Ok, here’s the easy part: The Republican Party is exactly what it is, it’s the Trump/Trumpy party, it’s the party of nationalism, protectionism, authoritarianism, wall-building, intolerance, fear, resentments, grievances, middle fingers towards the rest of the world, lying, and utter disdain for democracy and the rule of law. In other words, it’s Donald Trump’s party. All this talk about a GOP “civil war” is simply wrong. There is no war. There isn't any great divide. The party is fairly darn unified. Republican voters, by really solid majorities, want Trumpism.
Here’s hard part: What about all the rest of us? What about all the conservatives, former Republicans, moderate Republicans, independents, as well as moderate Democrats who want nothing to do with this new Trumpy Republican Party? Exactly what do we do?
The options are actually pretty straightforward. Stay and try to reform the Republican Party; spend time in the land of independents; join the Democratic Party; or, begin a new political party.
The chief objections to each of these options are pretty straightforward as well. The Republican Party isn’t changing, so it’s not reforming. If you hang out in the land of independents, you’ll probably be hanging out there for the rest of your natural life. Though many have enormous respect for that Democratic Party, issues and policies matter, and also the vast majority of conservatives, when it comes to issues and policies, simply have a fundamentally different world view than today’s Democratic Party. And finally, it’s really, really, really hard in our two-party dominated politics, to begin and sustain a viable third political party.
So given each one of these realities, and this may sound counter-intuitive, but the best and most obvious move to make at this moment in American history may be the thing that’s really, really, really hard: Launch a new political party. Just do it.
It’s time to plant our flag, take ownership of where lots of American voters are, and begin on the difficult road of building a new political party. A “radically centrist, good sense, let’s get shit done party.” A celebration that is populist in tone and centrist in policy outcomes. A celebration that’s socially tolerant and fiscally responsible. Yes, a celebration that embraces democracy, decency, the rule of law, and being truthful. Those should all be self-evident. But additionally a party that recognizes the key issues of our day –trade, climate, immigration, health care, the economy, et. al.– and advances responsible public/private reforms and solutions. You realize, like, climate change is real, it’s a massive problem, we need to act now, but no, we don’t need a Green New Deal and total government overhaul of our economy. We need government leadership and private sector investment and innovation to tackle the issue of climate change.
We know there’s an audience for a radically-centrist party because this is how most Americans are ideologically. We know there’s a distinctive opportunity for such a party now since the Republican party will continue down the Trumpy road it’s on, continuing to shrink as it becomes more and more extreme, ceding turf in the middle. The Democratic Party faces a similar challenge as it continues to be tugged left.
It will be difficult, but with the growing constituency in the middle, all that is required to get a new party off the floor is money, effective messaging, and organizing. And, yes, the development of such a centrist party now may initially redound towards the benefit of the Democrats. Essentially, “breaking up” the Republican Party could place the Democrats in charge for a number of years. This can be a risk no matter when the flag is planted. Despite the risk, given how unique this political moment is– especially with the rapid polarization of the two major parties– a 3rd party is much more viable than folks realize.
There quite a bit of talk among former Republican consultants, strategists, former elected officials, and thinkers about forming a new party or developing a principled faction within today’s Republican Party. Speaking personally only, any new political party must avoid labeling themselves “center-right”. Labels are limiting, and \”center-right\” has the unfortunate baggage of sounding like it is beholden to frustrated old think-tank conservatives. Regardless of the new political party is it must be much broader and much more dynamic than “center-right.” In addition to conservatives, it has to attract independents, centrists, Democrats, people of color, and especially young people. \”Center-right\” won’t do that. \”Center-right\” now has wrinkles. It’s boring. Instead, think radically-centrist. Think of making moderation cool. Think of a populist message with centrist policy solutions. This sort of messaging has a much broader appeal in today’s politics.
Finally, to produce a 3rd party, it needs to be a bottom-up endeavor. It’s reached be launched as a real grassroots movement. It can’t be top-down. It can’t be a bunch of political insiders “declaring” a new party and then hoping to find a constituency–begin with and energize a constituency first.
It’s time. Time for you to plant this flag. I don’t think most Americans realize it yet, but the Republican Party, like a national party, is dying. The 166-year-old Republican-Democratic two-party duopoly is due an end. This is the perfect time to take this leap. The audience is there for it, the outside money is there for it, and young people would rally around it. “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” So said Basil King, a Canadian clergyman and author over 100 years ago. For those of us who find ourselves in the radical middle among Trumpists on the right and progressives around the left, now is just such a time to be bold.