Examining The Whole Field

[ Posted Thursday, November 9th, 2023 – 17:05 UTC ]

So last night we got the third Republican debate and it wasn't even worth taking notes for. I kept thinking to myself that it was the most pointless exercise in politics around, really. To be fair, with fewer candidates on the stage, they each got plenty of screen time to talk, there were only one or two dustups where people talked over each other (when Vivek Ramaswamy tried to bully Nikki Haley, to no avail), and the subjects they discussed were indeed substantive ones. It was a real presidential debate, in other words -- nowhere near as much of a circus sideshow as the previous two.

But the most notable aspect of it was the sheer meaninglessness of it all. Donald Trump was not on the stage, and he is consistently polling in the high 50s among Republican voters. This means at this point he's got an absolute lock on the Republican nomination, with roughly two months to go before the first caucus or primary is held. Unless one of the candidates from last night catches fire in a big way, it's hard to argue anything other than that it is all but inevitable that Trump will win the nomination. And nothing anybody did last night seemed like it was nearly enough to catch any kind of fire with the GOP base voters.

So instead of a microanalysis of sheer meaninglessness, I decided to write today about the rest of the field, which grew in two significant ways today. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced he would not be running for re-election (which just about guarantees a pickup for the Republicans in the Senate). And Jill Stein announced she would be the Green Party's presidential nominee this time around.

Manchin is not exactly being coy about his plans, either. He is making his bid for the presidential nomination from the "No Labels" effort -- which has tens of millions of dollars behind it and is already getting itself on state ballots in multiple states. Manchin wasted no time in making this pivot, as evidenced by his statement of retirement:

I have made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for re-election to the United States Senate, but what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together.

No Labels is a spoiler movement, plain and simple. It is being financed by a whole bunch of dark money, and they haven't even announced how they'll be picking their ticket of running mates. Everything is left vague, other than that they'd like to run one Republican and one Democrat together as a ticket. No word on which one would be at the top of the ticket, but there are already some contenders for the big prize. Manchin thinks he can best all of these, and he could very well be right about that. No Labels is intending to put on some sort of dog-and-pony show to nominate their ticket, but in the end it'll probably come down to whichever candidate impresses the big money guys behind the effort the most. And Manchin is already impressive to such people.

Is there a great movement of centrism in the middle of American politics that is just yearning for the chance to vote for Joe Manchin as president? My guess would be that there is not, but then what do I know? Maybe there is a hunger for a corporatist coal baron out there. Anything is possible, these days, I suppose.

Stepping back from Manchin's outsized opinion of his own nationwide popularity, though, this means that the 2024 election might be notable for how many names will be on the ballot. If Joe Biden and Donald Trump get their respective parties' nominations (as is expected), it will not be a head-to-head contest between the two. We've already got Robert F. Kennedy Junior and Cornel West running as independent candidates, and now we'll also have Jill Stein and Joe Manchin (or whatever other candidate No Labels pulls out of their hat) as well. That means in a lot of states, voters will have at least six names to choose from (probably seven, since the Libertarians will also assumably run someone this time around).

Will the 2024 presidential election wind up more like 1992 or 2000? That's the real question here. In 1992, H. Ross Perot won a whopping 19 percent of the popular vote. Bill Clinton won the presidency in a weakened state, because (according to his opponents and a lot of credulous voices in the media) "he didn't have a mandate," due to not topping 50 percent in the popular vote. But that was with just one big third-party name on the ballot. In 2000, of course, the presence of Ralph Nader may well have lost the presidency for Al Gore, as Nader got enough marginal votes to deny Gore the state of Florida.

This time around, we will have spoilers a-plenty. It's impossible to tell at this point what any of it all means. Who will be "stealing" votes from whom? Will R.F.K. Jr. siphon more votes away from Trump than Biden? Nobody knows. Will Stein and West drain critical votes from Biden? It's certainly possible. And I'm not even going to venture a guess what Manchin's presence in the race will do (at least not until I see some credible polling on the question).

