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Trump & A Third Party

Matthew Walther thinks that Trump ought to ditch the GOP: [1]

Imagine if he announced this week that he is no longer a Republican, or rather that the GOP is no longer his party, a move that would be absolutely unprecedented in our history. How many people in the White House would head for the exits immediately? Would Mike Pence resign the vice presidency or stay on in the hope of somehow benefiting from a future Trump stumble? Would impeachment be on the table suddenly?

But once the dust settled, think of the possibilities. Divorcing the GOP might allow Trump, finally, to concentrate on those aspects of his platform — shoring up our entitlements, undertaking a vast program of infrastructure spending, fixing or quitting our ludicrous trade deals, coming up with a superior, more humane health-care program, not fighting unnecessary wars — that are viewed with indifference or outright loathing by much of the Republican Party in Congress and by vast swathes of the wider GOP-aligned parts of the media.

This wouldn’t just be an amazing second act for Trump’s flying circus of a political career. It would also, in a single Death Star-like instant, destroy the illusion that the calcified two-party system accurately represents the views and aspirations of some 300-plus million Americans.


Will Rahn writes that conservatives have already lost the civil war within the GOP. [2] Excerpt:

Trump has no patience for the ideological fixations of a guy like Ryan, and is done pretending otherwise. Moreover, nobody likes the GOP Congress, including Republican voters, so why would Trump cozy up to them at all?

One big reason for that antipathy to congressional conservatives is that not that many Americans are conservatives, or at least conservative in the sense that old guard Republicans like Ryan can recognize. The fact is, there are two big political persuasions in America today: liberalism, and the right-wing populism Trump embodies. Then there are numerous smaller, marginal political groupings, such as socialists and social democrats, libertarians, and now conservatives.

Trump, we were reminded throughout the Republican primaries, is no conservative. To the extent he has serious beliefs on policy, he’s agnostic on higher taxes for the rich, has opined on the need for a more robust social safety net and infrastructure, pledged to protect entitlements that conservatives like Ryan are obsessed with cutting, rejects democracy promotion abroad, has little use for traditional sexual morality, and so on. For these reasons and more, the flagship publication of the conservative movement, National Review, dedicated an entire issue to lambasting Trump as the primaries got underway.

As it turns out, the Republican base wasn’t very conservative either, and gave the Trump the party’s nomination rather quickly. Dumbfounded conservatives organized themselves into the online battalions of #NeverTrump, which tended to promise that Trump’s vulgarity and deviations from conservative scripture would be punished in the general. And we all know the end of that story.


#NeverTrump lives on in the world of punditry and a few think tanks, and may in time fashion a replacement for Trumpism that’s attractive to rank-and-file Republicans. But for now, conservatism has receded to become just another ideological interest group, a niche concern whose footprint in our political discourse vastly outstrips its support among actual voters.

Donald Trump has done a lot of bad things, but one good thing he’s done is to smash the Republican Party’s establishment. Don’t you get the sense that these guys think that all they have to do is to wait Trump out and they can get back to business as usual? Maybe I’m short-sighted here, but I don’t see how that happens. Politico did a poll last month, and look what it found: [3]

The poll shows more GOP voters think Trump is looking out for the party’s best interests than think McConnell (R-Ky.) is. By a more than three-to-one margin, they say that Trump is more in touch with Republican voters and that Trump is more honest.

More evidence Trump has the upper hand, at least among Republicans: McConnell’s favorability rating among GOP voters is down over the past three weeks, and half of Republicans say Trump’s attacks against him were appropriate.

And get this:

Trump is more honest than McConnell, Republican voters say, 55 percent to 14 percent.

Perhaps most saliently, Republican voters say — overwhelmingly — that Trump is more in touch with them. Sixty percent say Trump is more in touch with GOP voters, compared with only 16 percent who say McConnell is.

