Democracy And Dirty Tricks

When Democrats gripe that American government is no longer small-d democratic, they have a point. Not only has extreme gerrymandering given more power to rural voters than to those who reside in cities, but the allocation of two Senate seats to each state, regardless of population, has grossly distorted the ideal of “one person, one vote.” The last time the GOP won the Senate, it was with twenty million fewer votes than had been cast for the Democratic “minority.”

Democratic Senators currently represent some forty million more voters than Republican Senators, despite an almost-even split in the upper house. Thanks to predicted demographic shifts, it’s poised to get even worse: one scholar estimates that by 2040, 70% of Americans will live in the fifteen largest states, and will be represented by thirty Senators, while the remaining 30% will have 70 Senators voting on their behalf.

If these structural advantages weren’t enough, the deep pocket donors who support the GOP continue to fund political dirty tricks. I’ve been reading a number of reports about the latest effort to re-elect Donald Trump: a phony “third party” called No Labels.

As Robert Hubbell recently wrote,

The “No Labels” organization is a GOP dark-money PAC designed to elect Donald Trump by running a doomed third-party candidate to draw votes away from Joe Biden in 2024.

Hubbell quotes the Intercept for a story suggesting that No Labels intends to run Manchin; whether that is accurate or not, what we do know is that No Labels is not a real political party. It is funded by the Koch brothers, Harlan Crow, and Peter Theil (among others).

Worse, “No Labels” is operating as a 501(c)(4) charitable organization so that it does not have to disclose its donors like every other political party—even though No Labels is registering as a political party across the nation for the 2024 election.

Arizona Democrats, among others, are challenging the organization’s misrepresentation of itself as a third party, alleging that, as a 501(c)(4) organization — which legally cannot primarily be engaged in political activity —  it cannot comply with federal election regulations governing political parties, including disclosure of contributors.

“No Labels is not following the rules for political party recognition, while attempting to be placed on the ballot alongside actual, functioning political parties who do,” a spokesperson for the Arizona Democratic Party said in March.

Hubbell quite properly characterizes articles suggesting that No Labels is a new, “centrist” political party as “journalistic malpractice.”

As anyone who has followed election politics even casually knows, thanks to America’s political structures, third party candidates are always spoilers. That’s true even when the third party is a legitimate party and the candidate honorable and sincere. The presence of such ballot options simply takes votes from one of the major party candidates. (Most consequential example: No Ralph Nader on the ticket, no George W. Bush in the White House.)

In this case, there is ample evidence that the effort to mount a bogus “third-party” option is anything but honest and sincere. There is also absolutely no doubt who they hope that bogus entrant will benefit–any doubt about the motives should be dispelled by the identity of the funders.

Harlan Crow already owns a Supreme Court Justice; now he and the surviving Koch brother and Peter Theil and their ilk want to ensure the election of Trump, an intellectually vacuous and mentally-ill narcissist they can easily manipulate.

I worry that this particular “dirty trick” may not receive the publicity it deserves–the media and the voters who pay attention are constantly distracted by the equally dangerous antics of the MAGA nutcases and Neo-Nazis currently impeding rational governance  and fiscal meltdown in Congress–and relatively few voters pay attention.

It is absolutely true that both parties have engaged in political trickery–mostly at the local level–just as both parties have gerrymandered when in a position to do so. In the last couple of decades, however, it is the GOP that has benefitted–thanks in large part to the huge amounts of money these millionaires and billionaires have been willing to spend in order to foreclose the twin threats of increased regulation and increased taxation.

If the Democrats ever secure a real, working majority in Congress, they need to address the structures that are most anti-democratic–at least, the ones that are amenable to changes in rules (the filibuster) and statutory repair (gerrymandering, vote suppression). They can also address the corruption at the Supreme Court. There is nothing lawmakers can realistically do about distorted Senate representation, and the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would have to be passed by several Red States, which makes that effort to neuter the Electoral College unlikely.

But nothing good will happen without massive turnout that ignores third party candidates–real or fictitious.


  1. Neither oligarchy-controlled political party will address the much-needed changes in Washington because they benefit from the corrupt system. Koch and his ilk should have been charged for their part in the 1/6 acts of treason. They didn’t get an honorable mention!!!

    The debt ceiling debacle (staged) is now a minority of republicans holding the country ransom. This will be the case even if democrats have a majority.

    Ironically, several aged democrats slipped when being interviewed about 1/6 – they pointed out that “We need a strong republican party in Washington.” as their excuse for not charging all the republican 1/6 seditionists. Ooops!!!

    When political actors like Dianne Feinstein can no longer play their part, they are forced into retirement.

    Go, Robert Kennedy!!!

  2. “But nothing good will happen without massive turnout that ignores third party candidates–real or fictitious.”

    In my “Trump for President” yard sign littered neighborhood, my next door neighbors and I planted our “Bernie for President” yard signs. Once Hillary was the nominated candidate they placed a Green Party sign. What percentage of the more than SEVEN MILLION voters who voted Libertarian and Green Party were voting against Hillary or Trump is something we will never know. But we do know those SEVEN MILLION VOTES threw the election from Hillary’s popular vote win to the state’s Electoral College appointment of Trump…and the games began. The games continue as Trump and his minions remain above all laws which keeps them eligible to remain in office or run for office, including and primarily Trump who will complete his “deconstruction of the government” which he began on January 20, 2017.

    Are we democratic voters going to allow this to happen AGAIN or will we “get out the vote” and continue President Biden’s work to regain democracy, Rule of Law and uphold the Constitution for all Americans? Including those Republican voters who are voting against themselves.

  3. The ideal of “one man one vote” being applied to the idea of two federal senators for each state is a distortion itself. This application as used by partisan Democrats as a political war cry is as distorted as the old Republican cry of “state’s rights” used to undermine the power of the federal government.

