A New Conservative Party?

Some marginal Republican formers are thinking about maybe doing somethingoranother.

CNN (“Former Republican officials float possibility of forming ‘center-right’ party“):

A group of more than 100 former Republican officials have discussed the possibility of forming a conservative party due to their unhappiness with the direction of the GOP under former President Donald Trump and the likelihood he’ll be acquitted at the end of his second impeachment trial, according to Republicans who participated in the conversation.

Former Republican House Rep. Charlie Dent confirmed to CNN that he and about 120 Republicans held a conversation last Friday about whether to form a new party or a new faction within the Republican Party that would operate independently from the GOP.”

Clearly, there are a number of Republicans like myself and other Republican leaders, who want a clean break from President Trump, and we are kind of rallying around some core founding principles like truth and honesty, and democracy, and rule of law,” the former Pennsylvania congressman, who is a CNN contributor, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday.

The remarkable move would exemplify how fractured the Republican Party is, but Trump still has a high approval rating among Republican voters and the two-party system has dominated the US political system for centuries.

Well, for 160 years, anyway.

Regardless, there are some 100-120 people who would like to do somethingoranother about this.

Evan McMullin, a former House GOP aide and current executive director of Stand Up Republic, confirmed to CNN that he organized the virtual meeting and argued that “there’s a need for something new, whether it’s in the Republican Party or outside of it.”

“The current direction of the party is destructive, both for its own interests, but most importantly, for the interests of the country,” he told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield on Sunday, adding, “So as extreme as some members of Congress are getting on the Republican side, as the party deals with those related issues, there’s also an opportunity for renewal and rebirth, and that’s what we spoke about.”

He said that if a new faction is formed, they would put forth their own Republican candidates and even, in some cases, support Democratic candidates for election.

McMullin, who ran as an Independent for president in 2016, acknowledged that the Republican Party is still largely under Trump’s control.

“What we’re about is a new direction for the party, and we’re trying to unite people who are committed to our foundational values, to democracy, and to who are desiring that, regardless of who they supported in the past, and the fact our numbers are growing is the most exciting thing about it,” he said.

This isn’t a plan but a venting of frustration.

Running “True Conservative” candidates in the Republican Party is theoretically a winning strategy. It’s essentially the Tea Party model. The problem, however, is that it’s pretty clear there aren’t enough True Conservatives in the Republican nominating electorate to win Republican primaries. That’s possibly changeable but it’s not at all clear what message McMullin and company propose to use to defeat the Tea Party/Trump/Patriot/populist agenda.

Supporting Democrats serves the purpose of defeating Trumpists but the best vehicle for doing that is the Democratic Party. Indeed, under current circumstances, it’s more plausible that center-right erstwhile Republicans could make inroads in influencing the Democratic platform and nominating center-right candidates in that party than in the GOP.

Running independent candidates just muddies the waters, almost certainly yielding worse results from a conservative perspective than trying to influence the Republican Party from within.

Forming a permanent alternative party carries the same pitfalls. Even if True Conservatives constituted, say, 15 percent of the voting population—and I suspect that’s a high estimate—and could actually convince all of them to “waste” their vote on True Conservative Party candidates, one imagines the outcome would be to elect more Democrats to the House and Senate, since the TCP would almost certainly draw more votes away from would-be Republican voters than would-be Democratic voters. Aside from possibly Utah, I can’t imagine the state where the TCP candidate would win the plurality for President or Senator in a statewide contest.

If the TCP platform were written to appeal directly to me—indeed, if the organizers crafted the platform by offering me policy options and saying, “James, which one should we go with?”—I’m not sure that I would vote for its candidates. Under our system, I’m better off casting my vote strategically in primary elections and casting my general election ballot for a candidate who can win.

FILED UNDER: Politics 101, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Beautiful dreamer…

    With the Dem party still controlled by centrist/center left voters and pols, conservatives would have far more influence by joining the Dems and helping them elect legislators and congress critters in suburban x-urban districts. Yes the progressive wing of the party will whine, but stable Dem majority could result at a Federal level and be competitive in more states.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    Well said, James. I would only add that this hasn’t happened in either California or Oregon despite their respective branches of the GOP being just as useless and vile.

