Former MO Gov. Nixon responds to warnings from Democrats he’s helping Trump win in 2024

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Missouri Democrats are warning that former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s decision to join a group pushing for a third-party presidential candidate in the 2024 election could help former President Donald Trump return to the White House.

Such a candidate, Democrats argue, would siphon votes away from Democratic President Joe Biden and help Trump or another Republican nominee.

Nixon, who was Missouri governor from 2009 to 2017 and has largely stayed out of politics since leaving office, will serve as the director of ballot integrity for No Labels, a Washington, D.C.-based group that is seeking ballot access to run a potential third-party candidate.

“Disappointing but not shocking,” Jeff Smith, a former Democratic state lawmaker said in an interview with The Star. “When he was governor, he wasn’t seen as someone who spent a lot of time, energy building the state party.”

Missouri has undergone a seismic shift from a bellwether state to dark red in the years since Nixon took office. Republicans now hold every statewide office.

In an interview with The Star, Nixon largely sidestepped concerns that a third-party candidate would help elect Trump. He said he joined the group as an unpaid volunteer after learning that groups were organizing to limit No Labels’ ability to access the ballot in several states.

“They’re welcome to criticize whoever they want,” he said. “But they need to be consistent and honest when they do it.”

“For me, being involved in a situation that continues the ability of not only Missourians, but people across the country to choose candidates was the primary focus of my desire to get involved.”

In response to criticism from Democrats about his time as governor, Nixon said he was more focused on getting stuff done as governor than being the “most partisan Democrat.”

“If the criticism of Jay Nixon is that in my time of service, I was more focused on serving the people than I was serving my party, then I’ll take that criticism,” he said.

No Labels was founded in 2010 to promote compromise and centrist policies. The group has been criticized for not disclosing its financial backers.

According to its website, the organization is pushing for what it refers to as an insurance plan that would “allow a Unity ticket to run for president if the two major parties select candidates the vast majority of Americans don’t want to vote for in 2024.” The group has yet to choose a presidential candidate.

John Hancock, a former chair of the Missouri Republican Party, said he’s sure that many Republicans are celebrating Nixon’s decision to join the group.

“I think it will help elect Donald Trump — I think that’s why Democrats are upset with Nixon,” he said. “Trump’s base is much more firm than Biden’s. There’s a lot of Republicans who won’t vote for Trump. But there’s also an awful lot of Democrats that would prefer not to vote for Biden.”

Nixon has always positioned himself as a centrist “who was never really that popular with the Democratic Party base,” Hancock said. “In some respects, this is kind of on brand for Jay Nixon,” he said.

He said that while Nixon believes a third-party candidate could win the Electoral College, most people who follow presidential politics closely do not.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat, is among those pushing against No Labels’ effort. In an interview with The Star, Gephardt declined to directly criticize Nixon for joining the group but said the No Labels’ push for a third-party candidate was dangerous with Trump on the ballot.

“If there’s a third party candidate in a Biden Trump race, while a third party candidate won’t win, it will reelect Donald Trump,” he said. “We believe that a second Trump term will be much more dangerous than the first term was — that it will cause probably the end of our democracy.”

Trump refused to concede after losing the 2020 election to Biden, falsely claiming that the election was stolen. After months of conspiracy-mongering by Trump, a mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol in Washington, D.C. in an attempt to stop certification of the election on Jan. 6, 2021.

The concern among Democrats comes as Trump’s support remains strong among Republicans. In a New York Times-Siena College national poll conducted in late July, 54% of likely Republican voters say they support Trump, compared to 17% for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Nixon said he disagreed with the first part of Gephardt’s comments, reiterating that No Labels had not yet chosen a candidate. He said that critics of No Labels were “on down the line” while he was focused on getting the effort on the ballot.

“I don’t know what people are basing that on,” he said. “We don’t even know who that candidate is.”

Nixon, when asked whether he felt a third-party candidate could win, said he thinks “the best candidate can win any election.”

“There’s become this desire for both the Democrats and Republicans to be pure in their positions. That is not shared by the public. That is not shared by folks I know very well and served for over 30 years in elected office,” he said. “Politicians are headed one way towards a very narrow party in which they are dealing with some of the most extreme factions of their party, but the public is being left behind.”

When asked by The Star whether he would leave the group if Biden and Trump are the two nominees for president in 2024, Nixon was noncommittal saying that he was going to “continue to work to make sure that the ballot access issues are as clean and as open as possible.”

Former Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, did not respond Monday when asked by The Star for a reaction to Nixon’s involvement with No Labels. However, she criticized the group in a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch without directly referencing the former governor.

“It is because we care deeply about our democracy that many thoughtful patriotic Americans are worried about this effort,” she said, according to the newspaper. “They know, and the data is clear, that their efforts will only do one thing in 2024. And that is to help the criminally indicted Donald Trump.”

Nixon said on Tuesday that he’s “not in this for the politics.”

“I’m in this for the pillar of democracy that is being undermined if groups work hard to make sure that they limit the citizens’ right to petition their government and put people on the ballot. I think that’s fundamentally wrong,” he said.