left and become an ObamAlbatross that will drag the party down to certain defeat in 2012. They hope an exciting independent may turn out enough liberals to vote for Democrats “down ballot,” saving some Congressmen from the fate so many faced this year.
And they seek a third party candidate because they see it as bad for Republicans. Progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt’s campaign threw the 1912 election to Democratic hero Woodrow Wilson. More recently, independent runs by George Wallace (1968) and Ross Perot (1992) either succeeded or nearly succeeded in putting an unpopular Democrat in the White House. Bill Clinton never earned a majority of American votes but was elected twice by large Electoral College margins because Perot’s campaign attracted enough would-be Republicans to give him the edge.
Liberals have another motive for supporting this particular opposition: These Republicans associated with this movement are milquetoasts willing to stand aside as they move the country “forward.”
Democrats for a Weaker Republican Party
Although the most visible leaders of this movement are Republicans (of a sort), a number of Democrats are on board. Among them are Senators Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Los Angeles’ Democratic Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an outspoken Open Borders advocate, will visit the Big Apple later this month. The Wall Street Journal notes its corporate supporters “include co-chairman of Loews Corp. Andrew Tisch, Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich and ex-Facebook executive Dave Morin.”
The principals of No Labels met in June in Houston in the home of Marty McVey. Curiously, McVey “had dined with President Barack Obama in Washington only a few weeks prior.” McVey’s close relationship with Obama does not square with his stated desire to field a candidate to topple him.
Some Democrats are surprisingly upfront about the fact that they believe Republican internecine warfare will strengthen the Left. When McKinnon, Avlon, and Kiki McLean outlined the concept behind No Labels at the Clinton School of Public Policy, McLean, a Democrat, said, “I am involved in No Labels, because I love my party, I believe in my party, and I want my party to be stronger.” She said, “My work here is to find the window where people can work together again for progress” – although Democrats define “progress” as steady movement to the Left.
She said she yearned for “the days when [Republican House Minority Leader] Bob Michel and [Republican Senate Minority Leader] Bob Dole can work with Jim Wright and Lloyd Bentsen.” Barack Obama has said he loves Bob Michel, who used to tell incoming Republican Congressmen, “everyday I wake up and look in the mirror and say to myself, ‘Today you’re going to be a loser.’ And after you’re here a while, you’ll start to feel the same way. But don’t let it bother you. You’ll get used to it.”
No mindset could better serve the Left’s interests. But to be of proper service, the dolt delivering it must be completely sincere in his desire to “reach across the aisle,” thoroughly sympathetic with his partisan enemies, and partly in concert with their aims. Luckily, not only does such a person exist, but he’s willing to spend tens of millions of his own money to play the role.
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The Bloomberg is Off the Rose
Michael Bloomberg has given every signal that he wants to move into the White House. Bloomberg would be bad for America, because Bloomberg has been bad for New York. He oversaw the largest property tax increase in NYC history. He has raised the city sales tax. On the health front, he has banned smoking in the city, banned trans fat, and wants to reduce the sodium content of packaged food by 25 percent.
He is viscerally hostile to the Tea Party movement, calling it a “fad” and a “boomlet.” Bloomberg has only recently begun endorsing national political candidates – standing aside virtually every Republican or Democrat opposed by the Tea Party. He held a fundraiser for Harry Reid in his home in his race against Sharron Angle and another for Delaware’s Mike Castle over Christine O’Donnell. He supported Rhode Island’s onetime RINO senator Lincoln Chafee. He opted for Colorado Democrats John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennett over Tom Tancredo and Ken Buck.
His endorsements are the natural outgrowth of his opposition to small government conservatism and traditional values. He supports the Ground Zero Mosque, telling an Islamic audience, “We are all…Muslims.” (Speak for yourself, Mike.) He favors amnesty for illegal immigrants, many of whom live in New York City, and has said by allowing the state of Arizona to pass its immigration law the United States “is committing national suicide.” In March, he and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent a letter accusing Barack Obama of failing to do enough to enforce gun control. Bloomberg believes in same-sex marriage and is so fanatically pro-abortion he said, “Reproductive choice is a fundamental human right, and we can never take it for granted. On this issue, you’re either with us or against us.” He had admitted, “I’m opposed to the death penalty.” And he is an ardent environmentalist who believes cap-and-trade is too weak and suggests “charging a fee for greenhouse gas pollutants.” He falls for the “environmental justice” argument that pollution somehow discriminates against minorities. (In his view, “Many people call that environmental justice; I simply call it the right thing to do.”) An internationalist, his sister, Marjorie Tiven, ran the city’s office for relations with the United Nations.
Perhaps this is why only 19 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Bloomberg, according to a poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling. Nonetheless, Frank MacKay, chairman of New York’s Independence Party, is urging Bloomberg to run in 2012. (The Independence Party is the remnant of Ross Perot’s presidential campaigns, later dominated by Lenora Fulani.)
Rumors have already erupted that Bloomberg will run with Joe Scarborough as his vice president. Scarborough has said in no uncertain terms he will not be a candidate – for vice president. “I could not have been more unequivocal,” he said. Would MSNBC’s favorite Republican run at the top of an independent ticket? He replied, “I’m very happy where I am right now, but you never know.”