Jonathan Tobin says that Trump doesn’t have what it takes to launch a viable third party, but that fact should not comfort the establishment: [4]

Even in failure, Trump has sown seeds of dissension that will ensure that what follows is very different from what preceded him. No matter how dysfunctional his presidency becomes, Trump and Bannon will blame all defeats on the wicked establishment and most of his base will believe them. The uneasy coalition of fiscal conservatives, foreign-policy hawks, libertarians, and social conservatives that elected Ronald Reagan and sustained Republicans in the decades since then may have been fatally fractured. Until the party has a leader around whom it can unite with a vision of Reaganite conservatism — something that probably can’t happen until 2024 — conservatives are fighting an uphill battle against an incumbent president who has already tilted the playing field against them.

“America First” may be an empty ideology that offers few answers to the country’s problems, but its appeal and the resentment it helps engender against conservatives will not dissipate just because Trump loses an election or two. The Times’ prediction notwithstanding, the two-party system is safe. We can’t know exactly what a post-Trump Republican party will look like, but we can be sure that it will be very different from the conservative party that nominated the Bushes, John McCain, and Mitt Romney and that not many in the grassroots will mourn it.

So, where does that leave us?

For us conservatives, maybe one way to start answering the question is to ask a few questions of ourselves. Let’s try this:

Are you satisfied with the GOP? 


What’s wrong with the party? 

It’s moribund, a prisoner to ideas that were fresh thirty, forty years ago. The thing it seems to care for more than anything is tax cuts. It learned nothing from our disastrous Iraq adventurism. It makes a lot of noise, but when it comes right down to it, it can’t get much done. For example, repealing Obamacare. I’m pretty sure that I’m a lot more favorable towards government health insurance than your average Republican, but these Republican lawmakers shot their mouths off for years on repealing Obamacare, and when they had the opportunity to do it, they couldn’t pull it off. They can’t govern. It’s hard to say what the national GOP stands for other than tax and economic policy that favors the wealthiest, and foreign-policy hawkishness.

Why aren’t you a Democrat, then?

Because I am a white, heterosexual conservative Christian male. The Democratic Party thinks I’m the enemy. No matter how willing I am to give them a chance on economic policy and foreign policy — and might even prefer them to the Republicans — they are deeply hostile to people like me.

Besides, let’s be honest: the Democrats are also a party of Wall Street and Davos, just like the Republicans.

Does Donald Trump speak for you?

No. He’s a belligerent, incompetent loudmouth. He doesn’t have any discernible principles beyond self-aggrandizement. He’s not a conservative in any serious sense. I’m glad he’s nominating judges, and I think he has some good instincts. But his lack of discipline is severely hampering his ability to get things done. I think he would sell anybody out if he thought it would be in his interest.


Why do you say you’re a conservative if you’re fed up with the Republican Party, and you don’t count yourself as a Trump supporter? What else is there?

Well, you see the problem. My conservatism is primarily cultural and religious. I endorse Russell Kirk’s definition of conservatism. [5] It’s hard to see that in the GOP today. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, I dunno. I generally vote Republican because I think — or at least I hope — that they’ll do less harm than the Democrats. I would love for the Republican Party to give me a reason to vote for it again, as distinct from voting against the Democrats.

Would you like to see a third party?

Yes, absolutely. A party that is socially conservative and economically nationalist, and favored a strong safety net, even if it meant higher taxes on the very wealthy? A party that is skeptical of getting ourselves involved in other people’s wars? You bet. A party that stands for fairness for all Americans, not giving special privileges based on identity? Absolutely.

I also want a pony.

Well, that was a fun exercise. What about you, conservative readers?

126 Comments (Open | Close)

126 Comments To "Trump & A Third Party"

#1 Comment By JonF On September 13, 2017 @ 12:49 pm

Re: But there is no one else to provide “Trumpism without Trump” as Ross Douthat has opined. That person does not exist.

The question needs to be asked, why? At the very least it should be obvious that there’s electoral gold to be mined in Trumpism. Why is that not attracting others to take many of the same stances (perhaps less vitriolically) that he does? And since Trump is not a young man and will be shuffling off this mortal coil in not a great many more years, does that mean that “Trumpism” dies with him?
If anyone really cares about this politics they should be looking into grooming younger and more viable representatives of it.

