There will be a lot of scoffing – and some cheering – for the news that Miles Taylor – formerly known as “Anonymous” – has organized more than 100 Republicans, including some former elected officials, to sign a letter this week threatening to form a third party.
People will point out, accurately, that the signers are largely retired and, as far as we know, not intending to run for public office again anytime soon. “Reuters reported earlier that the former governors Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey will sign it, as will former Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters and former Representatives Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Reid Ribble of Wisconsin and Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma.”
People will fairly ask just what form this proposed new party will have. A political party – or at least a good and functioning one – needs more than a longshot presidential candidate. Just in 2022 alone, Americans will go to their polling places and vote on 34 Senators, 435 House members, 36 governors, 30 state attorney generals, 6,163 state legislative seats, and 18 mayors in the country’s 100 largest cities, not to mention all of the local city council, town council, county board of supervisors, local boards of education, etc.
The Republican party, as it currently stands, runs candidates for the overwhelming majority of those races. Is the plan for this new right-leaning third party to simply poach existing Republican officeholders who share their opposition to Donald Trump’s insane conspiracy theories? Or is the idea that between now and November 2022, hundreds of candidates who are conservative in their thinking and policy proposals, but resolutely anti-Trump, will emerge? Or is the plan to aim for situations like New York state, where candidates can run as the nominee of more than one party?
You can ask the Libertarians and Greens how hard it is to gain traction in a political environment shaped, and catering to, the two-party system. Successfully building a lasting and significant third party will require a gargantuan commitment of resources and a sustained Herculean effort.
That said, there has to be a chunk of the American electorate who is either opposed to the Democrats and the Biden agenda, or that is rapidly souring on Biden’s approach to the issues, that likes the traditional Republican stances of pushing for lower taxes and less regulation, support for the Second Amendment, strict constructionist or originalist judges, border fencing and immigration law enforcement, Israel, and law enforcement in the absence of evidence of wrongdoing, and opposition to abortion, woke cancel culture…
…and that doesn’t want to spend time looking for traces of bamboo in the paper used for Arizona’s ballots, that doesn’t believe Venezuelan hackers altered the results of the 2020 election, and that does not agree with Trump that the rioters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 represented “zero threat.” Donald Trump brings a bunch of new voters to the party with him, but he repels a lot of previously GOP-leaning voters, too. In 2016, that trade-off worked out well for Republicans; in 2018 and 2020, not so much.
The reason so many Republican officeholders will do anything possible to avoid antagonizing Trump is because he still appears to have a compelling influence over, at minimum, just under half the party. The Miles Taylors of the world – and for that matter, the Liz Cheneys of the world – want congressional Republicans to get into a full-fledged battle with Trump and his loyalists in the grassroots of the party, and hope that they emerge victorious after a scrap with a former president who loves to fight, who has no interest in the long-term health of the GOP, and who can dominate the media environment like no one else. A Trump vs. anti-Trump fight for all the marbles would be so furious and nasty, it would make the 1968 Democratic Convention look like Up With People. Even if the anti-Trump side won, it would be a bloodbath (metaphorical? Literal?) that left the Republican party seriously crippled for a long time to come.
It would be nice if the Taylors and Cheneys of the world could at least acknowledge that biggest winner in their preferred scenario would probably be the Democratic party – at least in the short and medium terms. The Democrats would also probably be the biggest winners in the aftermath of the formation of the “Bull Moose 2.0” or whatever this potential new party gets named.