Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addressed a crowd at the 2015 No Labels convention in New Hampshire. (Photo: Brian Snyder/REUTERS)
The candidate who has vowed to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. and build a wall on the border with Mexico and who proposed a 45 percent tariff on imports from China has just been proclaimed a “problem solver” by No Labels, a formally nonpartisan organization whose co-chairmen both ran for the White House as pragmatic moderates.
In order to qualify for its Problem Solver Promise program, all Donald Trump had to do was sign a pledge that he would pursue one of the group’s core goals — a set of general fiscally related talking points — in the first “30 days” of his hypothetical presidency. Besides Trump, the other presidential candidates who signed on are Republicans Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich and Democrat Martin O’Malley.
The “problem solver” designation does not constitute a formal endorsement by No Labels, according to the group. Still, critics of No Labels have long warned that its approach of designating candidates or elected officials as “problem solvers” just for agreeing to support its not-very-specific agenda could have the opposite of its intended effect, by giving bipartisan cover to politicians who speak and act in polarizing ways.
That now seems to be coming to pass.
No Labels was established in 2010 with the avowed purpose of bridging the political divide to end political gridlock. It has raised millions of dollars from undisclosed donors, but it’s unclear how far that money is going. Apparently some of those funds went toward making a music video to announce the six presidential Problem Solver Promise takers. The list of “victories” on its website consists of one bill (to dock the pay of legislators if they fail to pass a budget) that was introduced but not passed by Congress. The only legislative action No Labels has ever touted as a success in Congress, in internal documents previously obtained by Yahoo News, was a bill that passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee by voice vote, but which never came up for a vote in the House or became law.
The language of the promise to which Trump and the others have agreed reads, in part: “If elected, I will gather House and Senate leaders from both parties within my first 30 days to begin work on at least one of the four goals in the National Strategic Agenda and to commit to a bipartisan process to achieve the agreed upon goal or goals.”
Although O’Malley, and some down-ballot Democratic candidates, have signed on to the program, No Labels has been unpopular in some Democratic circles at least since the 2014 midterms, when the group backed Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner in Colorado over incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. Yahoo News obtained documents suggesting that some in the group believed its relevance would be enhanced if the Republicans took over the Senate (as they did), sharpening the divide in Washington with a Democratic administration. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was the co-chairman of the group at the time, but he was pressured by colleagues to resign from that post and he ultimately did, replaced by former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., shortly after the midterm election. The other co-chairman is former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Utah Republican.
The Associated Press first broke news of No Labels’ Problem Solver Promise candidates — whom the group’s website insists the organization does not endorse — a distinction it tried, not always successfully, to maintain in the 2014 midterms.
Speaking to AP, Huntsman praised the six “very diverse” and “bipartisan” candidates for “thinking beyond the primary and thinking about the process that will need to be in place to get some really important things done for the American people,” despite “the ugly talk you find during any primary campaign.” He didn’t specify from whom the “ugly talk” is coming, but evidently he doesn’t think it disqualifies a candidate as a “problem solver.”