Opinion | Why an independent presidential ticket appeals to never-Trump Republicans like me

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With the 2024 presidential election cycle picking up steam, an ominous sense of inevitability has descended upon the race. Former President Donald Trump maintains a commanding lead in the GOP primary, even as he faces two criminal indictments and remains under investigation for election interference in Georgia and for his conduct surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings are under water, faces serious questions about his age and capacity.

Trump’s never-ending chaos and drama turn off large swaths of the electorate.

Many voters do not want a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024. Trump’s never-ending chaos and drama turn off large swaths of the electorate, including significant numbers of independents and a consequential number of Republicans. Biden’s support appears soft, driven more by an intense dislike of Trump than a genuine admiration of Biden himself as a candidate. Recent polling indicates a receptivity to a third-party candidacy by nearly half of the voters. Yet none of this should be surprising, given that the number of voters who do not identify with either the Republican or Democratic party continues to rise.

Enter organizations such as No Labels, which is looking to exploit this political opening as it works to secure ballot access for an independent candidacy in all 50 states.

As a Republican who never voted for Trump in 2016 or 2020, I will not vote for him in 2024 either. In 2020, I voted for Biden, who ran as a transitional leader — not a transformational one — who would stabilize the functioning of the White House, address Covid like an adult and return a sense of normalcy to the functioning of government. To be fair, Biden has largely succeeded in that task. But implicit in Biden’s 2020 campaign was a message that he would serve one term and then pass the torch to the next generation of Democratic leadership.

In a two-person race, I would still choose Biden over Trump in 2024, but I would much rather see a prominent Republican and a prominent Democrat run together on a centrist, national unity ticket. Notably different from the historically ill-fated third-party ticket, a centrist candidate could focus on fiscal responsibility, social moderation and a coherent national security strategy. Further, they could stay clear from the grievance, victimization, class-warfare and identity politics that have divided our nation. That is not asking too much. 

I truly believe this hyperpolarized country needs to move on from the binary choice of Trump and Biden, but neither party appears able or willing to hear the plea of voters like me, who simply want a centrist alternative.

While many Republican never-Trumpers and never-again Trumpers want what I want, undeniably third-party presidential candidacies have not fared well throughout American history. Democrats in particular continue to be vehemently opposed, with many arguing a third-party candidate will split the anti-Trump vote among swing voters and deliver the election to Trump. And it’s true that Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party and Ross Perot’s Reform Party fell well short of disrupting the two-part duopoly.

What feels different when it comes to the No Labels initiative is that they are calling for a more centrist option. They are not advocating for a new party, but a new direction with a Republican and a Democrat on the fusion ticket. What’s more, No Labels will stand down if the GOP corrects course and nominates someone other than Trump.

As the Republican Party refuses to reject Trump, eschews traditional center-right conservatism, embraces grievance politics and takes on an illiberal form of populism, that new direction is desperately needed. The path to success is through aspirational politics that is socially tolerant and inclusive. Embracing free markets with modern, reasonable regulation and rejecting nativism, isolationism and naked protectionism would go a long way in broadening the appeal of the party as well. If reform cannot be achieved within the GOP nominating process, then an external stimulus like that being advanced by No Labels is warranted. 

In a two-person race, I would still choose Biden over Trump in 2024, but I would much rather see a prominent Republican and a prominent Democrat run together on a centrist, national unity ticket.

For the Democratic Party, the energy is with the far-left activist base, effectively alienating more moderate voters by promoting initiatives like abolishing ICE and defunding the police.

With increasing numbers of center-right Republicans and center-left Democrats alike feeling underrepresented within their respective parties, a presidential candidate with no need to pander to the extreme elements in the primary process has the opportunity to produce a more appealing messenger who can run, and govern, from the political center.

It’s far too early to determine how such an independent candidacy will affect the 2024 election outcome. Both parties should not consider the No Labels initiative a threat, but a wake-up call.

Recall how, coming out of nowhere and up the middle, Emanuel Macron defied political expectations and upended the existing political order in France. Maybe this is the sort of disruption America needs to break from the current morass and ugliness that has so stained the nation’s politics in recent years.

Charlie Dent

Charlie Dent is a former Republican representative for Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District.

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