No Labels’ Bid For The Big Time

Can No Labels influence the 2016 election?

The much-hyped centrist organization didn’t make much of an impact in 2012 but, undeterred, the group held a major meeting in Washington on Wednesday to begin building a political platform. The bipartisan group, helmed jointly by one-time GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and conservative West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, brought together a dozen congressman, a couple of senators, and an array of distinguished residents of “this town” to frame what the group called its National Strategic Agenda.

Huntsman said the goal of the group was to provide “substance to the satchel” of presidential candidates too busy worrying about the nitty-gritty of campaigning to focus on big picture ideas. To that end, the meeting focused on finding consensus among guests on issues like energy, immigration, education, Social Security, Medicare, and tax reform.

The assembled congressmen first delivered a brief group presentation, moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash, to bemoan partisanship in Washington. They then joined other attendees at 20 or so tables in the sunny, spacious great hall of the United States Institute of Peace to try to reach agreement on these complicated issues.

The goal was for three-quarters of each table to support one of what were usually two or three presented options on a certain issue. Then once all the responses were tallied, organizers announced what issues the group had reached a consensus on in an attempt to formulate this National Strategic Agenda.
Attendees rallied behind rather benign ideas. The United States, they said, should “prioritize the flow of highly skilled or educated immigrants” into the country. They also agreed that “Social Security should be reformed to make it solvent and sustainable while also taking steps to increase private pensions and personal retirement savings,” and that “America’s K-12 public education is in crisis and needs radical reform.”

These views reflected the opinions of the relatively diverse bipartisan group assembled. Because while there were plenty of politicians from swing districts or the more moderate wings of their respective parties, the group also included tea party conservatives, like Matt Salmon of Arizona, and ardent progressives, like Peter Welch of Vermont.

The group’s National Strategic Agenda will be released in October 2015. And until then, No Labels—which is already backed by major corporate figures like Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer—is trying to build a centrist grassroots army as it develops its platform. While a final speaker asked for one last minute of attention before those attending got on their “planes or trains” back home, employees of the group handed out “commitment cards” where one could pledge to “introduce No Labels to stakeholders around the country.”

Daily Beast editor-in-chief John Avlon helped co-found No Labels in 2010.


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