MANCHESTER — Panera Bread Founder and Chairman Ron Shaich was in New Hampshire Monday headlining a No Labels town hall meeting, where the bipartisan group unveiled details of it’s new ‘Unity’ campaign.
The event was held at the Puritan Conference Center in Manchester, with more than 200 people in attendance.
According to a release from No Labels, the Unity campaign aims to rally public support for a policy platform and an approach to governing that can be embraced by both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates running in 2020.
“I think what unites all of us is our sense of concern,” said Shaich. “I believe we’ve been fed a false narrative and that narrative is we’re all divided, and that we should appeal to our most basic instinct to go after the other guy. Like many of you I don’t believe that. Quite frankly it defies everything I believe as a business leader. I’ve seen time and again what happens when we unite people. The only special interest that isn’t organized in D.C. is the common interest.”
“As we look toward the 2020 presidential election, there appears to be no end in sight to our tribal politics and both sides appear to be gearing up for an ugly and divisive campaign,” said No Labels Co-Chair Joe Lieberman in a statement. “This is a surefire recipe for everything in our politics to get worse. There is only one way out of this endless cycle of overreach and retribution and that is presidential candidates who pledge — in words and through policy commitments — to uniting the country.”
Shaich, a longtime supporter of No Labels, was joined on stage by No Labels co-founder Bill Galston and Chief Strategist Ryan Clancy. The trio discussed the challenges and highlighted steps presidential candidates could take to promote national unity, including a bipartisan cabinet and concrete commitments to deal with issues like infrastructure, education, immigration, the deficit, and securing America’s social safety net in a bipartisan way.
“I love New Hampshire,” said Galston. “I’ve been coming up here for political and other purposes for almost four decades. There’s no other state that takes democracy with a small ‘d’ as serious as New Hampshire does. There’s no other state that takes citizenship as serious as New Hampshire does.”
Monday’s event was the kickoff to a year-long effort that will see No Labels look to organize citizens behind the Unity campaign, which will culminate on Nov. 3, 2019, when 2,000 New Hampshire voters gather to meet presidential candidates from both parties.
Clancy discussed several “foundational” ideas of the group’s Unity plan — forming a bipartisan cabinet; question time for the President (taking a cue from British parliament); regular bipartisan meetings with Congressional leaders; and a pledge that within 90 days of taking office they will produce a comprehensive immigration reform package that can pass Congress and the American people can support.
“The common ground is there if our leaders are willing to find it,” said Clancy. “
Clancy also highlighted issues like improving education, infrastructure, social security, the country’s deficit, and immigration.
“What I’m not hearing here is – what is this list?” said a woman in the audience. “How do you go out and argue this. How do you accomplish these. There are too many things.”
“Listening to you reminds me of … how many remember when Ronald Reagan was President?” said Shaich. “He had four items written down on an index card. Four items — but he accomplished all of them.”
“This is the first meeting we’re having on this,” said Clancy. “In a lot of ways, what you’re seeing tonight is a draft.”
“It is early in the process, and we don’t yet know exactly what form a Unity campaign can take,” said Shaich. “But we do know it is essential. We do know that two years of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates denouncing and destroying one another will only worsen the divide in our country and make it even harder to solve our common challenges. We know that a presidential candidate who unites America around our common interests is what we need and what the American people want.”
No Labels Founder and CEO Nancy Jacobson said starting in January her group plans to send supporters across New Hampshire to spread a “unity message” promoting bipartisan cooperation. No Labels also plans to launch ads in the Granite State as part of its new campaign.
According to Jacobson, the effort will culminate in November 2019 with a 2,000-person convention aimed at bringing together presidential candidates who share No Labels’ Unity guidelines.
In marketing materials, No Labels refers to itself as “a movement for the tens of millions of Americans who are fed up with the dysfunction and will no longer put up with a government that does not represent the interests of most Americans.” The group’s past co-chairs include former Republican presidential candidate and current ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman and Lieberman, a former Democratic and independent senator.
Mark McLaughlin, a member of Problem Solvers of New Hampshire, encouraged those interested to join the movement.
“We’ve been working in the state for about a year and a half, working really hard,” said McLaughlin. “We want to get more boots on the ground.”