MAGA Republicans will use any means necessary to win—including ‘progressive’ third parties
Top left: No Labels leaders Sen. Joe Lieberman and Gov. Jon Huntsman; bottom left: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; right: Dr. Cornel West. | AP photos

The 2024 elections will be another epic battle to defend democracy, advance social progress, and act on the climate crisis. As the MAGA Republican Party has lost support, it’s become more dangerous and desperate, escalating its assault on democracy—and the urgency to defeat them.

An anti-MAGA majority has congealed to meet the threat previously, decisively impacting federal elections in 2018, 2020, and 2022 as well as recent elections in Wisconsin, Jacksonville, and Colorado Springs. The overwhelming fear of MAGA will surely drive millions of voters to the polls again in 2024.

But the unity and action of the broad electoral alliance of democratic forces working in coalition with and through the Democratic Party are critical to turning out this anti-MAGA majority. The early endorsement of President Joe Biden by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, the AFL-CIO, Gen Z for Biden, and four major environmental organizations show that some are moving quickly, diffusing any doubts about where they will stand next year. They understand what’s at stake.

The GOP has not been able to crack 50% of the popular vote in a presidential election since 2004; Republicans know most Americans oppose their agenda. They also know, however, that only a few thousand votes in a handful of battleground races determined the outcome of the last two presidential elections—and that it could happen again in 2024.

MAGA can only win by using undemocratic means to undermine majority will, tactics like: voter suppression, threatening election workers and voters with violence, extreme gerrymandering, spreading mass disinformation, or engineering a government shutdown and blaming Biden for the ensuing crisis.

But there is another factor that could inadvertently (or, in some cases, intentionally) help the extreme right, and that is third party challengers who may push progressive rhetoric but end up diluting the anti-Republican vote when all is said and done.

Third-party candidates prevented both Democrats and Republicans from surpassing 50% in 2016, playing a key role in Trump’s victory. Therefore, another GOP scheme is to siphon off votes from Democrats by flooding the zone with third-party candidates or supporting those that develop independently in order to widen division, play on concerns about Biden’s age, and tap disappointment with the policy promises that Biden and the Democrats haven’t been able to fulfill.

In 2024, the GOP and MAGA are excited by the “No Labels” Party, the Democratic primary challenge of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Green Party candidacy of Cornel West. They see all of these campaigns as opportunities to disrupt the election, divide the anti-MAGA majority, and undercut the progressive voter mobilization needed to defeat fascism.

A third way?

Speaking for myself, I’d of course prefer a multi-party system; it’s a long-term goal that progressives and socialists have to keep fighting to win. But until we radically reform U.S. election laws, the two-party, winner-take-all system is what we have to grapple with; it’s the framework we have to keep in mind when crafting strategy and tactics.

Third parties, in the context of parliamentary systems, have the potential to expand voter participation and give voice to constituencies and make democracy more vibrant. Historically, left-wing third parties in the U.S., for example, have raised important issues and spoken up for groups ignored by the major parties. Even in situations where they couldn’t win (and posed no danger of throwing an election to the right), they made valuable contributions and helped move the public debate in a progressive direction.

But given the restrictive context of the two-party system and the all-out MAGA Republican Party assault on democracy the country faces today, third party efforts have the potential to undermine a united anti-MAGA vote and dilute the voice of the pro-democracy majority, except where laws allow for fusion voting like New York with the Working Families Party.

There are major problems that both main parties in the United States share, as every progressive knows, beginning with corporate power and money. But at the same time, the two parties are far from the same. They represent different electoral alliances, class, racial, and social forces. And one of these parties—the GOP—is attempting to destroy constitutional democracy and turn the country back 100 years.

The Democratic Party is a diverse center-left alliance of forces that crosses class, race, and gender lines. The contradictory interests of sections of the capitalist class and mass democratic movements and constituencies are in constant unity and struggle within it. While it includes elected representatives like Sen. Joe Manchin who speak for fossil fuel corporations, it also includes leading labor and social justice activists running for office and in leadership positions at local, state, and national levels. These forces have greatly impacted its program and policy.

Right now—less than a year-and-a-half out from the next election—it’s simply the reality that the Democratic Party is the only electoral vehicle capable of defeating the MAGA fascist danger. There is no getting around this. But the other side of that coin is that the Democratic Party can’t defeat fascism alone, either. The anti-MAGA majority needs unity of the broad anti-right mass democratic coalition in the streets and with the Democratic Party at the ballot box to defend and advance democracy.

The billionaires’ fake progressives

“No Labels” touts itself as a centrist party opposed to both GOP and Democratic “left” extremes. It is anything but. Anonymous right-wing billionaires (including Harlan Crowe) and corporate interests have raised millions for the center-right pro-corporate candidates that No Labels supports. The party backs the “Problem Solvers Caucus,” an attempt to split Congressional Democrats, and poured money into Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s, I-Ariz., coffers until she broke with Democrats.

Conservative former DNC operatives Mark Penn and Nancy Jacobson, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory of “anti-trans bathroom bill” infamy are among the key personalities who founded “No Labels.” Rev. Ben Chavis, Jr., and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan are its national co-chairs.

Right-wing billionaires are building a $70-million war chest in dark money to get “No Labels” on the ballot in all 50 states. With their backing, “No Labels” will rain fire on Biden and Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, essentially playing interference for the Republican Party.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., meanwhile, is running against Biden from within the Democratic Party primary. Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, is a QAnon conspiracy supporter, anti-vaxxer, COVID disinformation spreader, advocate of a closed Mexican border, and opponent of gun control. He’s a vector for spreading right-wing disinformation and extremism in the Democratic Party and the public square. He has no chance of winning, but a recent poll showed he could take 20% of primary voters and cause havoc.

