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By Alex Harvey
The Republican Party is at a crossroads. While the party’s main platform has come under little scrutiny, the fight for its soul certainly has sparked outrage amongst party factions, each vying for control.
Now and throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, major segments of the party feel isolated and unable to get behind the more strong-willed tea-party leaders, who have catered to the Trump base of support, even after his exit from the presidency. This segment of self-described moderates, independents, and even traditional Republicans feel as if neither party can truly entice them, and are thus looking for other options, potentially in a third party.
In a recent poll released by Gallup, over 62% of Americans believe a third party is necessary, with only 33% of Americans agreeing that both parties have done an adequate job in recent years. This is an extraordinary and recent phenomenon, as support for a third party has never reached such a point in the span of almost twenty years. In order to understand how we’ve reached this point, it’s important to first understand who these discontented groups are and what their motives are for seeking change within the political system.
Unlike modern day Democrats who remain fairly content with the direction of their current party, Republicans remain far more internally split, with over 63% supporting the introduction of a third party in comparison to only 46% of Democrats from that same study.
Quite obviously, the split in the Republican Party can be partly attributed to the actions and role of Trump, who brought an increasing number of white, non-college educated voters into the party, resulting in demographic shifts across the board. Arguing that while Donald Trump was certainly part of this change, writer Declan Harvey for the Dispatch insists that it is “more so about the forces that brought him to power and sustained him once he got there: anti-institutionalism, grievance politics, negative partisanship, conspiratorial thinking, lies.”
While opinions on Trump’s base of support are more up to one’s personal interpretation or belief, there is no denying that this loud minority was able to convert and change the party from within, suppressing the establishment and pushing leaders towards “Trumpian” policies and agendas. Because of this ideological shift, many traditional GOP leaders are facing pressure, which Harvey believes has “an overwhelming incentive to cater to the loud minority.” Leaders in the GOP had little choice but to accept Trump’s ideology or to be bullied into submission by their own party. Just a couple weeks ago, North Carolina Senator Richard Burr was unanimously censured by the North Carolina GOP for voting to convict the former President. This specific case, however, illustrates a far greater trend amongst party leadership who have attempted to shut down those in their party who have spoken out against the former president even after his presidency.
The consequences to this partisan split are widespread as the Republican Party effectively has isolated major segments of its voting bloc that would be critical in winning future elections. To a certain degree, this conflict has created millions of political refugees who remain “too conservative to sign up for the Democrats’ agenda but also unable to stomach what their former party has become.”
Ever since the January riot on the Capitol, the New York Times found that over 140,000 Republicans had called in to request a change in their party affiliation, reflecting this major alienation. Sharing a similar sentiment, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed her frustration to reporters: “As kind of disjointed as things may be on the Republican side, there’s no way you can talk me into going over to the other side. That’s not who I am.”
It is because of this anti-party sentiment that many speculate that the time is right for a third party to make a stand, made up of anti-Trump, moderate conservatives possibly.
The bottom line here is that the GOP has its work cut out for them. It’s highly unlikely that a majority of Republicans will ever entirely jump ship or actually start their own third party, effectively undermining the existing party in the process. However, this alienation of moderates, independents, and establishment Republicans is not a good omen and could be a significant hurdle for the GOP to overcome as it mounts opposition to President Biden in the 2024 election.