#2 Comment By JonF On September 13, 2017 @ 12:53 pm

Re: Haven’t we already debunked the “that will NEVER happen’ arguments here?

“Never” is a very long time so apart from talking about violations of the basic laws of physics one should eschew that word. However some things are radically unlikely except in very radical situations, and the government nationalizing the healthcare industry (outside some catastrophe like a nuclear war or a hyper-deadly pandemic) is one of those things. Politics is the art of the possible, as the saying goes. And the corollary is that we should save our bandwidth for things that are probable, or at least fairly possible.

#3 Comment By Dave D’Alless On September 13, 2017 @ 1:07 pm

Rod, in the Q & A closing this post, are both the Q’s and the A’s your words — or are you quoting something you didn’t link to? Either way, the A’s are spot-on. Succinct too. My compliments to the Answerer!

[NFR: Thanks. I was the questioner and the answerer. — RD]

#4 Comment By JonF On September 13, 2017 @ 1:33 pm

Re: A two party system is the inevitable outcome of the first past the post voting system.

The UK has first-past-the-post and I think Canada does too. Yet both nations have more than two significant parties. The other ingredient that dooms the US to a two party system is a presidential system. A Parliamentary system can handle additional parties because those parties can be strong regionally, capture seats in Parliament and force a larger party into as coalition. In the US that can’t happen.

#5 Comment By JonF On September 13, 2017 @ 1:35 pm

RE: It’s impossible to imagine the Left coming back from where it is at this point. I just don’t think you can recant that level of invective, accusations of sex crimes and collusion, and the many other conspiracy theories they’ve woven at this point – you just don’t come back from there.

LOL. You could say the same thing about the Right, which is fill of nasty invective and crazy conspiracy theories as well.

#6 Comment By VikingLS On September 13, 2017 @ 1:59 pm

“It is perfectly possible to combine a left wing econic policy with pro-family social policy, if by “pro-family”you mean policies that support families, like, in no particular order: medical and childbirth/adoption family leave, availability of health care, higher salaries that allow families with a single breadwinner, children healthcare, support for families to combat alcohol and drug/opiod addictions, etc.”

You’re correct, the problem is the social agenda that the left-wing has attached to the above, which are not particularly left-wing policies. Putin’s Russia, for example, has programs in place to address most of those issues.

#7 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On September 13, 2017 @ 2:14 pm

The “big picture” for understanding the potential of third parties in America is provided by Lawrence Goodwyn’s book *The Democratic Moment*. His book is a corrective to the other histories which ignore the “cooperative crusade” that was the heart of populism (including John Hicks’ early and unfortunately very influential book). This was before corporate consolidation and centralization. The even more entrenched corporate and banking power of today doesn’t mean a populist third party is impossible now, just extraordinarily difficult. But maybe the Internet can push the people past the titans of commerce. America’s future depends on it. On the present trajectory–thanks to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama–the country will experience more and more economic polarization.

The power of the corporate establishment also explains the hostility to the outsider Trump and the partially successful attempt to co-opt him. He can turn the tables on them by joining with Sanders and Warren to reinstate Glass-Steagall. A third party could be propelled into the heights of the political atmosphere by that.

Anyone tempted to dismissively say “you wish” badly needs to read Goodwyn’s book.

Do it, Donald!

#8 Comment By James On September 13, 2017 @ 2:44 pm

Are you satisfied with the GOP?


What’s wrong with the party?

As Dreher said, it’s overly obsessed with tax cuts and hawkish foreign policy, with little else to offer. The conservative principles of limited government, rule of law and personal freedom, while helping society’s needy from the public pot. seem to have gone out the window long ago. Now, with it veering ever closer to white nationalist identity politics, it’s become even less conservative or moral.

Why aren’t you a Democrat, then?

