Why Trump’s ‘Patriot Party’ Is the GOP’s Last Best Hope
The inmates are running the asylum. Let them escape!
I’ve been documenting the almost intractable problem facing Republicans: How do you return to sanity when the majority of your voters don’t want you to? It’s not easy. But what if a deus ex machina existed that would miraculously fix this problem? Maybe there is. The Republican Party could be saved if Donald Trump does what he really wants to do: Start his own party.
We should be so lucky. Indeed, a Trumpian “Patriot Party” might be the only way to salvage the Grand Old Party. Right now, Republican politicians are captives to their own base. Weirdos like the “QAnon Shaman” are no longer content to be co-opted by the establishment; they have, to one degree or another, seized control of right-wing media and the state political parties. Now they are slowly infiltrating the Capitol on their own terms by winning elections as Republicans.
The inmates are running the asylum. But what if there were a prison break? What if instead of rioting and taking hostages, the insurrectionists were to leave of their own volition?
Politically speaking, the immediate political ramifications would benefit Democrats. Splitting the Republican coalition would likely have the same result as when Theodore Roosevelt ran his Bull Moose Party: the election was spoiled for Taft and the Republicans, and Woodrow Wilson was elected.
But there’s more in life than the next election. I’m more focused on the long game. The GOP did not get into this mess overnight, and fixing it—if it ever happens—will take time. Sane Republicans should be willing to lose at least one more presidential election to the Democrats while this shakes out. Regardless, it would be the least bad of possible scenarios confronting the GOP. Since the notion that they can simply outlast Trumpism seems wildly naive, the options are to a) do nothing and lose elections and your party or b) let Trump take one-third of the fallen angels with him (a new poll shows “3 in 10 Republican voters [are] open to a Patriot party”). Forcing people to choose which party to join would be both revealing and healthy (in the sense that we would know where people stand).
Now, I realize the latter suggestion cuts against the notion that “politics is a game of addition.” But the truth is that sometimes “addition by subtraction” is necessary. And I believe that this is one of those times. Not only would purging the MAGA elements help the Republican Party begin to heal, it would probably make it less likely that Trump (or his minions) could get elected. Ross Perot got almost 19 percent of the vote in 1992 but zero electoral votes. And at the congressional level, as Michael Tomasky points out, third parties rarely succeed because of America’s system of winner-take-all, single-member districts. Heck, it’s even harder for third parties to get (and stay) on election ballots. This is one of the many reasons why it would be a significant advantage for sane Republicans to keep the Republican Party brand and infrastructure in this political divorce.
Perhaps I should take a second and explain why I think it’s important for there to be two sane major political parties in America. First, because of negative polarization and the aforementioned binary choice that our first-past-the-post system fosters, Republicans are going to win some big elections no matter how crazy they get. They just are. So it would behoove all Americans for the GOP to be a decent, serious, responsible alternative. Second, as a center-right columnist, it is clear to me that the Democratic Party—even with the most centrist possible standard bearer—is not interested in (or equipped) to represent my values. There ought to be a home for people who believe in family values, a strong national defense, free markets, limited government, the rule of law, and the right to life. The Democratic Party is not going to be that, and neither is a Trump-led party. That’s not to say I think the GOP should have a strict litmus test on any of these issues. Indeed, merely imposing a strict zero tolerance policy against racism and conspiracy theories would take care of most of the problem. Of course, it’s unlikely the delinquents advocating such things would stick around Lincoln’s Party, anyway. They are more likely to go and live with their “father” once the divorce is finalized.
Again, this is addition by subtraction. Let’s be honest, divorce is always painful, and it’s usually a lose-lose situation. But if divorce is inevitable, you’re typically better off if you get to keep the house. If sane Republicans are able to keep the house (in this case, a metaphor for the infrastructure and institutional advantages afforded to the Republican Party), then they would begin anew with a major advantage.
In recent days, Trump advisers (and people familiar with his thinking) have backed away from the idea of a third party—perhaps because they arrived at my same conclusions. Trump has already taken over the Republican Party. Why would he want to go to the aforementioned trouble of starting a new one? Revenge might be one motivation, in the unlikely event he is convicted in a Senate impeachment trial. But if his goal is to torture and destroy the Republican Party, he can better facilitate that from inside the building. (The call is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!) Besides, Trump is better at slapping his brand on an existing structure than he is at building something from scratch.
Still, Trump advisers aren’t completely closing the door on the idea. And Trump has been known to do irrational things that don’t make much strategic sense. Then again, maybe this isn’t so irrational? Just as Trump was able to turn his “election defense” into a fundraising scam, a political party completely controlled by Trump might prove to be a convenient way to keep on grifting. In that regard, it hardly matters whether the Patriot Party is electorally viable.
And since the Patriot Party name is already taken, I’ll suggest an even sexier name: The Trump Party. Surely, this would appeal to the ego of a man who slaps his last name on everything from buildings to steaks. It might even be enough to make him pull the trigger on the idea. Or if that doesn’t work, how about the MAGA Party? The merchandising possibilities alone are endless! Who needs the baggage of Lincoln, Ike, Reagan, and the Bushes, when you could start fresh with a new brand name?
He’s obviously been pondering this strategy for a while. It’s not like he has any deep loyalty to the GOP. Prior to his 2016 nomination, Trump frequently flirted with the idea of running as a third-party candidate. “I signed a pledge, but it’s a double-edged pledge. As far as I’m concerned they’re in default of their pledge,” Trump said of the RNC. Instead, he took the party over from within. We can only imagine what he might have done, had the Republican Party nominated someone else.
In other words, this scenario is probably too good to actually happen. Unless he vacates with the crazies in tow, I honestly don’t see how Republicans can reclaim their sanity. And the truth is that Republicans shouldn’t expect Trump to solve this problem for them, because, the odds are, he won’t.
Nobody takes their ball and goes home—unless they’re kicked off the team.