Third parties and independents are marginal candidates, at best. Or at least they have been, historically. No third party candidate has ever come close to winning, from the formation of the Republican Party in Abraham Lincoln's time until now. Two won a significant amount of Electoral College votes: Teddy Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" effort in 1912 won 88 Electoral College votes, but Woodrow Wilson creamed them with 435. In 1948, the "Dixiecrats" won 39 Electoral College votes in the South, while Harry Truman won 303. Perot, even though he won roughly one out of every five votes cast, didn't win a single state or Electoral College vote.

Will that hold true in 2024? Well... yes, it probably will. Does anyone think Joe Manchin could ever beat Trump even in his home state of West Virginia? I for one do not, and that's the friendliest state he's got. And I certainly can't see R.F.K. Jr. or West or Stein winning a single state either. So none of these people is going to win the race.

But they could certainly change the outcome of individual states. Most presidential elections these days are won at the margins. In a handful of battleground states the results are within a single percentage point, with often only a few tens of thousands of votes determining the victor. And I could indeed see Manchin and the rest of the spoilers pulling in enough votes to change who actually emerges as the victor in places like Arizona or Georgia or all the rest of the ones Biden barely won last time around.

All of them won't be on the ballot in every state. It takes an enormous amount of money and effort to get a new party (or independent candidate) on all 50 state ballots. No Labels certainly has the money to spend on the effort, and as noted they're already on the ballot in 12 states -- which is pretty good for not having a candidate (or a platform, for that matter) in mind yet. My guess is that R.F.K. Jr.'s polling numbers are going to collapse (once people realize he's not his dad, or hear him speak on just about any subject). But the No Labels numbers could rise in his place.

Personally, I think No Labels would be a pack of fools to run Joe Manchin, as Democrats already hate him with a white-hot passion. I think they'd do much better to name someone like Larry Hogan (the very popular Republican ex-governor of Maryland) who actually does have some cross-party appeal. But then, as I said, what do I know?

The one thing that is becoming more and more apparent is that the presidential pollsters have to shift gears. This is not going to be merely a head-to-head race anymore. Other names will be on states' ballots -- and quite a lot of them, in some cases. Even if they all just eat into the margins of the two major party candidates, it could have enough of an effect to flip battleground states. Polling accurately these days is already difficult enough (as evidenced by the past few presidential cycles), and it's about to get a lot more complex. That seems the only thing that is certain, after hearing today's news.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


16 Comments on “Examining The Whole Field”

  1. [1] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    “No Labels” is another Republican donor-funded off shoot created by the billionaires who brought you the Tea Party. It is no “grass-roots” movement; it is a well funded demon spawn created in the laboratories of unimaginative conservative think tanks. Its goal is to take as many votes away from Democrats on the ballots as possible to help Republicans get/stay elected. Because they surely cannot be expected to come up with legislation that would benefit Americans not in the wealthiest top 1% to secure votes!

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    My guess is that R.F.K. Jr.'s polling numbers are going to collapse (once people realize he's not his dad, or hear him speak on just about any subject).


  3. [3] 
    dsws wrote:

    Stucki -

    Life can't begin at conception, unless the sperm and egg are dead immediately before. Are they?

  4. [4] 
    dsws wrote:

    Will the 2024 presidential election wind up more like 1992 or 2000?

    I'll go on record with my guess:

    No. It will be more like every presidential election in living memory except 1992 and 2000.

  5. [5] 
    dsws wrote:

    Liz -

    I did a couple searches, and found plenty of stuff with Biden saying basically that NATO gets to admit new members according to its established procedures, with only NATO members getting a veto, not Russia. I didn't find anything about trying to force Ukraine in, or whatever.

    There's a statement by some high-ranking politicians, I forget who, that they didn't expect NATO to admit any countries farther east than the then-current applicants. Russia makes a big deal about it, but it was never a commitment by any national government, nor by NATO as an organization.

