As the US Republican Party splinters over allegiance to former President Donald Trump, dissatisfied Republicans and a faction of former “Never Trumpers” are discussing starting a new party.
“This is very much on everybody’s mind,” said Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts who attempted to run against Trump in the Republican primaries in 2020.
“I would hope there would be some coalescing around the idea of a new party. I think it will happen,” Weld told Al Jazeera.
The divide among Republicans over Trump, evident during the 2020 campaign, has accelerated since the January 6 Capitol riot by Trump supporters. Now, the former president has attacked leading Republicans who have criticised him during the House impeachment and Senate trial that followed.
Trump called Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who had blamed Trump for the January 6 attack, “a dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack” and threatened to mount primary challenges to candidates who do not back Trump’s “Make American Great Again” agenda.
On February 5, a group of well-known Republicans participated in a meeting convened by former third-party presidential ticket Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn, who are now directors of a group called “Stand Up Republic”. The major topic: Should disaffected Republicans break away or work to repair the party from within.
Those conversations have intensified since the Senate vote on February 13 not to convict Trump in its impeachment trial on a charge of incitement of insurrection. “Our sense of urgency about the need for something new in some capacity has only strengthened,” McMullin told The Washington Post on Monday.
Weld, who was a participant in the February 5 confab said he and many others landed “firmly in the side of new party”.
“It’s draining to stay within the confines of the existing party, which is really ‘truth deniers’, a lot of them. Whereas founding a new party would be exhilarating,” Weld said.
The internal Republican dialogue came at a time when it appears there is a greater appetite for a third party among the American public broadly, and in particular, a major shift of favour among Republicans.
A majority of 63 percent of Republicans – and 62 percent of Americans overall – say a third party is needed, according to a Gallup survey published on February 15. That is the highest level of support for a third party among Republicans ever measured by Gallup. Previously, it was 40 percent.
The poll was conducted among 906 adults from January 31 to February 2 and had a margin of confidence of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.
Third party creation is difficult
Getting a new party established is doable, but would take a lot of work and organisers would have to start now, not wait until the congressional elections in 2022, experts said.
McConnell wants Republican candidates who can win competitive general elections. Trump wants candidates who are loyal to him. Two very different things. This shouldn't be a tough choice for the GOP, but will it be?
— Evan McMullin 🇺🇸 (@EvanMcMullin) February 16, 2021
“There are far too few parties in the US. Two parties is a disgrace,” said Russ Verney, a political adviser who served as chairman of the independent candidate Ross Perot’s Reform Party from 1995 to 1999.
“Can a third party be built and be successful? Yes it can be built, but the process of creating one is extraordinarily difficult,” Verney said.
Richard Winger, editor of the Ballot Access News and a political activist for minor parties, said getting on the ballot for president in all 50 states is the easy part. Petition signature requirements for US Senate and House candidates are more daunting.
And the threshold to get on the presidential debate stage with major-party candidates – 15 percent of support in popular polls – is almost impossible, Winger said.
“If the Republican Party is going to split, the people that split out will not be Trump people,” Winger said.
“It seems like Trump people can take a hold in the Republican Party, so it will have to be the people like Evan McMullin,” Winger said.
Failure to take hold
Third parties have failed to take hold in modern US political history.
Candidates from the Libertarian Party, which was formed in the early 1970s, were on the US presidential ballot in 2020 and 2016 but managed to win only a fraction of the vote.
In fact, Weld was the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee in 2016 when he and presidential nominee Gary Johnson received the highest vote share for a Libertarian ticket ever: 3.27 percent of the vote.
In 1992, US businessman Perot qualified for the US presidential ballot in all 50 states, and was invited to the debate stage with candidates Bill Clinton and George HW Bush. Perot succeeded in winning nearly 19 percent of the vote in the election which Clinton carried.
However, his second attempt at the presidency in 1996 was not nearly as successful, as Perot pulled in just more than 8 percent of the vote.