By Jackson K. ’21
It’s safe to say that, over the past several years, Donald Trump has left a massive impact on politics in the United States. From reintroducing populism into the mainstream to reversing over half a century of foreign policy, the Trump presidency helped to change America substantially between 2016 and 2021. Yet, for all the unorthodox mannerisms, embarrassing missteps, and bold new policies, Donald Trump may have yet to reveal his most consequential act: creating his own political party. Laughable as it may sound, remember that this is the man who single-handedly revived the conservative base, absconded with the position of GOP leader, and now has millions of fanatically loyal supporters across the country. He has the platform, he has the name recognition, and he’s even picked out a name: the Patriot Party. Reports confirm that Trump is seriously exploring this option, enough to where several GOP members have reached out urging him not to. Equally concerning for conservatives is the distinct possibility of anti-Trump Republicans splintering off into their own party, which is currently being discussed by conservative lawmakers in Washington who have been hostile towards Trump. With the Republican Party establishment in crisis and new polls showing an ever-increasing amount of GOP voters who say they would switch to support a Trump-led Patriot Party, the time seems as good as ever for Trump to leave one more mark on the political history of the United States. But is this a feasible reality? Trump is a master at talking the talk, but will he actually translate these threats into a well-funded, organized, and functional political party? And, if so, what will it mean for the Republicans, the Democrats, and the political landscape of America in 2022 and beyond?
The Outlook For the Republican Party
During the Trump presidency, Republican Party leadership and the White House had an uneasy but highly effective alliance. Though Trump was often frustrated by some of the more moderate GOP senators, and party leadership was often left scrambling to defend Trump’s more outrageous comments and actions, the tandem nonetheless endured. The result was an unprecedented reworking of America’s federal courts and Supreme Court, among other less notable accomplishments. However, it seems that these years of blind loyalty with Trump’s agenda is about to catch up with them.
During much of his term, Trump was able to get what he wanted out of Republicans in Congress, holding a massive influence over the GOP in the Senate and especially in the House. In the last two months in office, however, the blind loyalty many Republicans showed began to erode, albeit slowly, as one by one GOP members began to acknowledge Biden’s victory. This came to a head on January 6th, when, after Trump was complicit in an attack on the Capitol, many more Republicans began to abandon his cause, as GOP senators outwardly pushed for a transition of power and ten Republicans in the House voted in favor of his impeachment. Even Vice President Pence seemed to be distancing himself from the Commander in Chief. For Trump and his most ravid supporters, these moves were nothing short of betrayal. And, unfortunately for the GOP, Donald Trump is a spiteful man.
To say that the creation of the Patriot Party would be a disaster for the Republican Party would be an understatement. In a poll conducted by Reuters, just two in ten Republican voters believe Trump should be impeached, and just three in ten believe that the 2020 election was a fair one. This seems to indicate that a sizable portion, or perhaps even a majority, of the GOP base consists not of moderate “well, he’s better than Biden” voters, but instead of passionate Trump-loving voters. According to The Hill, as much as 64% of Republican voters say they would likely switch to a Trump-led party if it were to be created. As we’ll discuss later in the Democratic Party outlook, even half this many voters leaving the party would be a fatal blow to the GOP, and a crippling one to conservatism in the United States as a whole, as under the new circumstances safe blue states alone would push the Democrats past 270 electoral votes and deliver them ridiculously large majorities in both chambers of Congress.
The worst news of all for the Republicans is that in a time when party unity and calm are desperately needed, their hand is being forced on the Trump issue over and over again. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s botched handling of the Marjorie Taylor Greene situation, the exiling of House representatives who voted in favor of impeachment, and infighting concerning the validity of Qanon theories certainly haven’t inspired confidence. Neither have reports that moderate Republicans like Ben Sasse, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins are seriously considering creating an anti-Trump party focused on restoring civility to conservative politics. All of these crises have exposed the fragility of the Republican Party, which has only served to further embolden Trump.
If a Trump party was to split from the rest of the conservative base, 2022 and subsequent elections would look very different from any election in recent memory. In the 2020 battleground states, the Democrats would obliterate both the Patriot and Republican Parties. Meanwhile, comfortably red states would suddenly be unreliable, as Trump supporters and Democrats would be battling it out on the same footing as moderate Republicans. This is especially true of states that have been the most supportive of Trump, like Wyoming (whose Republican Party just censured Liz Cheney for voting for impeachment), West Virginia, and Alabama, as well as states that would suddenly be competitive for Democrats, like Indiana and Montana.
In short, no matter which way you cut it, this is a terrible situation for the GOP. The key for Republicans moving forward is to do everything in their power to stop Trump from splitting the conservative base into moderate and extreme branches. If recent events are anything to go by, this seems to be the path they’ve chosen. In the recent impeachment trial of Trump, Mitch McConnell and other Republicans backed down from their threats to convict the former president, with only seven Republican senators breaking ranks to vote that Trump was guilty. Though McConnell is reportedly trying to lead his party away from Trump, he seems to be doing so slowly and cautiously, wanting to conserve as much of Trump’s base as possible.