    There's a sort-of logic to the idea that if Russia wants to conquer a country, and the country is applying for NATO membership, Russia has to act before they get in if it's ever going to. But that's not a contributing factor in Russia's decision whether to start a war, only when.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Of course, no one is 'forcing' Ukraine to do anything it does not wish to do. It is a sovereign nation, after all. Just like NATO can make exceptions to its 'open door' policy of admitting new members. No one is forcing NATO to admit Ukraine, at any time, in other words.

    Whether there was ever a commitment, firm or otherwise, by NATO or by the US to Russia not to expand to within a few hundred miles of Moscow through Ukraine is really beside the point. With the point being - a question really - why would NATO want to expand its sphere of control in such a manner as that.

    Now, in the current context of what is happening in Ukraine and what has happened there in the last decade, the NATO calculus, as they say, has changed. But, I still don't see Ukraine ever being admitted as a full-fledged member, nor do I see Ukraine winning back the Eastern part of its territory and Crimea by way of a war with Russia.

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    “Sub-human” is YOUR word and just like “unborn child” it’s the Forced-Birthers attempt to put words into Freedom-Lover’s mouths. It’s called a fetus in the English language.

  8. [8] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    I did some research and the eastern edge of NATO member Latvia is 398 miles from Moscow. The eastern edge of Ukraine is 338 miles from Moscow. That’s a whopping 60 miles closer, ahem, and not strategically significant. The invasion is simply Russian Revanchism, period.

    For the record I believe that Ukraine (a) will become a NATO member and (b) will recover the 18% of Ukraine that Russia occupied in June, the date of this Timelapse time-lapse map of the territorial ebb and flow. (0:26)

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I did some research and the eastern edge of NATO member Latvia is 398 miles from Moscow.

    Good for you! :)

    Ukraine is not Latvia, nor is it Finland or Sweden. Which has kinda been my point throughout this tedious conversation.

  10. [10] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    So how is Ukraine (a sovereign nation that wishes to remain that way — just like all the current NATO members) any different?

  11. [11] 
    dsws wrote:

    There's no extension of control. NATO does not control its member states. If it did, relations between Greece and Turkey would be very different. The US can exert undue pressure because we spend something approaching a trillion dollars a year on a military designed to project force with carrier battle groups, lots of bases all over the world, and ridiculous amounts of pre-positioned materiel, and because we have one of the largest economies in the world -- completely independent of whether the target of such pressure is in NATO.

  12. [12] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Your [3] makes no sense to me.

    The word "dead" has no meaning except in relation to something that was at some point alive. Nobody would say rocks are 'dead', or air is 'dead'.

    Obviously the sperm and egg are 'alive', but they do not constitute a human being until they combine, and then they do.

  13. [13] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Your nomenclature is a matter of indifference to me. Call the just-conceived human a 'zygote' or a 'billy goat', I don't care.

    I intended the "sub-human" thing to be an adjective, not a noun.

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Let me make it simpler.

    Why would NATO, as an organization, wish to expand to include Ukraine?

  15. [15] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Ukraine is critical to the EU.
    It’s farmland has made it the “breadbasket of Europe.” It has many energy and other resources that are important to the world economy.

    Flawed that Ukraine’s democracy is it’s cleaning up corruption which is a problem that was or still is a problem for ALL former Warsaw Pact countries.

    But most importantly and what you refuse to acknowledge is that if Ukraine falls Russia will be on the border of the Baltics, Poland and Romania and will try to conquer because that has been Russia’s geopolitical strategy for centuries. That means NATO will have no choice but to eviscerate the incompetent Russian military which vastly increases the chance that Russia will initiate nuclear war.

  16. [16] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    The only criticism I have of Joe Biden is that he has slow walked military aid to Ukraine. Countries don’t have friends they have interests and geopolitically speaking doing so is smart because Russia stuck in a grinding war of attrition in Ukraine ensures that Russia cannot invade any other countries.

Comments for this article are closed.