Because I believe in limited government, the rule of law and personal freedom.

Does Donald Trump speak for you?

Never. He’s the antithesis to everything I believe as a Christian and as an American. He acknowledges no sin, seeks no forgiveness, serves others only when it serves himself and is all too eager for a fight.

Trump’s nomination and subsequent electoral victory killed my faith in the church in America and in the Republican party.

Why do you say you’re a conservative if you’re fed up with the Republican Party, and you don’t count yourself as a Trump supporter? What else is there?

Because I believe that limited government, the rule of law, personal freedom and public compassion for the marginalized are the highest virtues of any government, and someone should still care about them.

Would you like to see a third party?

Of course, if it supported the virtues outlined above.

#9 Comment By S P Robinson On September 13, 2017 @ 2:45 pm

“‘Why aren’t you a Democrat, then?’

Because I am a white, heterosexual conservative Christian male. The Democratic Party thinks I’m the enemy. No matter how willing I am to give them a chance on economic policy and foreign policy — and might even prefer them to the Republicans — they are deeply hostile to people like me.”

This is doubtless true, a very sad state of affairs and why I despair for America.

#10 Comment By S P Robinson On September 13, 2017 @ 2:47 pm

Would Rod Dreher endorse Rand Paul? Or Ron Paul?

#11 Comment By Jon S On September 13, 2017 @ 2:56 pm

One thing to add about conservatism should be a respect for the actions needed to maintain civility. Much of the goodness of life has little to do with income and power, and much more to do with how we treat each other. If we can treat each other with respect and courtesy, kindness, provide a helping hand when needed, without having to be asked, the world is a much, much richer place. Without a penny being spent.

In that context, Mr. Trump is no conservative.

#12 Comment By S P Robinson On September 13, 2017 @ 3:01 pm

‘It was only a matter of time before someone said “I’ll actually do the things these other guys say they’ll do.”

It’s Trump’s party. And I’m good with that. If he goes Ivanka and Kushner then that’s fine. I’ll go with the next guy who says “I’ll actually do the things these other guys say they’ll do.” And I don’t care of the guy saying that has three mistresses and a coke habit. I know what the establishment GOP has to offer. I know what the Democrats have to offer. So the only choice for most Americans who actually care about their country is to vote for the crazy person who just might do something different.’

Yes. Brilliant analysis. I think pretty much everyone who voted for Trump made the same analysis. Or the same last ditch gamble, depending how you look at it.

#13 Comment By swb On September 13, 2017 @ 3:23 pm

It seems like if you are gong to have a party, you have to have some core beliefs. The core belief of trump is to satisfy his ego, there is literally no coherence to any of his actions beyond that. If the readers of this blog wish to join in that orgy, go ahead. Cults are fairly common and provide many folks with the satisfaction they need by worshiping those leaders.

#14 Comment By catholicfeminist On September 13, 2017 @ 4:02 pm

Curious if you would support a party that was socially libertarian in that it supported robust protections for religious freedom, but did not make efforts to take away gays’ legal right to marry or a woman’s legal right to seek an abortion without having to ask the state for permission.*

such a party could still prioritize the concerns of its socially conservative members since it’s conservative views, not liberal ones, that are at risk of being silenced or snuffed out.

*i am morally against abortion, particularly later term ones, but i shudder at the idea of the state alone having the power to decide if a woman can abort. even most conservatives admit there are at least *some* cases when abortion is morally acceptable. we need a safety net, strong communities, a cultural revolution, and taboos to address the abortion crisis, not the Wisdom and Fist of the State.

And on that note, this catholic-socialist-libertarian is praying for a radical pro-life party: one that’s committed to reducing abortion by just means, eradicating the death penalty, and making healthcare a human right. it’s embarrassing, unjust, and tragic that our country is failing on all of these fronts in light of how much money we have. we just need to spread the wealth.

would such a party be “conservative”? doubt it, but it might appeal to those Republicans who want a social safety net but would never back a party that promotes abortion as a social good.