The Outlook for the Democratic Party
Napoleon once said to “never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake.” At this moment, the Democrats would be wise to heed this maxim. Though the second impeachment of Trump was motivated more by a desire to condemn the events of January 6th than by politics, the trial nonetheless put the Republican Party in an awkward situation. Given this, and the infighting that is burning through the ranks of the GOP, the Democrats can simply sit back and watch the chaos unfold. In fact, a key for the party in the foreseeable future will be to lay low, avoiding anything controversial that may prompt conservatives to lay down their quarrels in the face of a common enemy.
If Trump ends up pulling the trigger and creates a functioning and popular Patriot Party, the Democratic Party will inherit an unprecedented amount of political power, becoming the dominant force at all levels of government. As previously mentioned, The Hill projected that up to 64% of Republican voters would strongly consider joining Trump’s Patriot Party. While that would certainly be a dream scenario for the Democrats, it turns out that they would need a lot less – perhaps as little as ten to twenty percent of the GOP base – to radically change the electoral map. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at the 2020 electoral college map. If just ten percent of GOP voters instead casted their votes for a third party, Joe Biden would have won in Florida and North Carolina, adding 47 electoral votes, according to new census data (every ten years electoral values are updated to accurately reflect population). Make that fifteen percent of GOP voters, and Biden would have also added Texas. At twenty percent, Ohio, Alaska, and Iowa would have also gone blue. With twenty percent of the Republican vote diverted to a third party candidate, the Democratic Party’s electoral vote total moves from 306 to 415. Though the effect of this split won’t be as pronounced in Congress, as Republicans would often unite with Patriot colleagues to shoot down liberal agendas, it would still be impactful due to vote splitting, which would reduce the amount of conservatives in Congress as a whole.
There is some speculation that if the conservatives were to splinter off into a moderate party and a hardline party, the Democrats would follow suit, as the divides between the Randy Bullocks and Elizabeth Warrens of the party could finally be acted upon without consequence. This would create a four party system with a progressive party, two moderate parties, and a hardcore conservative party. If this were to become reality, the United States would more closely resemble the multi-party democracies of Europe, and would be more similar to the country that our founders envisioned, as evidenced by Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution (shout-out to Ms. Vargas).
However, this is a highly improbable result. As much as the progressives and moderates of the Democratic Party may disagree, neither side would be stupid enough to waste a golden oppurtunity. In fact, in my opinion, the creation of a Patriot Party would only serve to unite the Democratic Party. If the Republican base were to split, and the Democrats managed to stay together in one broad coalition, the power that the party would yield would be something to behold. We’re talking about a once-in-a-century event here: liberal lawmakers would have amazing freedom to ram legislation into law. Whether it be environmental policy, immigration and police reform, granting statehood to D.C. and Puerto Rico, or ending the Senate filibuster (which may be irrelevant in this reality, since they would probably have more than 60 senators, but maybe they would just do it anyways as revenge for past grievances), Democrats would likely be able to pass almost anything they’d like, as long as both progressives and moderates are on board.
In all, the creation of a second conservative party would be a gigantic win for the Democratic Party, which is the exact argument Republicans are using in their attempts to convince Trump not to do it. However unlikely it may be, if Trump were to create the Patriot Party out of pure spite and ego, the United States would likely be headed towards a period of liberal reform not seen since The New Deal.
It’s safe to say that the Patriot Party would change a lot. The Republican Party would be caught between a suddenly dominant Democratic Party and a smaller yet fiercely loyal Patriot Party. The Democratic Party would be the most empowered political machine in modern times. And, of course, what would a Patriot Party even look like? What would its role be? Needless to say, our politics would swiftly depart from the gridlocked two-party shenanigans of the last few decades.
After all this theorizing, it’s important to remember how unlikely this whole situation is. Ultimately, it will be very difficult for Trump to create a third party with real staying power. For one, if his health or some other factor leaves him unable to run, he could struggle to find a successor with the same ability to galvanize his base. Trump will also need massive amounts of funding, and will have to construct a political machine nearly from scratch. Let’s also remind ourselves that in this era of two-party politics, third parties have struggled to gain much of a foothold. The last time a third party candidate finished with over ten percent of the popular vote was 1992, and the last time a third party candidate received an electoral vote was in 1968.
However, if there’s anything we’ve learned about Trump, it’s that he’s anything but the norm. If he can organize a functional political apparatus, if he can sustain his fanatical base, and if he can find traction in the 2022 midterms and then run for office in 2024 (or find a suitable replacement), then Trump may just be able to turn America on its head one more time.