A new party in the USA?

A new party in the USA?

 “The Republican Party is done.  It’s breaking up before our very eyes,” Former Tea Party and Republican Congressman Joe Walsh. This article examines the scope of a new party in the United States. 

Perhaps the most unprecedented feature of the 2020 Democratic National Convention was the sight of Republicans, most notably John Kasich endorsing the Democratic nominee Joe Biden for President. Republicans opposing Donald Trump is nothing new, in 2016 many prominent Republicans did not vote for him. Most of them cast a write-in vote or voted for a third party. What is different this year is that many Republicans opposed to Trump are going a step further and voting for the Democratic nominee. As former Republican Senator Jeff Flake who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016 argued when endorsing Biden “it is not enough just to register our disapproval of the President. We need to elect someone else in his place.” 

However, it isn’t just the Republicans who opposed Trump in 2016 who are now supporting Joe Biden. Former Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh who voted for Trump four years ago is too. He even challenged Trump in the Republican Primary this year and after dropping out said he would support whoever the Democratic nominee was, even Bernie Sanders who at that time was the front runner. 

Unique Situation

Life-long Republicans, including many who worked for George W Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney (some of whom now run the Lincoln Project which is dedicated to defeating Trump), some who voted for Trump (like Walsh) and life-long progressive Democrats like Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are all voting for Joe Biden. 

The cause of such an unlikely alliance? In short, Donald Trump. These liberal and conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats may not agree on much if anything, but they share a desire to remove Donald Trump from the presidency. 

Whether this effort succeeds or not, such an alliance is temporary. Which leads back to the question, can there be a new party? How might this election whether Trump is re-elected or whether Biden wins, lead to a new party? 

It is highly possible that two things may happen post-November: the Democrats will move further to the left as the Sanders wing of the party grows in support whether or not Joe Biden is elected, and the Republicans will remain a party devoted to Donald Trump and Trumpism whether or not Donald Trump is re-elected.

This would create a clear space. Those opposed to both more radical democrat policies and the continued dominance of Trumpism in the Republican Party would have nowhere to go. This is what could lead to a new party if predominantly, those Republicans who opposed Trump but no longer feel able to vote for a more radical Democratic Party decided to form a new party to offer voters a third option, i.e. a conservative party that said fiscally conservative but socially liberal. 

Scope for a new party

There is always speculation about new parties emerging, only for nothing to come of it. In addition, Republicans voting for Biden are themselves divided on what to do post-November. Some like Walsh say to dismantle the party by voting for Democrats in all races on the ballot. While others, example former Republican Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, will vote for Biden but then for other Republicans, so perhaps with the aim of trying to preserve the party and change it after the election. Having said that, this is potentially a unique moment in US political history for a new party to emerge. 

Third parties do exist, most notably the Libertarians and the Greens, but none have managed to cut through. Most changes in the political landscape have happened within the two major parties and how the Democratic and Republican voter coalitions have changed over time. 

What has been key to the survival and dominance of the Republican and Democratic parties since 1854 aside from winner take all voting systems and ballot access rules making it harder for smaller parties and independent candidates, has been the ability for both parties to keep a coalition of views within its party and to renew themselves in order to survive when at points of near or at least perceived extinction. 

For example, the Republicans recovered after a series of landslide loses in the 1930s and after Goldwater’s loss in 1964, revived in 1968 with Nixon. Even Reagan who some see as the heir to Goldwater, succeeded because he kept more liberal republicans in the party.

Even if Trump does manage to win, the Republicans to be viable from 2024 onwards need to diversify their appeal from just being what has been described as ‘white grievance’.

If the Republican Party can’t or won’t change, it will not be willing to adapt in order to reinvent itself. This in turn means there is no hope of bringing the fractured conservative movement back together. In short, Republicans who back Trump won’t be supported in future by those Republicans against him and no Republican who opposed Trump will ever gain the support of those who backed Trump. It is this irreconcilable split which could lead to a new party. 

In Conclusion

History suggests a new party is unlikely. Until now, both parties have survived and prevented other parties from gaining major support. Yet this may be a unique moment where conventional wisdom doesn’t apply. Trump’s impact on American politics may be so long-lasting that it shakes the very party system itself. There seems to be little nuance on Trump, you either support him or oppose him. That’s why it is at least possible that the conservative movement could be permanently split by him. Meanwhile, if Democrats move to the left, what may start as a new party of ex republicans, could grow into a wider movement that includes more centrist democrats. It may not, but if it is going to happen, it could happen very soon.

Categories: Politics, Under The Radar

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