It was a fine idea while it lasted.
No, actually, it was a terrible idea. Trump can do at least as much damage to establishment Republicans backing primary challengers as he could organizing a third party. Let’s say he got “the Patriot Party” off the ground, hired people to make sure it was on the ballot in all 50 states, and then fielded a slew of candidates in House and Senate races. Let’s further say that 25 percent of Republican Party voters *initially* decided to support the Patriot Party candidate over the Republican alternative. As Election Day got closer, negative partisanship would begin to gnaw at those voters and they’d start thinking strategically: “If I vote for Trump’s candidate, the right-wing vote will split and the Democrat will win.” Eventually a meaningful number of Trump supporters would decide to vote GOP anyway in the interest of stopping the left.
But not all would. I’m sure the Patriot Party would succeed in tanking Republicans’ chances in a slew of races. What kind of headlines would that deliver for Trump the next day, though? “DEMS WIN HISTORIC SWEEP, ENABLED BY TRUMP SPOILERS.” Or “TRUMP PARTY TAKES JUST 10% OF VOTE.”
Is that the kind of return Trump wants for his time and money? Ten percent of the vote and no actual victories?
In fact, according to both the Washington Post and the Daily Beast, it’s unclear if Trump was serious about a third party when he brought it up to aides. It sounds like his interest was chiefly as a threat, to spook the Republican jurors in his Senate trial:
Multiple people in Trump’s orbit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, say Trump has told people that the third-party threat gives him leverage to prevent Republican senators from voting to convict him during the Senate impeachment trial. Trump advisers also say they plan to recruit opposing primary candidates and commission polling next week in districts of targeted lawmakers. Trump has more than $70 million in campaign cash banked to fund his political efforts, these people say.
The prospect of a divisive battle threatens to widen a split in the Republican Party and has alarmed leaders in Washington, who have been pleading publicly to avoid any new rounds of internecine retribution. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel are among the leaders who have worked to protect politicians like Cheney, who supported Trump’s second impeachment and now faces an internal effort to remove her from her role as the third-highest-ranking member of the House Republican leadership.
If the third-party talk was all about gaining leverage over his jurors, why is he giving up on it before the trial’s even been gaveled in? Because, silly: He figured out that most Republicans in the Senate are cowards who’d never put their own asses on the line in the name of doing the right thing. He doesn’t need to threaten them. They’ll roll over on command:
In last 24 hours, after floating through a few folks that he was considering creating a third-party as a way to keep Senate Rs in line ahead of impeachment, Trump has been talked out of that and is making clear to people he isn't pursuing it, per ppl familiar w his thinking.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 24, 2021
There’s also the fact that threatening a third party while simultaneously threatening primaries makes no sense, which some folks gently pointed out to him.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 24, 2021
It’d be funny if he pulled the trigger on a third party and a bunch of Senate Republicans ended up being successfully primaried by MAGA types anyway. Who would Trump support in a general election between a Democrat, a Trump-loving QAnoner who won the Republican primary, and a Trump-loving QAnoner running as a member of his own Patriot Party?
Would the Republican candidate be attacked as a “fake” Trumper because he/she didn’t join the Patriot Party? How would the differences between the two right-wing candidates be litigated?
Anyway, skirmishes between Trumpist and establishment Republican forces are already happening at the state level, with victories for both sides. This weekend in Kentucky, MAGA types tried to get the state GOP to pass a resolution urging Mitch McConnell to stand with the ex-president amid rumors that he’s open to voting to convict. Cocaine Mitch has a lot of juice in his home state, though, so it went nowhere:
The Republican Party of Kentucky’s State Central Committee rejected a resolution Saturday that would have urged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to fully support former President Donald Trump and condemn his second impeachment.
The committee met Saturday to consider the proposal after the Republican Party of Nelson County announced more than 30 GOP county chairs and vice chairs had called for a meeting to consider the resolution aimed at the commonwealth’s longtime senator.
Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Mac Brown called the resolution out of order, and the majority of the committee agreed, a member told The Courier Journal after the meeting. The final vote agreeing the resolution should be deemed out of order was 134-49, the member said.
We’ll see what happens on the next motion if McConnell actually has the stones to vote against Trump at his trial. This motion may have been defeated purely because state officials thought that trying to strongarm the most powerful Republican in the state while he’s still making up his mind would be the wrong approach. Meanwhile, in Arizona, MAGA types notched a win when the stupidest state party in America proceeded to censure former Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain for being insufficiently supportive of their hero, Donald Trump, and Gov. Doug Ducey for supporting lockdowns. (Trump also recorded a message endorsing Kelli Ward for another term as state party chairman ahead of a vote that she won narrowly.) I don’t know how many Republican fans Flake still has in Arizona but I guarantee that McCain and Ducey, the sitting governor, still have some. A state party that was interested in winning elections instead of doing Trumpist performance art would never gratuitously offend voters on their own side by squabbling with other figures in the party. The fact that the Arizona GOP did so helps explain why they’ve lost two Senate seats there and can’t convince Ducey to challenge Mark Kelly in 2022 even though he’s their strongest potential candidate.
“Right now on the Republican side, I don’t have a word to describe what is going on,” said the head of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce to WaPo. “Whatever the worst-case scenario is, this is worse. There will be a reaction to this. I have no doubt about it.” What’s scary is that there’s a case to be made that the Arizona GOP *isn’t* the worst state party out there right now even though it’s all but given up on doing what parties are supposed to do, getting people elected. The Texas GOP has taken to winking at QAnon with references to “the storm,” although of course they deny it:
We're on Gab! pic.twitter.com/7KJ64xPBcu
— Texas GOP (@TexasGOP) January 23, 2021
The Hawaii GOP posted a series of tweets over the weekend defending QAnoners as well-meaning patriots, which eventually led to their vice chairman of communications resigning. Less than a week ago, the Oregon GOP condemned the 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment in a statement alleging “growing evidence that the violence at the Capitol was a ‘false flag’ operation.” You can sneer at all of this as the crankification of party leadership, but the truth is more sinister. If the parties are flirting with crankery, it’s only because they sense a broad demand among their constituents and are scrambling to meet it. Whether a slate of kooky MAGAfied Republican nominees can win in numbers at the congressional and especially the state level is *the* political question of 2022.
I’ll leave you with this guy, who occupies an interesting niche right now in the civil war. Sort of Trumpy, sort of not.
“This election was not stolen … there were no type of irregularities that would have changed the result in one state,” Chris Christie says, adding that Republicans making the claim are trying to score "political points” with people Trump “lied to.” https://t.co/oQYlmOfsHG pic.twitter.com/HcW8pihN1k
— ABC News (@ABC) January 24, 2021