OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Nothing but a big funk

We're now in the heat, such as it is, of the Republican presidential primary. Don't blink or you might miss it, like a tiny burg on an Arkansas highway.

The Iowa caucuses take place in 11 days. The New Hampshire primary comes eight days after that. The South Carolina primary--always a firewall for somebody, with George W. Bush and Joe Biden as leading examples--takes place a month after that. Then comes the multi-state Super Tuesday event (with Arkansas taking part).

It probably will go this way: Donald Trump wins Iowa by an outright majority with Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis rendered jointly weak by essentially a second-place tie 30 points back; Trump wins New Hampshire by a much smaller margin that Haley might have overcome if Chris Christie hadn't been in the race sapping 10 or 15 points; Trump roars to Southern glory in South Carolina, badly beating Haley, a former governor of the state, thereby embarrassing her into extinction; Trump sweeps on Super Tuesday because big multi-state events are all about name identification, celebrity, momentum and superficiality.

Panelists on "This Week" on ABC on Sunday morning were analyzing that situation smartly four days ago. They were saying that, with Biden apparently pre-emptively the Democrat winner, an early anointing of Trump on the GOP side would create a curious dynamic of a political void blended with a political letdown. There would be nothing left but a big funk.

Both nominations would be decided already but with nominees most people say they don't want, on account of being either too old, too frail, too nuts, too frightful or too criminal, or combinations thereof.

Amid that, these pundits were saying, contemplation of a third-party candidacy could become rampant. One of the panelists said a third candidate could be the story of 2024, or at least the most serious such animal since 1992 and Ross Perot, who briefly burst into a polling lead over George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Mainly, they were invoking the No Labels movement, which advocates centrist bipartisan decision-making. It has collected quite a bit of money as it looms with the idea of running a centrist ticket if America indeed gets stuck with the two major nominees it seems likely to get stuck with.

The leading speculation is that the departing center-right Democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, might lead such a ticket, perhaps with the former Republican governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, who is center-inclined and credited with working well with a heavily Democratic legislature in his blue state, as his running mate.

There is a fairly big difference between Perot in '92 and No Labels now.

It is that Perot was about specific policy passion--ending partisan political gridlock that rendered us unable to do anything about a deficit that was creating a "giant sucking sound" for our economy.

No Labels, and I say this as one who shares the No Labels theme, is hardly at all about policy passion but entirely about tactical and procedural passion.

What No Labels wants is what I've written so much about: muscular moderation in the halls of Congress that emphasizes bipartisan collaboration and compromise and advocates taking the policy passions of the right and left and finding something in between that can get passed. It's about resolution for resolution's sake.

I recall late summer when Hogan was in Little Rock to appear with former President Clinton at a Clinton Center forum on middle-ground politics. I visited Hogan beforehand. He and I had a swell time agreeing about the paralysis caused by the current extremes and the wisdom of forging something in between to take away the prevailing negative force of the extremes.

Later, watching Hogan on stage with Clinton, it occurred to me that Clinton was doing thoughtful extemporaneous riffs dissecting policy while Hogan was saying the same thing over and over. It was we must work together to solve these problems.

He offered no solutions. He advocated everybody putting their heads together.

What had seemed nearly exhilarating in our conversation of two at the Capital Hotel turned into a thunderous bore for a couple of thousand at the Statehouse Convention Center.

I figure that is what would happen to the No Labels message in a presidential race.

Imagine the debate. A policy question is posed. Trump rails with MAGA nonsense. Biden blabs about all he's done. Manchin says we need to work it all out.

Work what out?

Something that would take parts of the one guy's nonsense and parts of the other guy's blabbing.

It's kind of a parasitical politics. It draws its lifeblood from extreme partisan passions.

Beyond that, such a third party would not much penetrate Trump's base but could be fatal to the soft swing vote on which Biden depends as the lesser of evils.

The early void combined with the early funk may well turn out to be a year-long singing of the blues.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.

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