It almost seem like to maintain control, the Establishment split two pillars of Christianity between the two parties: care for the poor (Dems), and the dignity of the human person (Repubs). Sad! But also eminently clever.

If we can reunite those pillars, we will be unstoppable.

#15 Comment By collin On September 13, 2017 @ 4:13 pm

Re: But there is no one else to provide “Trumpism without Trump” as Ross Douthat has opined. That person does not exist.

Well, so far Ross Douthat in this case is correct that there has not been a successful ‘Trumpian’ candidate. Most of the special elections, especially GA with Handel, were won by standard Republicans not Trumpian type candidates. (Note Al with Strange/Moore will likely win but I think Republican Inanimate Carbon Rod would beat a Democrat.) Look at the nationalist candidates in Europe, they are losing and in the case, Le Pen lost hard. However, this theory gets tested next year midterms to see if Trumpian types are popular overall.

I think Trump candidate was a marketing genius that few (any?) politician can match and he can claim to be a very successful business person which probably protected the right center Bush type voters. (This is where Le Pen lost hard as she did not understand the Euro at all.)

#16 Comment By WorkingClass On September 13, 2017 @ 4:55 pm

Trump and the Democrats are working together to break the logjam. Bodes well for both and for the rest of us as well. Congressional Republicans? Not so much.


#17 Comment By Alex Brown On September 13, 2017 @ 5:06 pm

“Would you like to see a third party?
A party that is skeptical of getting ourselves involved in other people’s wars? You bet. A party that stands for fairness for all Americans, not giving special privileges based on identity? Absolutely.”
In Canada, there is a third party. It’s called Liberal. To the left of it is New Democrats (NDP), small fringe party on the national level but influential at the local provincial (just won elections in British Columbia). To the right is Conservative part, similar to the Republicans. Usually, Liberals win because they’re moderate, if leftish, party. At one time, Canada was even called one-part state, but because of (primarily) corruption scandals, Liberals monopoly was broken and Conservative S. Harper was in power for several years.

I think it would be better if liberal factions of both American parties opted out to form a moderate, Liberal third party. Leave extremism to the fringes. I think it is not very likely to happen, but who knows? Maybe Trump if a harbinger of things to come?

#18 Comment By SeanD On September 13, 2017 @ 5:22 pm

I completely agree with Walther’s POV, but I’m skeptical of the Third Party option. Both institutionally and culturally, America is heavily biased toward the Two-party System (no matter how much we say we hate them). Third parties can bend one or both big parties in their direction, but there’s a reason no opening for a new second party has occurred since 1856. The Whigs chronically under-performed against the Democrats, so when the slavery crisis shook the Second Party System to pieces, the Democratic Party survived while the Whig did not.

Also, we can project any fantasy we like on a hypothetical Third Party, but the reality would likely be a hot mess or a nonstarter. It’s hard to see how the sort of Third Party Walther (and I) would like could marry unaffiliated donor money and voting blocks the way the Republican Party did in the late 1850s. The collapse of the Whigs left Northern banking and business interests with no party to represent them, while slavery opponents and Northern sectionalists – whether previously Whig, Democrat or Free Soil – were ready to unite against an increasingly pro-slavery and Southern sectionalist Democratic Party. For that matter, which party is Walther rallying our hypothetical Third Party against? If both, it’s liable to defeat neither.

#19 Comment By John Gruskos On September 13, 2017 @ 5:49 pm

Trump is no marketing genius. Nationalism is a greater electoral success without Trump’s baggage than with.

Dave Brat unseated Eric Cantor, the first time a house majority leader was EVER defeated in a primary, despite being outspent 25:1. Brat then went on to defeat his Democratic opponent in the general election by a larger margin than Cantor had won 2 years earlier, despite Brat being underfunded and despite a strong libertarian candidate splitting the Republican vote.

Kris Kobach won the Secretary of State election in Kansas with 60% of the vote, while Brownback won governor with only 50% of the vote.

