Back in April, a reported "endorsement" of GOP U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner by the nonpartisan advocacy group No Labels caused tremendous controversy, leading to the group's clarification that their "Seal of Approval" is not a bonafide candidate endorsement at all. A week later, it came out that No Label co-founder Mark McKinnon had been wrong to characterize this as an "implied endorsement," saying that was strictly his "personal opinion"–although it was not represented as such originally, or when Gardner touted this "endorsment" widely. The belated correction from McKinnon, a former aide to George W. Bush, was an odd footnote in an episode that hinted at something more.
And as Meredith Shiner at Yahoo News reports today, there was indeed a lot more going on behind the scenes than Gardner or McKinnon wanted to talk about in the wake of No Labels' "endorsement."
[T]hough No Labels has positioned itself as a warrior against gridlock, an internal document obtained by Yahoo News suggests the group is banking on more political dysfunction in an attempt to find “opportunity” and relevance for itself…
“Should the balance of power in the U.S. Senate flip following the 2014 midterm elections and Republicans gain control, No Labels sees an opportunity to bridge the gap between Congress and the White House,” the document reads in its “Break Through Strategy” section. “With Republicans holding control of both chambers in Congress and a Democrat in the White House, the likelihood of gridlock will be higher than ever before.
“We have already begun back door conversations with Senate leaders to discuss this increasingly likely scenario,” the document continues.
This privately stated position exacerbates an already publicly spoiled relationship with Senate Democrats, who are still fuming from an April incident in which the group supported conservative Republican Cory Gardner in Colorado over Manchin’s colleague, incumbent Democrat Mark Udall. The endorsement, which No Labels later tried to clarify by saying that any candidate could be backed by the group if they just agreed to be a member, was touted by Gardner in press releases and caused the few Senate Democrats involved with the group to threaten to pull their membership, according to Democratic sources. [Pols emphasis]
We had heard the rumors, but this story confirms that the "implied endorsement" of Gardner by No Labels caused a major rift in this allegedly nonpartisan organization, with participating Democrats considering the endorsement of Gardner to be both political betrayal and objectively indefensible. After all, "endorsing" a candidate who earned the dubious distinction of tenth most conservative member of the U.S. House in 2012, earned by taking such divisive stands as shutting down the federal government to stop Obamacare and risking national default in budget negotiations, cannot help but throw No Labels' credibility into question. How does Gardner fit with the stated goal of replacing "the culture of conflict and division with a politics of problem solving and consensus building?"
Yahoo News continues–Gardner doesn't fit at all, and that sums up the trouble with No Labels.
Multiple Senate Democratic aides characterized the relationship between No Labels and Senate Democratic leaders as “hostile,” and said that the current distance stems from the controversy surrounding Gardner and the Colorado Senate race. [Pols emphasis]
In April, No Labels gave its “Problem Solvers seal” to Gardner, the GOP challenger to the Senate Democratic incumbent Udall. Gardner touted the seal as an endorsement from No Labels, a situation that incensed members of the Senate Democratic caucus.
Gardner and No Labels then were forced to clarify the meaning of the seal, after Democratic members threatened to leave the group and multiple No Labels board calls were held to discuss the matter…
Gardner was among the top-10 most conservative members of the House in 2012 and the 98th in 2013, according to rankings by the National Journal. But the group has also given the seals to Reps. Peter Welch and Jared Huffman, who were among the top-20 most liberal members of the House in 2013, according to National Journal. It’s not that No Labels has shifted rightward ideologically and deliberately, it’s that it’s initial design to provide cover to politicians on both sides to work in a bipartisan way also gives cover to politicians who won’t but want to have lapel pins on their jackets saying they do. [Pols emphasis]
There are two ways to look at this: it's quite possible, and we tend to think in the aftermath of the Gardner "endorsement" fiasco, that No Labels has always simply been a front for unpopular Republicans to obtain token Democratic cover. But, as this story suggests, it's also possible that the organization's once-lofty goals of transcending partisanship, and ending the gridlock that has eroded the confidence of so many Americans, have been subverted by politicians who desire only the pretense of "working together."
Whether No Labels was duped or a willing agent of Gardner's deception, they've only managed to worsen the public's cynicism with politics. And we're pretty sure that's a failure of their most basic mission.