The bipartisan good government group No Labels thanked six presidential candidates Monday for taking its "Problem Solver Promise," commemorating the event with a New Hampshire event that none of the candidates attended in person. One seemed particularly distant from the Radisson in downtown Manchester: pledge-taker Donald Trump.
"We had no idea when we started out down this road how many candidates would make the Problem Solver Promise," said No Labels's co-chairman and former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman, a longtime Democrat from Connecticut who retired as an independent after losing his party's primary. "Today, six have! I'm glad we got six. We could have gotten zero."
The six candidates were Trump, Republican Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (R) and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley (D). All they needed to do was agree to the group's four concepts, with extremely loose guidelines.
- Create 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years
- Secure Social Security and Medicare for the next 75 years
- Balance the federal budget by 2030
- Make America energy secure by 2024
The six candidates have all made bipartisan or post-political stories part of their campaign narratives. Yet Trump's appearance at the No Labels's October all-candidate event was poorly received, defined more by his characteristic attacks on anyone who seemed to be threatening him at the moment.
"When it becomes a different kind of situation, you'll see, I'm going to be much less divisive," Trump insisted. "But always remember this: I never start anything. I simply counterpunch."
When not counterpunching, Trump has built significant polling leads based on his mixture of economic populism and close-the-borders nativism. Accepting No Labels laurels on Trump's behalf, New Hampshire state Rep. Steve Stepanek said the candidate was "uniting the American people against a political establishment that has failed them" and would make good on all four promises.
"Mr. Trump would also add a fifth promise: Make America safe, secure, and a global leader again," said Stepanek. "I believe all of these promises fit under the label, Make America Great Again... The people who are joining our campaign are not always conservative Republicans like myself. They are independents, and yes, even Democrats."
Surrogates for Carson, Paul and Kasich told the No Labels lunchtime audience that their candidates were excited to start uniting the country. Christie, who spoke via a video feed, was the one candidate who took questions -- both of them friendly, giving him a chance to talk about Social Security reform and term limits.
But O'Malley, who also spoke onscreen, got his loudest applause when he asked what No Labels was doing, exactly, by lending its brand to Trump.
"When Donald Trump says all immigrants are rapists and criminals, that's not being a problem solver," O'Malley said. "There are other adjectives for that – one of them being ‘racist.’ When he calls for ID badges for Muslims, that's not being a problem solver. That’s called making a fascist appeal. I would encourage you not to dumb down this label."
No Labels has adapted to the rise of Trump more smoothly than other political groups. No Labels co-chairman Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China, has consistently given Trump a solid chance of winning the nomination of a fractured GOP.
"People want a big, loud, brash protest vote right now," Huntsman told CNN this summer. "That's a good chunk of the Republican Party. And he is that person. And he embodies exactly the anger and the disgust that so many have about politics. He'll either take that to the early primaries and perform well, or he'll crash and burn."