  4. theres many 5 c groups,and counting. would someone suggest a site or two that keeps track of the pro/con left right of each. sites that have write ups are best/updated. i need some verbal ammo..

  5. Seeing the actual numbers of Democrat voters that don’t truly have representation in Congress is quite an eye-opener.

    If the younger and more fair-minded generations get the chance to take control of congress before the right wing is able to pollute their minds this country may have a chance to survive with a bit of democracy intact.

  6. “Democracy and Dirty Tricks” misses the point, I venture to say, because today’s dirty tricks
    are aimed at ending democracy. Neither the GQP, nor their funders are interested in anything
    other than money and the power it brings.
    I expect that they are secretly cheering the latest SCOTUS bowel movement, helping to destroy the
    capacity of the EPA to protect what little is left of the wilderness we forget we depend upon!

  7. If the Dems ever get a working majority, the first thing they should do is pass a bill eliminating the debt ceiling. Since rulemaking is done on January 3, of each new Congress, that is the time to eliminate the filibuster. It is a rule, not a law.

  8. Sheila – if No Labels has been registering as a political party across the nation then why must it take a lawsuit to stop them from being a 501(c)4? If they are already breaking the law why can’t the IRS, or whomever has the power to do so, just go ahead and remove their nonprofit registration?

  9. Justice detained is justice gone. Has anyone noticed how long it takes to investigate, charge and/or try anyone/any group who violates regulations and/or laws? Unless, of course, you are a poor child who steals a loaf of bread for her family….

    Name it: processing migrants, catching corporate criminals, tax dodgers, etc. no real money/effort spent at oversight and conviction.

  10. The Senate was designed as it is to serve as part of our system of checks and balances. What is wrong is not that there are 2 senators from each state, but how the Senate rules have changed in ways that allow a single senator to cause Senate business to grind to a halt!

  11. Nancy, a major goal of the GOP is to defund the IRS and neuter them to making them non-functional. Along with the rest of a functioning government. I’m not sure when most people will catch on to the damage being done.

  12. Is Biden going to fiddle while the country burns? Why isn’t he invoking the 14th Amendment on this debt ceiling crisis????????????????????

  13. Spot on. I love the argument that most parties do it. Also, those who say Koch et al should have been charged. Fortunately, we still presume innocence not guilt. Yes, the Senate is a relic but realistically can only be modified to limit its influence. In my youth I campaigned for Bobby Kennedy. No one should assume his son shares his father’s vision or love for our country.

  14. Sorry Sheila – I have to call you out on “both sides” again.

    Both sides gerrymander, but Michigan Democrats accepted a public commission (and won anyway), and Democratic New York possibly lost Congress through new districts (court ordered, if I recall).

    More to the point –

    Only one party redistricted a SECOND time (Tom DeLay) to impose gerrymandered districts and only one party invented a “too late to consider your Supreme Court nominee, but never too late to consider ours” rule.

    Stealing a candy bar and robbing Fort Knox are both robbery, but it’s not the same and hasn’t been since the time of Tom DeLay.

  15. Just now seeing this.

    You assert that the purpose of the No Labels party is to elect Donald Trump, but that’s is just a naked assertion on your part. In fact, many of the people behind No Labels are long time opponents of Trump. Couldn’t it be that there are people out there with money and political talent who sincerely believe neither Trump nor Biden is a good choice? Interest in a third alternative has never been higher.

    I agree with you that third parties are usually spoilers. (I would point out though that the GOP started out as a third party). And I think you’re probably correct about the political impact of the No Labels Party (God, I hate that name.) But I’m not 100% sure. Imagine a scenario in which Trump, Biden and someone like Joe Manchin are on the debate stage. While I know people on the left hate Manchin, the fact is Manchin could run circles around Trump and Biden at that debate and come across a lot more presidential to the American people than either Trump or Biden. I’m not sure he might not catch fire and have a shot at winning it all. I doubt it, but I’m not as certain as you are that the political implications of No Labels is that Trump gets elected.

    Not sure that a Manchin draws that much more from Biden than he draws from Trump. But considering one candidate – Trump – wants to overthrow American democracy, is it worth voting for a third party and possibly helping Trump get elected? Yeah, not convinced it’s worth the risk.

  16. Len,

    I seem to remember not that long ago the Democrats having a majority in the Indiana House while Republicans were overwhelmingly winning statewide races. So I’m pretty sure both sides gerrymander.

  17. Paul,

    You are missing the point. Both sides do, but the GOP has a lopsided record, especially in more recent times. Maybe they are just better at it, but only once has a state redistricted twice in a decade without a court order. The Democrats went tsk, tsk, but didn’t do what I wanted – immediately return the favor and put Henry Hyde and Dennis Hastert in a district with Danny Davis, the “squid district”. It’s not one-sided, just lopsided.

  18. Voting isn’t marriage – it’s public transport. You are not waiting for “the one” who is absolutely perfect. You are getting the bus. And if there isn’t one going exactly to your destination, you don’t stay at home and sulk – you take the one going closest to where you want to be.

    For the foreseeable future the US is locked into a two-party system. Historically, third party candidates harm the candidate they’re trying to distance themselves from. This time around, if you don’t vote for Biden, you’ll end up supporting trump no matter how you try to justify it. Own it.

    The point of the election is to win, and it takes 270 EVs to win. No third party candidate has a path to 270 EVs and voting for one is just a selfish feelgood exercise. If you’re not going to vote for one of the major party candidates, stay home.

  19. David Koch died in 2019. Charles Koch is still active as a conservative donor. Frederick R. Koch and Bill Koch are not involved in politics. There are no “Koch Brothers” donating to right-wing causes anymore.

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