Like many Republicans horrified by the Trump nomination, I often find myself daydreaming about a new political party – one that fuses the best of conservatism and libertarianism into a new electoral force that consigns the feckless GOP to the scrapheap of history with the Whigs.
Could it happen?
The answer depends on what happens over the next four years.
This is little more than a thought experiment, but here are my best educated guesses, based on my own observations of American politics, as well as my cynical (some might say pessimistic) nature. Feel free to advance your own or second guess my assumptions.
Scenario 1: Trump loses in a landslide
In this scenario, regardless of whether Republicans keep one or both houses of Congress, conservatives and libertarian leaning Republicans (henceforth referred to as “we” or “us” for brevity’s sake), given the hurdles of starting a new political party from scratch, would have little motivation to leave the GOP. The cost/benefit isn’t there. Besides, Trumpism would have been absolutely and irrefutably discredited, and we could resume battling elites in Washington for the heart and soul of the party. Cruz might be the likely nominee in 2020 as a result.
Scenario 2: Trump loses a close election
Fairly or unfairly, #NeverTrump would take the blame for Trump’s loss. This is why Ted Cruz bit the bullet and endorsed Trump: to remain electorally viable as a candidate for 2020 in this scenario. Trump supporters would be bitter, but I doubt another candidate would emerge to carry his mantle who could unite his entire coalition of support. In addition, Hillary would be an incumbent, and therefore the GOP field would be smaller, limiting the ability of a fringe candidate to capture the nomination with a small plurality of the vote as Trump did. The cost/benefit ratio of starting a new party makes it likely we would remain with the GOP, possibly nominating a consensus figure like Rubio in 2020.
Scenario 3: Trump wins, presidency is successful
OK, stop laughing. A Trump White House would be awful. We know that. But let’s suppose Trump’s ego permits him to limit himself to hosting episodes of The Apprentice from the Oval Office, leaving the hard work of governing to Pence, who we will furthermore suppose would govern as a conservative and do a good job. I know, I know. It would never happen, but we’re playing with hypotheticals here, and this is the only way a Trump presidency could ever be successful. In this scenario, the cost/benefit ratio of starting a new party would still outweigh staying put. Besides, Trump would be a only a figurehead, and our most of us would want a seat at the table of government that advances conservative ideas.
Scenario 4: Trump wins, is as awful as we expect
Here is where things get dicey. If Trump is as bad as we expect, the GOP would be too damaged to serve as a viable electoral vehicle for anyone…but there are still a couple of ways things could go:
Sub Scenario (A): GOP sees the writing on the wall for 2020, forces Trump to decline running for a second term
I doubt anyone would split from the GOP to mount a third party effort, so most of us would stick with the GOP, at least for one more go-round. Substituting another candidate for Trump might not overcome the damage he wrought the GOP brand, but it might take a decisive loss in 2020 to prove it.
Sub Scenario (B): GOP sees the writing on the wall for 2020, forces Trump on the rest of us anyway
In this scenario, I fully expect a major third party candidacy to emerge that could turn the GOP into a rump party. It might not win in 2020, but it would attract enough support to stick around in 2022 and 2024, especially if polls show the GOP brand had become repugnant to everyone but men who shave their heads and consider white hoods fashionable – which is exactly what a Trump White House would accomplish.
I do not expect Trump to defeat Hillary, so I consider it unlikely a new party will emerge to replace the GOP, at least for the time being (the next two or three presidential election cycles, anyway).
But if it did happen, what would we call a new party?
I have a personal favorite: how about the Federalist Party?