In my home state of New York, we actually have a Conservative Party that was designed to serve exactly the role that Jonah envisions, and which he suggests as a role model. At one time, that was a workable model. It ran William F. Buckley Jr. for mayor of New York City in 1965, and while that race was futile (it was won by liberal Republican John Lindsay), it made an important statement. The party got James Buckley elected to the Senate in 1970, over the objections of the Rockefeller-dominated New York Republicans. Its backing helped launch Alfonse D’Amato to a Republican primary victory and a Senate seat in 1980. As recently as 1990, it split the general-election vote evenly for governor between the Republican Pierre Rinfret’s 21.4 percent and the Conservative Herbert London’s 20.4 percent. Mario Cuomo, who won that race, was defeated four years later when George Pataki unified the two factions.
How well does that work in the 21st century? In 2010, the Conservatives nominated moderate Republican Rick Lazio, who lost the Republican primary to the proto-Trump candidate Carl Paladino (to my regret, I voted for Paladino out of bitterness over the consultant-driven fiasco of Lazio’s 2000 Senate campaign). Lazio withdrew from the race, the Conservatives fell in line behind Paladino, and Andrew Cuomo cruised to victory in what was otherwise a great Tea Party Republican year.