Kennedy’s principal backers include right-wing billionaires Elon Musk, top DeSantis donor David Sacks, former Twitter owner Jack Dorsey, and fascist operatives Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, and Roger Stone. It’s quite a collection of characters for a supposedly “progressive” campaign.

What about Cornel West?

Then there is Cornel West’s Green Party candidacy, which presents a unique situation for the anti-right, pro-democracy coalition. West says he’s running for “truth and justice,” attacking the MAGA GOP as a neo-fascist party while also attacking Biden and the Democratic Party, which he says is dominated by its corporate wing and incapable of defeating the fascist threat.

Biden, “milquetoast neoliberals,” and the two-party system “stands in the way of the empowerment of poor working people,” according to West.

But West’s claim ignores the progressive political shifts in the Democratic Party toward abandoning neoliberalism, and the presence in the Biden administration of civil and environmental justice and pro-labor advocates. Locking Trump out of the White House and having a Democratic Congressional majority resulted in the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, CHIPS Act, and American Jobs Act—all these were accomplished with just narrow majorities in the face of total GOP obstruction. There’s also the “avalanche” of progressive legislation passed by Democratic trifectas in California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, and Minnesota.

West has a history in the racial and social justice movements, and scholars regard his Race Matters book as a seminal study of racial justice. A self-described democratic socialist, West infuses his rhetoric with the Black Prophetic and other progressive religious traditions. His anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, pro-social justice narrative resonates with some African American and young voters. And several of his stances appeal to those dissatisfied with Biden’s foreign policy, among them slashing the military budget, ending U.S. military assistance to Ukraine, stopping the blockade against Cuba, and halting a new Cold War with China. Some of these are the same agenda items pushed by figures in the Democratic Party, like Pramila Jayapal, Ilhan Omar, Sanders, and others.

West was a Sanders surrogate in 2016 and 2020, remains a fellow at the Sanders Institute, and is influential with progressives dissatisfied with the Democratic Party. He is respected by many on the left. Positive words about his candidacy have come from former president of the National Nurses Union RoseAnn DeMoro and activists like Nina Turner. Also in his corner, however, are left sectarian groups like Socialist Alternative led by Kshama Sawant, and West has an odd relationship with the Bob Avakian cult and the Revolutionary Communist Party.

He’s also a media personality, though not just with the left. Progressive and independent media like Democracy Now!, The Real News, and African American talk show host Tavis Smiley have all given him airtime. On the other hand, so have the QAnon platform Rumble with right-wing conspiracist Russell Brand and Fox News with right-wing host Laura Ingraham.

The Greens

West may not intend to help, let alone be used by MAGA, but supposedly neither did the Green Party presidential campaigns of Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004 and Jill Stein in 2016. Both, however, received support from the GOP as part of an effort to siphon votes from Democratic candidates Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton.

The GOP helped fund Nader’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, including paying for ads in battleground states and providing ballot status petition volunteers. In 2000, Nader received 97,000 votes in Florida and 22,000 in New Hampshire. Gore lost by 537 votes in Florida after the U.S. Supreme Court intervened to stop the count and 7,000 votes in New Hampshire.

In 2016, Stein prioritized attacking Clinton and the Democratic Party over Trump and the MAGA fascists and solicited disaffected Sanders supporters to join her cause. Stein was on the ballot in 44 states and targeted the critical battlegrounds Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—an unmistakably intentional vote-splitting effort.

Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot and a chief Trump backer, supported Stein financially in 2016. There were other anti-progressive backers of the Stein campaign, too. The Mueller Report, the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, and researchers at Clemson University all documented the efforts of the Russia-based Internet Research Agency to promote the Stein campaign through social media, including Facebook and Twitter. The campaign targeted Black voters, fanning racial animosities, cynicism, and distrust. Russian media outlets, including RT and Sputnik, also heavily featured Stein.

In 2020, Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins was on the ballot in 28 states, including Florida, Colorado, and Michigan. The GOP assisted Hawkins in getting on the ballot and also promoted a candidacy by Kanye West to peel off African American voters.

By any means necessary

According to former AFL-CIO political strategist Michael Pordhorzer, the defeat of MAGA rests on mobilizing Gen Z voters, returning voters who skipped the 2016 election, and new voters sitting on the sidelines but alarmed by the fascist danger, especially in the battleground states.

Key anti-right democratic coalition constituencies are progressives, African Americans, and young voters. African American voters are a critical bloc in battleground states. Youth support Democratic candidates at a higher rate, 66%, than any other age group but vote the least.

The GOP is doing everything possible to split these constituencies away from the broad anti-right democratic alliance. They are suppressing the African American vote and making it harder for students to vote on campus. If they can peel off a section of African American and young voters by promoting some ostensibly progressive third-party effort, they will do it.

None of this suggests West, the Green Party, or the “No Labels” Party can win. However, they could throw the election to Trump or another GOP presidential candidate by siphoning off enough votes in critical battleground states.

The GOP, dominated by MAGA and the January 6 insurrectionists, poses the greatest danger to constitutional democracy and all class, racial, social, and environmental rights and progress. The mass democratic anti-right alliance must defeat MAGA everywhere while being vigilant against all schemes to sabotage its unity and power in 2024 and beyond.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

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John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.