Jeff Sessions was re-elected as Senator from Alabama almost unanimously; the Democrats, afraid of being humiliated at the polls, declined to run a challenger.

Referendums against illegal immigration were passed in Montana and Oregon, despite facing a massive fundraising disadvantage, by a margin 25 percentage points greater than Romney’s 2012 share of the vote in each of those two states.

The national conservative Swiss People’s Party, Hungarian Fidesz, and Polish Law and Justice have control record breaking numbers of seats in their respective national legislatures.

The Swedish Democrats have quickly increased their share of the vote from less than 0.1% to 20%, becoming the most single most popular party in Sweden, despite being incessantly (and unfairly) denounced as Nazis by the press, the education system, the church, the government and the entertainment industry.

Despite being similarly slandered, the Austrian Freedom Party almost won the Austrian presidential election, Marine Le Pen doubled her father’s 2002 share of the vote, and the AfD is on course to win a large enough share of the vote to force Merkel to form a coalition government.

#20 Comment By Vern Hughes On September 13, 2017 @ 6:33 pm

Why would conservatives opt for a mix of ‘social conservatism and economic nationalism’? A better mix is surely social conservatism and economic distributism in the tradition of Chesterton and Belloc, which has the distinct advantage of steering us away from crony capitalism and the entire edifice of tariffs and subsidies (which in turn require an entire Washington swamp for their administration)? And having been referred to Russell Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles in the preceding paragraph, and finding that nationalism (economic or any other kind) is not on the list of Ten Principles, it is all the more surprising that economic nationalism should be picked from thin air to appear in a couplet with social conservatism. This is no less an incongruous pairing than, say, social conservatism and economic socialism.

#21 Comment By Dale McNamee On September 13, 2017 @ 8:22 pm

I’m looking at The Federalist Party thefederalistparty.org

The Libertarians are anti-Christian, so a Conservative Christian like me has no place there…

I voted for Tom Hoefling of America’s Party and am following that party’s development…

#22 Comment By VikingLS On September 13, 2017 @ 9:12 pm

Rod how much energy would you honestly be willing to even put into politics at this point? Sorry but you can’t just wash your hands of the process every time it bores or frustrates you.

#23 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On September 14, 2017 @ 12:01 am

VikingLS says:
I wonder sometimes if all the times people said ” a plague on both your houses!” regarding the two parties has manifested in the form of Donald Trump.

I certainly remember a lot of people saying that as they voted for Trump. The problem of course is that those are our houses. There aren’t any others. We’ve reached the point where we neither like nor respect our country’s leaders, yet somehow are mostly happy with our local congressmen and senators. It must be the rest of the country electing terrible people…

Personally I think it’s tribalism and ideologies that are ruining our government. We need to reject the idea that our side is going to somehow win (and that we have a side that isn’t the whole country) and focus on pragmatic solutions to problems instead of holding out till our party is finally in position to get exactly what it wants (plus a pony). When Trump first emerged I was hopeful his success would lead to an overdue reshuffling of the parties that might help this. I’m not terribly hopeful.

#24 Comment By HP On September 14, 2017 @ 3:28 am

Ya’ll turning European. Trump is a classic (Eastern) European populist and Rod’s ideal party is basically a sixties-style Christian Democrat Party. The real significance of Trump is that the US has finally reached middle age.

#25 Comment By VikingLS On September 14, 2017 @ 2:13 pm

“The problem of course is that those are our houses. There aren’t any others. ”

I can count on one hand the politicians in Washington I like. Most of the ones I like the least are fellow Republicans. Not my house.

#26 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On September 15, 2017 @ 12:41 am

VikingLS says:
I can count on one hand the politicians in Washington I like. Most of the ones I like the least are fellow Republicans. Not my house.

I won’t disagree, I don’t really think it’s possible to run for congress now and also be a good person (at least if you have a family). There’s only two houses though, if you have another I’d love to hear about it. Without something to replace the parties we have, making them worse just makes the country worse. I don’t see a way to make the country better without making the parties better.