No Labels, the non-partisan advocacy group spearheaded by former presidential hopefuls Sen. Joe Lieberman and Gov. Jon Huntsman, have announced a roster of six presidential candidates who have agreed to its “Problem Solver Promise.” The group includes one Democrat, distant-third placer Martin O’Malley, and five Republicans — Ben Carson, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rand Paul, and, perhaps most surprising of all, Donald Trump.
The “Problem Solver Promise” is fairly simple. The six candidates who took it have agreed that, if they win the presidency, they’ll meet with a bipartisan group within a month of taking office and work on a plan to solve one of four goals No Labels has outlined: creating 25 million jobs in the next 10 years, securing Social Security and Medicare for another 75 years, balancing the federal budget by 2030, and making America energy-secure by 2024.
Lieberman and Huntsman told Fortune that they expect to add a fifth plank related to counter-terrorism and national security to No Label’s platform before the end of the year.
Since its founding in 2010, No Labels has received its share of criticism, especially from the left. While Lieberman assured “we’re not moderates, we’re not independents,” both he and Huntsman are veterans of the mushy middle of American politics — center-right, pro-corporate, and generally agreeing with whatever side of an issue seems to cause the least offense. The goals of No Labels are, of course, no different.
Earlier this week, a Huffington Post columnist jokingly implied that the group exists to answer the question, “Can rich idiots be convinced to fund an organization that continually promises to fix governmental dysfunction with empty platitudes?”
As E.J. Dionne wrote shortly after No Labels was formed in the aftermath of the divisive 2010 election, very few people would actually say that cutting down on partisan bickering and working together is a bad thing. The problem is that, other than making candidates sign a completely unenforceable promise, No Labels has done nothing to show how such an effort would actually work.
Of course, the presence of Donald Trump on this list of “promise makers” is going to raise some serious questions about the efficacy of the group and its goals. Trump has repeatedly made divisive comments about various minority groups — mainly Hispanics and Muslims — that have rendered him to many as the antithesis of a problem-solving, compromise-minded leader. Lieberman insists, though, that by letting any candidate who wants to take the pledge, it pushes the dialogue forward.
“We’re trying to disrupt the dysfunction in the American political system by creating some new incentives,” he said. “We said all along that No Labels was not a partisan organization or an ideological organization.”
He was also clear that being listed as a “promise maker” was not an endorsement; just an acknowledgement that the candidate had agreed to No Labels’ premise.
That’s all well and good, but you still have to consider the message. If you’re a Muslim American who has heard Trump say Muslim entry to the U.S. should be halted, or a Mexican American who has heard him say that Mexico is sending rapists across the border, it can’t be encouraging to hear a self-proclaimed non-ideological group calling the candidate a “problem solver.”
As Huntsman and Lieberman acknowledge, personal attacks and vicious partisanship go back to the founding of the republic and beyond. It’s unlikely that a weak pledge drawn up by two middle-of-the-road career politicians will heal the partisan wounds inflicted on the U.S.