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  3. Teve says:

    Ha No.

  4. charon says:

    The timing is not ripe, the GOP is still too strong.

    I stand by my projection the GOP disintegrates perhaps 2028 or so and something new forms from some of the fragments.

  5. Kathy says:

    The only realistic path I see for a new party, is if the majority of an existing party left to form their own. Say 75-80% of Democrat or Republican elected and appointed officials, operatives, pollsters, were to leave.

    But then, if that many felt so strongly about it, they’d have an easier time expelling the other 20-25%, bye denying them all backing, access to donor networks, etc.

    America has two real parties and a bunch of wannabes. Absent structural reform, the only path to a “new” party is to hijack or take over an existing one, like the trumpistas did.

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  6. Andy says:

    That’s just a dumb idea. That it comes from supposedly professional political operatives from the increasingly whiny GoP former establishment makes it even dumber because they should know better.

    Politics is about power. Political operatives and professional politicians are supposed to want to achieve and wield power to achieve specific ends. Pouting off the field because you’re not the team captain anymore doesn’t work in our binary system.

    The only real option they have is to fight for control of the ghost ship that is the Republican party. Maybe they’ll lose those fights for a while or maybe even forever, but that’s the way it works.

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  7. charon says:

    @Andy:

    One of the other threads here talked about John Boehner and Kevin McCarthy.

    The GOP is on track for more Freedom Caucus, less anything else. More and more control to Jim Jordon etc. The “RINO’s” will gradually give up and leave or get banished, there is no mechanism available for the GOP to stop ratcheting towards more theocracy, more conspiracy stuff, more white nationalism etc.

    This will continue for a while, but it is eventually unsustainable, the demographic and social trends will kill it.

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  8. charon says:

    @Kathy:

    Absent structural reform, the only path to a “new” party is to hijack or take over an existing one, like the trumpistas did.

    Part of the new GOP was fragments from the breakup of the old Whigs. I can see something like that to form out of the GOP.

  9. Kathy says:

    @charon:

    I don’t know. Circumstances were very different.

    My first historical principle is “nothing lasts forever.” So, eventually the party duopoly will fall. It has to. How long till it does, though, is impossible to say. I could imagine a sizable plurality leaving the GOP to form their own party, but, again, given the structural situation, it would make more sense to try to take over the existing party.

    I’ll hazard a prediction: no large contingent of Republicans will leave the GOP until they suffer a catastrophic electoral loss. By this I mean they lose the House, Senate and White House, but by huge margins. Like 65 Democratic senators, 350 Democratic House seats, and win less than ten states in the EC (losing Texas and Florida).

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  10. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Kathy:

    I could imagine a sizable plurality leaving the GOP to form their own party, but, again, given the structural situation, it would make more sense to try to take over the existing party.

    Over in the open forum, I posted a link to the Reuters story about this. It’s a little bit better-written than the CNN piece, and includes this quote:

    The plan would be to run candidates in some races but also to endorse center-right candidates in others, be they Republicans, independents or Democrats

    (Emphasis mine)

    That seems to indicate that they’re not really forming a new “party”, but more of a conservative caucus that will promote and support center-right candidates. If they have the money and resources to do so, this seems to be the way to pull both parties back from their extremes (far more on the right than the left).

    45% of people identify as “independent” (vs. 24% R and 30% D), and 38% consider themselves to be “moderate”. Whenever we look at stats on “X% of R/D think this”, we’re making an assumption that each group is somewhat close to half of the population. They’re not. They’re just under a quarter and a third.

    This article from Gallup has some interesting information and trends.*

    * 25% of Republicans identify as moderate or liberal (21/4)
    * 50% of Democrats identify as moderate or conservative (36/14)
    * Independents, from left to right, are 21/45/30

    If the idea is to put real strength and clout behind center-right candidates (regardless of party), this has a reasonable chance of working. The question is: Does this group have enough money, skill, and political capital to pull it off?

    ——-
    * Some of these stats conflict with other stats from Gallup, so there’s room for debate, but the general trends line up fairly well.

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  11. Gavin says:

    James, neither Trump nor anyone currently running in the Republican party is a populist. They’re using the word in an attempt to deliberately confuse the name – and/or draw in anyone uncurious enough to investigate the actual definition of the term.

