So, Where Is That New Center-Right Party?
It is past time for Never Trumper conservatives to make a break and create a new center-right party.
Actually, it is way past time.
President Trump’s race baiting, whether it is failing to denonuce the neo-nazis at Charlottesville in August, to his lack of concern about Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria to his calling Haiti and African nations sh*thole countries and perferring immigrants from Norway, Trump shows that he doesn’t care to represent all Americans
I know, I know: third parties never succeed. That’s not the point. The point is if there is to be a healthy conservative movement in the United States, there needs to be a space that is not tainted by Donald Trump and what appears to be a white nationalist platform topped off by a cult of personality.
Over the last 18 months or so, there has been talk about a third party. Weekly Standard editor in chief and Never Trumper, Bill Kristol talked about it off and on during and after the election season, but nothing really came of it. Same with GOP strategist Rick Wilson.
There was also talk about independent candidate Evan McMullin creating some kind of new center-right third party, but again nothing happened. Last year, Kristol brought up talk of a third party and this year GOP operative Juliana Glover wrote a New York Times oped about Republicans leaving and starting a third party.
There is a small minority that is horrified about Trump has transmorgified the GOP. They have been concerned for over two years, but that concern and horror has never come together to form an alternative to Trump. Why is this?
I have some theories.
First, is the usual trope that third parties can’t happen because the system is rigged against them. There is some truth to that, but I also think the trope is true because people believe in it. One third party that had promise is the Reform Party of the late 1990s. Started by Ross Perot, it garnered 8 percent of the vote in 1996, won the Minnesota governor’s race in the candidacy of Jessie Ventura, and stood poised to make a big splash in 2000. They had enough votes in ’96 to get some federal funding which meant they had some cash on hand. What the party didn’t have is good leadership and an effective governing philosophy. That also made it ripe for takeover which is what happened in 2000. Pat Buchanan left the GOP and swooped in to win the Reform Party nomination in 2000 and that effectively ended the party’s dominance.
There are other parties out there, but they tend to be on the small side and very seldom make a difference. People see that and decide that a third party isn’t for them
The next few reasons are bit more complex. It is hard to create something new or try to reform something that has become corrupt. It’s not the challenge that is difficult, it is the assumption that Republicans are thoroughly corrupt and evil. For many years, I spent time working in various groups seeking to bring change to the GOP. I volunteered with the local chapter of Log Cabin Republicans for many years. I can remember all the stories about how gay Republicans are sellouts. I can remember being at the local gay pride celebration in Minneapolis. I wanted to to get a McCain for President yard sign and I got one from the Log Cabin booth. I remember carrying the sign to stares and they weren’t nice stares. If you are part of a group that seeks reform in the GOP you will still be viewed poorly by others. It becomes a waste of time to try to change things because the wider society believes the party is already beyond redemption.
On the other side it is far easier to leave the party behind and talk about how corrupt it is (throwing in some reference to Nazis and Hitler). I remember someone who decided last year, that Trump was the last straw for them and said that they were leaving the party (again, throw in reference to the Nazis). The reaction was enormous. This person got wide attention, mostly from Democrats who saw this event as validating their own viewpoints about conservatives and Republicans.
On a grander scale, it is easier for a Republican dissident to be the dissident and get speaking gigs on MSNBC than it is to either reform the party or start something new. MSNBC doesn’t care about a new center-right party or a reformation movement in the GOP, they want someone who will confirm their views of Republicans.
The thing about creating a new party is that it is very hard work that has a good chance of not being successful. It is work that is done in the background and not the upfront. The American Solidarity Party, a Christian Democratic party, is growing, but they aren’t getting interviewed by the networks or major newspaper. The only efforts that do get attention are the ones that everyone knows won’t work, like Unity ’08 and Americans Elect, two centrist efforts that included a number of Republicans. They had flashy websites and were able to make the news, but in the end it went nowhere.
The final reason an alternative to the GOP hasn’t emerged is just out of sheer laziness. Instead of doing the hard work to create this alternative, the idea is just to vote for the other party in the insincere hope that the GOP will change its ways. That is the hope of Benjamin Wittes and Jonathan Rauch in their lastest article for the the Atlantic. They see the Republican Party as a threat to the Republic, so the answer is to “mindlessly and mechanically” vote Democrat.
But voting for the Dems isn’t a sure way to change the GOP and it will still leave many Never Trumpers without a place to call home. But hey, it sure feels good to kick some Republican ass!
I think in the end, if a center-right alternative to the GOP is going to happen, it won’t come from the Kristols, or Charlie Sykes or Evan McMullins or Rick Wilsons of the world. As much as I respect them, I just think they are more interested in writing op-eds than leading a new political movement.
If something happens, it might come from a millenial who tired of seeing their party sink further and further into the morass that Trump has created. It will come from social conservatives like Rod Dreher who think nominating conservative judges mean nothing if the man in the White House is a man with no honor, let alone morals.
My hope is someone is listening, because we need an alternative even moreso than when I wrote the following in 2016:
The rise of Donald Trump to the head of the GOP has made a third option necessary if one wants to see center right politics remain viable for decades to come. It is not enough to simply wait for some hoped-for demise of Trump’s campaign, intending to then come back and pick up the pieces.
There are a number of reasons that there should be a third party in 2016, and I will map them out here.
First off is the most obvious, at least to people of color. Trump has stoked the resentment of the white working class against minorities. His disdain toward immigrants, especially Mexicans, his flirting with racist groups like the KKK and his proposed ban on Muslims will make the national GOP a toxic party for persons of color. While some campaigns have used racial animosity, that hasn’t been the case with all GOP candidates and politicians. George W. Bush, for example, wanted to expand outreach towards Latinos. But Trump and the millions who voted for him show that there are people who want someone in power that speaks up for the white guy. What might have been at the margins of GOP campaigning will without a doubt be at the center of the party. The result is a much smaller party.
But while there are reasons why a new center-right party isn’t happening, it doesn’t negate the need for an alternative party. But the need for a new center right party can’t be only about what Trump is doing to the GOP as important as that is. Part of the reason we have Trump as the face of the GOP is because the voting public wasn’t buying what other GOP leaders were selling. In many ways, the party was selling a zombie Reganism that became more and more out of step with the times. Never Trumpers are good at talking about how bad Trump, but not so good in explaining how the bankruptcy of GOP policy brought us to this point. Daniel McCarthy pointed this out in an article last year:
Donald Trump’s critics focus on Donald Trump the man so much because they cannot afford to admit that they themselves are more than half the reason that Trump is president today. Trump was a celebrity, and he’s an instinctively gifted campaigner. He spoke political truths, however crudely, that the public longed to hear. But that’s the point: they longed to hear what Trump had to say about America’s raw deals and the wars we don’t win any more because no one in the political establishment of either party dared to voice such thoughts. Execrable leadership by respectable Republicans and Democrats created the conditions that led to Trump. A challenge to Trump would have to come from a sector that is as untainted as he is by the failures of the last decade. That’s precisely what the old Republican Party — the party of the Bushes and John McCain — is not.
Last year conservative writer and thinker Henry Olsen wrote Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of the Blue Collar Republican which reveals that Reagan wasn’t the anti-government iconoclast that modern Republicans think he is. Olsen shows that young Reagan was enamoured with the New Deal and the belief in the government helping when no one else could,was something that was a part of his governing philosophy. In an excerpt found in the National Review, Olsen describes Reagan’s view and how politicians that followed him failed to live up to his New Deal imbued conservatism:
So if you are out there and wondering if now is the time to work with others to start a new party, now is the time.