Critical update. One hundred current and former officials seem to be ready to pull the trigger and form a third party.
The Republican Party is in the midst of an internal hot civil war. The only thing missing is shooting. There are two very discernible sides to this war. First, there are the authoritarians, who believe that former president Donald Trump is the future of the party. The other side is the more traditional conservative Republicans who believe this big lie that Trump won the presidency in 2020 and it was stolen, is damaging to the party and the nation. Among them is Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who will likely not remain in the leadership of the House. If she survives this week, then perhaps the party is starting to get off the radical path.
This will tell us where one of the two major parties in the United States is heading. It is not pretty,; the authoritarian faction is a threat to American democracy. Let’s be brutal here, Trump's followers don’t believe in democracy, because of the result. In their mind, Trump won the election, and elites and others stole it from him, and them. These elites are un-American. They are diverse. They are not Christian, white Protestant. The formation of a White Saxon caucus led by Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz is precisely about this radicalism.
Grievance politics are not new. Nor are the conspiracies that surround it, or the paranoia that is part of it. What is true, is that grievance is big with a party base that was radicalized a while ago. The leadership helped them along since they never pushed back. This is the base that people like Senator Lindsey Graham want to keep, because he, and others, fear them. This is a nativist base that believes in white supremacy and is rife with anti-immigrant feelings. They believe the country would be best if it went back to a social order with established pecking order, and certain groups, such as liberals and Jews, were kept away from political power.
This is the same base that is nativist to the core and distrustful of elites. We need to define elites though. It is not limited to well-educated college professors on the East Coast or Californians. It is anybody that the base does not trust. It is experts, who are educated and have informed views by facts. During the pandemic, Republicans went to war with public health experts because those people spoke a different language. They are the enemy who attacked Americans' freedom. For many in this base, including those who were infected, COVID became a non-issue.
Donald Trump is one reason for this. He never trusted experts. Why? He is one, just ask him. Many in the Republican base like Trump for that reason alone. They love him for other reasons as well. They believe he is on their side and will make sure they are forgotten no more. Trump is a populist and a cult leader. As I have written in the recent past, he is an authoritarian who prefers an autocracy.
At this point, the party is growing smaller as those in the suburban space are repelled by this. People like Cheney and Adam Kinzinger understand this. However, they are getting pushed out of the party because they refuse to adopt the big lie. In fact, both have principles and denounced it, because they know this is a threat to American democracy.
The party though is doing all it can to cut downvoting from the people that gave the presidency to Joe Biden. The level of voter suppression legislation we are seeing reminds us of the Jim Crow era. What is old is new once again.
The party is busy purging any who are critical of Trump. This is reminiscent of the Wigs and their fate. The parallels are there, and it was Abraham Lincoln and his people who left the party. Those were the sensible Wigs who saw the writing on the wall. They formed a new party, which not only replace the know-nothings but created the Republican coalition. We are watching something similar. There are also parallels, ironically, to the Chinese Cultural Revolution and how that party saw education and elites. That they complain about China and treat elites in similar ways is funny, but dangerous at the same time.
The crazy has taken over the party. They are falling in line behind an autocrat and forgetting any respect they had for democracy, which is at the core of the American experiment. They are technically the third-largest party in the nation. The second are independents, who are finding themselves increasingly in Democratic lean because Republicans are way crazy. This is not a consequence of the J6 revolt. This is due to Trump and his insanity. It started in 2018.
What is crazier is that Graham, who was once a critic of Trump, has said that the party cannot grow without him. Never mind the party lost control of the two chambers, the presidency, and Trump lost the popular vote twice. Or that the president was impeached twice. Most normal parties reject leaders like Trump. The party is getting smaller, and radicalized, but so is the Senator.
What about those who live by traditional conservative principles? They are getting pushed out of the party. They will no longer be Republicans, not because they do not want to, but because the party left them in the dust. Will we see the formation of a new party? It is not 1852 when forming a new party was relatively easy. These days getting any party on the ballot is not easy. In fact, in some states, like Texas, it is downright impossible by design. To be fair, this is the result of both national parties colluding to make it impossible for competitors to rise and displace them.
It is political theory as well.
Named for French political scientist Maurice Duverger, Duverger’s law is more of a theory than an actual, you know, statute. It holds that any democratic country with single-member legislative districts and winner-take-all voting tends to favor a two-party system.
That’s because many voters don’t want to waste their ballot, and thus gravitate toward a legislative candidate they think has a chance to win. Third-party candidates have a hard time building enough of a following to actually win a congressional or state legislative seat, in this theory. And without a grass-roots base of elected officials, third-party candidates who aren’t already famous have a very difficult time building momentum.
It is very difficult for third parties to get any attention because voters like the familiar. Since we have a winner take all system, (the best of 1789), we default into a two-party system. If we joined the 19th century and implemented proportional representation, by default we would see more viable parties.
Will we see the formation of a third Conservative party? In spite of all the challenges detailed above, I suspect that might happen, once these conservatives realize they lost their political home and mounting a take over is difficult. Will they be successful? I am not so sure. Will Republicans do well in 2022? If they do not, that might change the equation and the party might start to kick the radicals out. For the moment, the current GOP is the new Whig party and a threat to American democracy.