    Populism represents the economic interests of the working class – and, as such, is detested and rejected by the upper classes.. of both current parties.

    “Right wing populism,” with its top-down power hierarchy, is the latest incarnation of Father Coughlin or Huey Long demagoguery.

    Much populist language is a marketing strategy for an ideology based solidly in meritocratic deference to elites and experts.. who are naturally drawn from the elite class.

    For anyone interested in learning more.. Thomas Frank’s The People, No is a great book.

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  12. DrDaveT says:

    Perhaps they could call it the “Weak Tea Party”…

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  13. DrDaveT says:

    @Gavin:

    Populism represents the economic interests of the working class

    No, that would be Communism. Almost by definition.

    Populism panders to the policy preferences of the masses, many of which are either independent of or in direct conflict with their economic interests, or at least those of their children and grandchildren.

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  14. CSK says:

    @DrDaveT:
    Just as a matter of curiosity, Steve Bannon once described himself as an “economic populist.”

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: 😀

    Mostly, this sounds to me like “let’s get back to supply-side economics and dog whistling about keeping those people in their place.” What didn’t they get with Trump? Other than the reputation of being sane competent human beings, that is. Taking the Trumpiness out of conservatism won’t make it a better philosophy nor will taking it out of the GOP make it a better party. Trump, warts and all, is who they are. Embrace the abyss, guys. It’s even winking at you!

  16. @Mu Yixiao:

    If the idea is to put real strength and clout behind center-right candidates (regardless of party), this has a reasonable chance of working.

    This dream is at least as old as Perot. It sounds reasonable, but it is fraught with problems.

    First, and without going into my normal discussion of what “independent” probably really means, let’s not forget that whatever the national distribution of ideology is, that distribution is not replicated across the 435 House districts, nor the 50 states. Each district has its own distribution (many of which are gerrymandered or affected by geographic sorting, or both) as does each state. And since the pres is elected by the EC, the national distribution of ideology is distorted there are well.

    Put another way, while there is power to the median voter theory, the median is not uniform in each district.

  17. @Gavin: Populism is style of politics, not an ideology. It can be a left-populism (Peron) or a right-populism (Fujimori).

    And even when it claims to serve a specific mass (like Peron and labor) it does not necessarily always deliver the goods.

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  18. A major fallacy in this “let’s form a Conservative Party” fantasy is that they have to get candidates to sign up to be willing to lose seats that could be won more easily as Republicans.

    I am all for them trying, as one of the known routes to real electoral reform is when new parties emerge and mess up the equilibrium of the existing system. The main way to get Reps interested in fixing the system is if a spoiler CP started costing them seats.

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  19. Teve says:

    DrDaveT says:
    Thursday, February 11, 2021 at 18:21
    @Gavin:

    Populism represents the economic interests of the working class

    No, that would be Communism. Almost by definition.

    I don’t think that’s true at all. I think European democratic socialists would say that they represent the economic interests of the working class vastly better than communists ever did.

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  20. Teve says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: You can have ideological populism though can’t you? An anti-immigrant, Nationalist populism would be ideological I would think.

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @Teve:

    I don’t think that’s true at all. I think European democratic socialists would say that they represent the economic interests of the working class vastly better than communists ever did.

    We could have a great conversation over a couple of beers, I think.

    I was making a probably invisible distinction between actually being economically better for workers, versus taking “representing the economic interests of the working class” as your mission statement. Communism is defined by its advocacy for the working class. Democratic socialism, European style, is basically capitalism with enough regulation and safety nets to keep the working class from being exploited or left behind. I agree with you that it’s probably better for the working class in the long run, if you do it right — but its mission statement is not advocacy for the economic interests of the working class. And it’s hard to do it right.

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  22. Raoul says:

    This is all so ridiculous. From a European perspective the Dems would be considered center/center-right. What space does the NCP is going to find and specifically what specific policies will they propose. The reason Trump was able to take over the GOP is because they stood for nothing- or shall we say they didn’t necessarily disagreed with the Dems except in timing. With the possible exception of abortion what issue are leaders of the GOP oppose that Dems support. Multilateralism, gay rights, AHCA, SSA, environment, minimum wage. All have a level of support in the GOP. The GOP is a revanchist party that exists as an aggrieved party that merely wants to hold power without any policy proposals that lead to real solutions of today’s problems. The NCP would be the same without the dirty laundry (racism).

