Mona Charen
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A third party is the coward’s way out

During the all-too-brief one-on-one contest between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, there was a good deal of analysis declaring it the last stand of the Reaganite vision for the GOP versus the MAGA takeover. That was the wishiest of wishful thinking — and not just because such large segments of the current Republican Party delight in Trump. It’s also because the Reaganite wing has made such a poor showing for itself.

It’s generous to call the desiccated exoskeleton of Reaganism a “wing” at all, and frankly, the use of the term “Reaganism” is not really accurate anyway. What people mean when they use the term is traditional Republicanism, which includes belief in free enterprise, smaller government, freer trade, respect for the Constitution, dedication to American world leadership and social conservatism, among other ideals. Republicans who continue to adhere to those principles embraced Haley as the last man (as it were) standing.

One reason there weren’t more traditional Republicans was on display in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. The world might look very different if traditional Republicans had been willing to stand firm for their values when they came under assault from an ignorant, cruel demagogue. So I was briefly optimistic when I saw that an honest – to – goodness Reaganite, John Lehman, who served as secretary of the Navy under Reagan, had weighed in. The headline was promising: “Reagan Would Never Vote for Trump.” But after that bold beginning, the subhead was deflating: “He also didn’t care much for Biden. Like me, he’d be looking for a strong third-party candidate to support.”

Let’s unpack that subhead. Reagan may not have “cared much” for Biden in the 1980s; most conservatives didn’t. But we cannot say how Reagan would view the 2024 Biden; many former Republicans like me consider him the more conservative choice in the most important respects, i.e., respect for the rule of law and adherence to the Constitution. As Lehman itemizes in his piece, Trump’s departure from conservative ideals — or just plain American ideals — are “horrifying,” including his “naked admiration of our enemies,” “praise for Hezbollah,” contempt for allies, and incessant denigration of America as a “third world country” and a “laughingstock.”

One might suppose that given all of that and so much more, Lehman would counsel that Trump’s reelection would be a disaster and, accordingly, that he would vote for Biden. But no, Lehman makes a feeble accusation in the final paragraph that Biden has “turned his platform over to socialist Bernie Sanders” and accordingly, Lehman will vote for the No Labels candidate.

That’s rubbish. Biden has done no such thing. Lehman, like so many who should know better, is failing to take responsibility for the decision we must all make. His longing for purity is overwhelming his judgment. If Trump is reelected, none of the things he worked for as Navy secretary is safe.

Anything that erodes the anti-Trump coalition makes it more likely that Trump will prevail. So those who vow to write in a non-Trump Republican, or who like Lehman will vote for the No Labels candidate, are increasing the chances that a man who promises to pardon the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, imprison his critics and become an ally of Russia, will be elected.

The No Labels candidacy is cotton candy. Though advertised as providing a “unity ticket” that will provide “common sense” solutions for America’s problems, the reality is that No Labels has no chance of winning 270 electoral college votes. Last year, they predicted that they would achieve ballot access in 32 states by now. Instead, they have access in only 16 states. Oh, and No Labels might as well be called No Candidate. Like dominoes, one possible candidate after another has turned down their offer to run: Jon Huntsman, Joe Manchin, Larry Hogan, Kyrsten Sinema, Nikki Haley, Ken Buck, Brian Kemp and, just this week, Geoff Duncan.

As William Galston, a founder of No Labels who broke with the group last year, has explained, there are more moderate voters in the Democratic Party than in the GOP. Accordingly, No Labels will attract more Democrats than Republicans.

No Labels claims that it is only interested in fielding a ticket that can win outright and has no desire to serve as a spoiler. But polling shows that even a nationally known figure like Haley would only claim 9% of the vote in a four-way race that also contained Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Their projections also presume that a No Labels candidate would carry states that Biden won by double-digit margins in 2020.

No Labels is playing a dangerous game. Some believe it has forfeited the benefit of the doubt and is a full-fledged stalking horse for Trump. It wouldn’t be so dangerous were it not for feckless lightweights like John Lehman.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her new book, “Hard Right: The GOP’s Drift Toward Extremism,” is available now.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

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