Yesterday, Allahpundit discussed the results of yet another poll indicating that at least a plurality of registered Republicans would be open to abandoning the GOP for some new party based on keeping Donald Trump as the leader of the conservative movement. Historically, political organizations based on a single person rather than a core set of principles and policy positions haven’t tended to have legs. (Look no further than the Bull Moose Party for an example.) But since there is still clearly enough interest in the possibility, it’s worth looking at how that might play out in an election.
Democrats and their media enablers are obviously excited about the idea. It makes for some great headlines about how the Republican Party is “divided” and destined to slide toward extinction, leaving the liberals in charge of everything for at least the next generation. Allahpundit showcased that working theory, describing the current GOP as a “50/30/20 party,” with ominous tidings for 2024 and beyond.
As a rule of thumb, we should probably assume going forward that 50 percent of Republicans are Trumpist RINOs, loyal to the former president but not to the party; another 30 percent like Trump but aren’t quite as willing to shed the Republican label, and another 20 percent think it’s time for a new direction.
Can a 50/30/20 party be competitive in elections? It can if the “20” group is motivated mainly by negative partisanship, wanting to keep Democrats out of power at all costs. If and when that changes, the party collapses. Meanwhile, the “50” group that has no use for the party per se obviously can only be kept onside by giving Trump a major role going forward. Once he ceases to identify with the GOP, it collapses even more catastrophically.
While I agree that having a new “Trump brand” party thrown into the mix would bleed off registered Republican voters and almost certainly impact GOP fundraising, how that works out at the ballot box probably isn’t nearly as cut and dried as is being suggested. For an example, we can take a look at the state GOP in New York and their own competitive third party. For well over half a century, the Conservative Party of New York State has existed alongside the Republicans and the Democrats. (Disclosure: I’m a member of the CPNYS and haven’t been a registered Republican for decades.) The Conservative Party acts as a counterbalance to some of the worst impulses of liberal Republicans who frequently crop up and seek office. The CPNYS has a couple of hundred thousand members and qualifies for a line on the ballot every election cycle.
While they aren’t big enough to win statewide elections on their own, they’ve proven able to derail the electoral hopes of liberal Republicans who fail to gain their endorsement. The Democrats have a similar feature in New York with the Working Families Party, comprised of people who think New York Democrats aren’t quite socialist enough for their tastes.
Republicans haven’t held a statewide office since Governor George Pataki left in 2006, but that’s not because of the Conservative Party. Democrats and left-leaning independents simply outnumber both Republicans and Conservatives by too large of a margin. But the GOP still wins plenty of local, state and congressional races, mostly outside of New York City. And they do it, at least in part, because the Conservative Party endorses the majority of GOP candidates if they don’t have wildly liberal track records and they ring up plenty of votes for them.
So does this translate to the national level, assuming some new Trump Party siphons off a significant number of registered Republicans? A better question is whether it translates to the state level because that’s how presidential elections are decided. In each state where the Trump Party builds a significant following, conservative voters in the new party will be faced with three choices. They’ll either have to endorse the GOP nominee or run a different candidate, immediately dooming the Republican’s chances of carrying the state. Alternately, they can throw up their hands and become “red dog Democrats” as Allahpundit suggested.
Which of those scenarios sounds the most likely to you? I would argue that anyone who adheres to strictly conservative values would neither vote for the Democrat nor try to doom the Republican, which basically works out to be the same thing. The GOP candidate would have to put in the extra work to win over the Trump Party members and gain the party’s endorsement, but the vote totals would likely come out to be close to the same, despite having to count them on different ballot lines. The bigger danger as I see it would be a suppression of voter enthusiasm if there’s too much infighting between the two parties. Too many people staying home can doom a candidacy just as fast as splitting the electorate.
I don’t know if an actual Trump Party will emerge in the coming year, but I’m not going to lose much sleep if it does. And I won’t be joining it, since I’m quite content with my current third-party status. But just think of all the fodder for cable news shows and blogs that will be coming our way if it happens.