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  23. Teve says:

    @DrDaveT: I’ll go along with nominally Communism represents the interests of the working class. In practical terms, I think of all the economic systems in the world, in practice democratic socialism does the most for the working class.

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  24. FredW says:

    I am surprised that the idea hasn’t taken hold in California or Washington (and now Alaska) who have a non-partisan “jungle primary.” In the current Congress a block of 10-15 Reps or 4-5 Senators would have a lot of power.

    As Dem, in the short term I am happy if the GOP self destructs but in the long term we are better with two (sane) parties.

  25. Ken_L says:

    If I understand the alleged proposal correctly, it’s this: a bunch of people who’ve been comically unable to attract support within the Republican Party are contemplating starting a new one, which like Evan McMullin in 2016 will be comically unable to attract support within the wider electorate. Gay pedophiles in the leadership team will be optional.

    Sounds like a winning initiative.

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  26. Gustopher says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    45% of people identify as “independent” (vs. 24% R and 30% D), and 38% consider themselves to be “moderate”. Whenever we look at stats on “X% of R/D think this”, we’re making an assumption that each group is somewhat close to half of the population. They’re not. They’re just under a quarter and a third.

    This article from Gallup has some interesting information and trends.*

    * 25% of Republicans identify as moderate or liberal (21/4)
    * 50% of Democrats identify as moderate or conservative (36/14)
    * Independents, from left to right, are 21/45/30

    Here’s a problem with polls like that: I identify myself as conservative. I support time honored American values like equal rights, breaking up monopolies, maximizing individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, good governance and taxing the wealthy like it’s 1965. I favor private enterprise over the government, until it is shown that private enterprise isn’t working. I prefer incremental change over radical change.

    All in all, pretty conservative*.

    I don’t know what the fuck Republicans mean by conservative. They’ve been on the way to crazy town since 2000, although I could make a decent case that this started way back with voodoo economics.

    I may be an outlier, but a conservative Democrat and a Trumpy Republican who thinks the election was stolen by Jewish Space Lasers are both going to identify as conservative, and at that point the labels you refer to have no meaning. No one is identifying themselves as batshit insane proto-fascist loony tunes, for instance and that’s a huge chunk of the Republican base.

    If you want to say that there’s a big chunk of America that supports conservative policies, you have to identify those conservative policies. Does it include welcoming hard-working immigrants, and letting them achieve the American Dream, just as most of our forefathers did? Is the ecological conservation promoted by Teddy Roosevelt part of it?

    ——
    *: I voted for George HW Bush, totally buying into his claims of equality of opportunity but not a guarantee of results, and the like. It’s very possible that I was an idiot, but all young men are.

    And all those pretty things the Republicans at that time talked about, protecting the middle class, supporting our allies abroad and trading with our enemies to export our values… I’ve discovered that Democrats do a better job of delivering on those promises.

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  27. gVOR08 says:

    The article quotes Charlie Dent,

    we are kind of rallying around some core founding principles like truth and honesty, and democracy, and rule of law

    I expect he’s also fond of apple pie and motherhood. And he doesn’t want to be a Democrat.

    I sometimes read TAC trying to understand conservatism. They ran a whole series on What is Conservatism. The only possible conclusion from the series is that they haven’t got a clue what conservatism is, but they fervently support it. And they’re sure they’re more moral than Democrats.

    Is this what conservatism has become in the 21st century? Remove the crazy and it’s a vacuum? Nothing but platitudes and the certainty they’re somehow better than Democrats? It really is opposition to what liberals want today, updated daily. Except that in practice it becomes protection of the currently wealthy and powerful.

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  28. @Teve:

    You can have ideological populism though can’t you? An anti-immigrant, Nationalist populism would be ideological I would think.

    A populist can very much be ideological. And can use a populistic approach to further than ideology. I am just saying that “populism” itself is not an ideology in and of itself. It is a way of doing politics, but it is not a specific theory of governing/politics.