However, it is easier to run for president if you own a news network than if you work for a make believe one. Bloomberg’s bucks and regional appeal make him the man to beat. And he seems eager to get into the race. John Heilemann of New York Magazine revealed that “a person close to Bloomberg” told him if Obama’s approval ratings fall into the thirties, Bloomberg would almost certainly jump into the presidential race. Pressing, Heilemann asked if the president’s numbers stalled at 42 percent. The response: “Forty-two? That might get him in there, too.”
It might, since it symbiotically serves the interests of all interested parties.
RINOs such as Charlie Crist in Florida, Tom Horner in Minnesota, and Lisa Murkowski in Alaska spent 2010 learning how to run independent candidacies. In 2012, the sore losers are ready to go national. A well-connected, anonymous Republican insider told Politico in October, “There is a determined, focused Establishment effort…to find a candidate we can coalesce around who can beat Sarah Palin.” If they fail and the Republican presidential candidate (Palin or anyone else) is too conservative (or common) for their liking, Bloomberg awaits. They would rather destroy the party than turn over the keys to a successful conservative ready to clean house. And they do not need to win, as long as the conservatives lose.
Some Democrats think they will win either way. If Bloomberg wins, Hillary supporters can either help found the U.S. equivalent of Kadima or chasten Democrats that they should have nominated someone more electable – someone who may just be available in 2016. If Obama wins, they can claim they split the Republican vote. If the Republican wins, Democrats will spend the next election cycle trying to draw Hillary’s supporters back into their fold, as they did with Ralph Nader’s voters between 2000 and 2004/8.
Bloomberg has enjoyed buying several terms as mayor of New York City and has set his sights higher. As long as he believes he has a chance at victory, he is in. If not, the “centrists” will have to look elsewhere.
What will a third party race mean for the 2012 election?
John Anderson or Ross Perot?
The question of 2012 is if this group succeeds in nominating a presidential candidate, will he be more like 1980 independent candidate John Anderson or 1992 hopeful Ross Perot?
John B. Anderson was the last RINO to go third party. A one-time conservative Christian Congressman from Illinois, Anderson drifted further Left until 1980, when ran for the GOP presidential nomination as a liberal Republican and lost to Ronald Reagan. He ran as a third party candidate, because he felt Reagan was too conservative.
However, Anderson drew much of his support from Democrats. Exasperated to pique with Jimmy Carter, liberals endorsed Anderson in 1980. During the year’s gas crisis, when gasoline costs (adjusted for inflation) were roughly $3.30 a gallon and Americans stood in line every other day to fill up, Anderson proposed a 50-cents-a-gallon gas tax hike ($1.33 in today’s dollars). He netted a meager 6.6 percent of the vote. By 1984, Anderson endorsed Walter Mondale and pledged $7.8 million to his campaign. He then settled into life as a liberal elder statesman. Anderson last emerged two years ago to endorse Barack Obama in the primaries.
Ross Perot represents another trend. Perot appealed to Republicans and almost certainly put Bill Clinton in the White House. Although Clinton never won a full majority of votes, Perot siphoned enough support away from George H.W. Bush (and some argue, implausibly, Bob Dole) to tip the scales for Clinton.
Which way will the scales tip in 2012?
Public Policy Polling asked respondents about Bloomberg’s impact on only one Republican candidate, Mitt Romney. Interestingly, it appears Bloomberg draws more of his votes from Romney than Obama. Nine percent of Romney’s supporters in a one-on-one race against Obama vote for Bloomberg, while only two percent of Obama’s defect. That may be anomalous. Both Bloomberg and Romney are perceived as successful, middle-of-the-road businessmen and appeal to similar constituencies. But Bloomberg would have little appeal for many Palin, DeMint, or Bachmann voters.
On the other hand, Obama may continue his slide. Obama has not grown in office and does not look likely to. His incompetence will worsen our existing crises and unleash new ones. Even if it does not, the Federal Reserve forecasts unemployment will remain at least at eight percent until election day. Between now and then, Republicans will – or should – thoroughly investigate Obama’s racist Justice Department, the Joe Sestak affair, the use of covert government propaganda…and all the scandals he wracks up in the next two years. By then, Michael Bloomberg will look more attractive than ever to those who bought Obama’s faux centrist, hope-and-change mantra in 2008.
The trouble is Bloomberg is likely to appeal to the same voters who otherwise would have voted for Obama, especially New Yorkers. It is hard to see him appealing outside blue states, or the blue portions of red states. And Republican voters have demonstrated repeatedly they do not turn out for bipartisan, dead-center Republicans. That is why Sarah Palin is the only memorable aspect of John McCain’s 2008 presidential run, except how astonishingly, predictably bad it was.
The nation works best when it has a clear liberal and a clear conservative party. The GOP has not nominated a presidential candidate who consistently voiced conservative positions since 1989. If Republicans hope to return to power, that must change in 2012.
What should Republicans say to McKinnon, Frum, and the big government Republicans threatening to go somewhere else? Good riddance. Take the various poseurs, backstabbers, big spenders, and cultural Marxists — who have ruined the Republican brand over the last 20 years — with you.
Photo Credit: Donkey Hotey (Creative Commons)