Manchin-Huntsman or Huntsman-Manchin tickets look pretty underwhelming.
Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images
There’s a specter haunting the 2020 presidential election, aside from the strong possibility that Donald Trump will lose and again refuse to accept defeat. It’s the scheme, or perhaps it should be called a terroristic threat, that a self-styled centrist group called No Labels with shadowy funding and questionable motives will run an independent presidential ticket. Democrats in particular (including centrist Democrats) are fearful that the “independent unity” ticket that No Labels is planning will help Trump win back the White House.
The premise on which this entire exercise is based is the belief that voters desperately want a third choice in 2024 beyond the two gridlocked major parties, especially if they produce a rematch of the 2020 battle between Trump and Joe Biden. Evidence for this proposition has largely come from polling showing that a majority of voters indeed don’t want a rematch (much of that based on each party’s intense antipathy for the other party’s 2020 nominee). But more recently, No Labels boosters have also been able to point to polls (including one earlier this week from Quinnipiac) showing elementally that lots of voters (47 percent in the Q-Pac results) would “consider” a vote for a theoretical third option.
There are two major problems with that proposition. First, of course, the number of people who “would consider” voting a particular way in an election that’s 16 months away is more than a little short of bankable political support. Who wouldn’t “consider” more options? But even more importantly, abstract candidacies without names invite all sorts of hopeful speculations. Might an independent bid feature Oprah Winfrey? Or Tom Hanks? Or if the citizenship issues can be sorted out, a ticket from Harry and Meghan?
So it’s useful to look at a new national poll from Monmouth that offers an identifiable “independent unity” ticket in a matchup with Trump and Biden. It’s not a random ticket, either; it is composed of West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin and former Utah Republican governor and diplomat Jon Huntsman, who were the featured speakers at a recent No Labels event aimed at kicking off a 2024 platform-development process. Monmouth found that support for a “fusion” ticket including an unnamed Democrat and Republican dropped by half once candidates were named:
3 in 10 Americans said they would entertain voting for a third-party “fusion” ticket consisting of a Democrat and a Republican. Just 5% said they would definitely vote for this option if Biden and Trump were the major party nominees and another 25% said they would probably vote third party. At the other end of the spectrum, 31% say they definitely would not support a fusion ticket and 34% probably would not. …
Monmouth tested Manchin and Huntsman as an alternative ticket in a Biden-Trump race and found that only 2% of voters would definitely vote for this specific third-party option and only 14% would probably vote for them. Moreover, 44% definitely would not vote for a Manchin-Huntsman ticket and 31% probably would not.
Interestingly, the poll showed it didn’t matter at all which of these centrist candidates was first or second on the ticket. It’s also notable that firm support for either an abstract (5 percent) or specific (2 percent) third option is very low. Traditionally support for third-party or independent candidacies begins to fade as actual voting grows nigh amid fears of “wasted votes.” Looks like Manchin-Huntsman (or Huntsman-Manchin) would start with a pretty small base.
Aside from showing the limited appeal of an actual No Labels ticket, the Monmouth survey provided additional comfort for Democrats by concluding that the effect of the third option was pretty much a “wash” in terms of support levels for Biden and Trump. But that’s pretty far down in the weeds and depends on all sorts of impossible-to-predict variables.
No Labels president Nancy Jacobson has been swearing up and down that her organization will not run an “independent unity” ticket unless it can win. But it’s unclear who will decide its viability. The Monmouth poll suggests it’s totally a pipe dream. But the preliminary No Labels poll conducted by Jacobson’s Trump-friendly husband Mark Penn showed lots of states — including, incredibly, Joe Biden’s Delaware — ripe for the plucking. So the three big questions now are this: Will No Labels’ heavily (if anonymously) funded effort to get a mysterious ticket on the ballot in enough states to make victory even remotely possible succeed? And if so, will the group ignore evidence (like the Monmouth survey) that the whole idea is either pointless or destructive? And will Democrats and Republicans cooperate by nominating both Biden and Trump? We’ll know the answers no later than April of next year, when No Labels plans to hold its nominating convention in Dallas, if the “independent unity” ticket is a go.