The Takeover and Current State
After the Trump defeat following the January sixth insurgency, in the wake of the second impeachment hearings, it briefly seemed that the former president would be forced to cede his leadership role in the GOP or would consider starting his own party. The vote acquitted the former president almost entirely on party-line votes, demonstrating at best, that the GOP did not find him culpable in the insurrection, at worst, that he was the definitive leader of the party who had moved into untouchable status. The consideration of his starting his own party was thrown out when he took the stage at the CPAC convention in Florida on February 28:
“Wouldn’t that be brilliant? Let’s start a new party so we can divide our vote and never win,” he joked. “We have the Republican Party. It’s going to unite and be stronger than ever before.”1
But it is no longer a party of ideas. It is a party of one person. It is time for a new conservative party.
Liz Cheney’s ouster from the House Republican Conference is just the most recent example of a new Republican party, now absent of ideas and actual policy. It has been transformed into a cult of personality and there is no indication that reform will be possible. The former president has brought his party to demonize any that oppose, whether that be for the false narrative that the 2020 election was rigged or any perceived lack of loyalty to him personally. He has chosen to run the party like a gangster, supporting primary candidates based entirely on their fidelity to him, not the party or policy.
Congresswoman Cheney expressed her concern clearly with no ambiguity after being forced out of her leadership position this week:
“He’s going to unravel the democracy to come back into power.” 2
And while she speaks of saving the GOP, the better option may be to align with other principled conservatives and start fresh. There is an opportunity to use this moment to create a new political party, let’s call this the “New Conservative Party”.
There are many reasons to not create a third party, it will inevitably split the vote as the former president said, but the threatening of the country’s democratic foundation warrants eschewing historical party loyalty and taking this risk. When the party no longer aligns with the espoused core values of small government, limited involvement in social issues, low taxes, and pro-business policies in favor of the daily whims of a single leader, is this a party worth keeping loyalty to?
Splitting the vote can give conservatives more power
Liz Cheney is but one, but there are other GOP members in both parties who are frustrated with the current state of their party and weary of Trump. But being in a party where loyalty to Trump is now the deciding factor, they fear getting a primary challenge if they speak out. This provides a window for an alternative party, one based on policy positions and a commitment to democracy.
If five GOP members from each house join this New Conservative Party, they will wield power that far outstrips their numbers, outweighing the GOP. Those who would join would be led by principle, both to conservative values and the idea of proposing legislation to meet their objectives. These would-be leaders are willing to negotiate in earnest and be less likely to see Democrats as enemies, and instead, opponents, who share a vision of improving the country through policy, even if those visions are different. In the Senate, defection to the NCP would get Senators from under the boot of Mitch McConnel who in no way should be allowed into a new party based on principles, of which, he has none.
While traditional conservative principles may be even further from the leftward tilt current Biden proposals come from, these adherents are more likely to pull up a chair at the table to talk policy, not rancor. If even 10% are uncomfortable with the direction the Trump GOP move over, they will become the kingmakers in policy, being the “go-to” group for extra votes, democrats could ignore the GOP entirely on negotiations.
In this situation, when Democrats are looking for additional votes, they can first turn to the conservatives, even if this means compromises, knowing that they sit at the table in earnest, wanting to get legislation passed. Will this pull policies toward the center? Likely. But this can also start to build a spirit of cooperation in good faith, while also demonstrating the NCP is getting things done, something the current GOP has not been able to do.
Be a standard for change & restore faith in democracy
By realigning the party as one of principle and integrity and opening a door to new, young members, the right can finally put forward a new vision for the right. This move will help all Americans, from conservatives to progressives by helping to restore public faith in democracy.
The pandemic, a difficult election, mass shootings, the killing of citizens by police, protests, physical and social isolation, and an uncertain economy have wrought challenges on all Americans. It has created a perfect storm for increased cynicism about government and deeper cleavages in society. Social trust, already declining for decades, has reached an all-time low.3 There are multiple factors contributing to this, but constant fighting and a commitment to seeing the opposition party as enemies has only solidified the picture of the country as a civil war waiting to happen.
And yet, there are believers on both sides that see the government and (some) leaders as committed to a shared vision of a more perfect union. Yes, these may be very different visions, even opposing, but they understand that these are proposals brought about by problems they both see. These men and women enter public service on their own, contrasting idealism, but they both want to solve problems for the American people. Representative democracy is based on the friction of opposing ideas, but it only works if all parties come to the table with an understanding that both share a purpose and deserve the respect that the responsibility of their position provides.
The NCP can help restore public confidence in our leaders.
By standing on principle, clearly articulated, and stepping away from inflammatory rhetoric, people will listen. There is a quiet group waiting for an alternative to rally around, but in the sea of red hats, chanting at the top of their lungs, their voices go unheard.
Despite what the media tells us, people respect integrity. It is ok to disagree, and complex opinions and nuance can be understood but only when people are spoken to with respect and the speaker with integrity. The current media environment rarely allows a place for nuance in a battlefield of screaming talking heads providing news-like substances, but rarely news. Yes, Democrats need to commit to speaking in a less attacking manner as well, but even the likes of AOC may look forward to discussions with an NCP Representative if based on the assumption that everyone joining the table is doing so from the position of problem-solving, and not political provocation.
From this position, with both the Democrats and NPC offering a good faith attempt, the parties could demonstrate to Americans how government should work, even if coming from opposing ideologies.
Others will follow
Undoubtedly there are leaders within the current congress as well as state representatives and others waiting on the sidelines for an opportunity to align their work with their principles, but the choice must first be available. By taking the bold step of beginning a new coalition, others will start to move over, broadening their support.
Being an underdog allows time for new, even radical ideas to come forward. The left has demonstrated this, with the progressive wing seeing unlikely candidates come in and shift the debate in their favor. But the Democrats, unwillingly at times, have shown that their tent is large enough for a range of opinions. The GOP has become a tent of one. Even though the current Democratic leaders try to keep their progressive wing on a leash, they have shifted the Overton Window to the left. A new NCP could allow similar proposals to come forward on the right. They could help define a new future for their viewpoint based on policy rather than the demonization of anyone who criticizes a specific individual.
The Democrats need to support an NCP in good faith
Surprisingly, there are a few areas that a New Conservative Party and Democrats could find common ground on and these are areas that might benefit both parties while strengthening the democracy.
Rank choice voting
A commitment to promoting Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) legislation at the state and federal levels could help both parties. The major concern for third parties is slicing up votes, putting one party permanently in the minority. RCV could solve this and help provide long-term viability to a New Conservative Party. With three parties, one would expect Democrats to vote for the democratic candidate, but then offer a “backup” option, which would likely fall to an NCP candidate (if they stay aligned with a principled platform). In the same vein, voters on the right now have two options. Even if the voter is a diehard Trump-GOP supporter, they are more likely to vote second for the NCP rather than see a democratic candidate nominated. NCP supporters are free to vote their conscience, first for an NCP candidate but knowing that they can still support the GOP as a backup should the candidate align with their views.
A commitment to ranked-choice voting help bolster continued, viable third parties, even opening the door for a possible Progressive party if the Democratic party shifts to be less friendly to these policies. This is a chicken and an egg situation where systems need to be set up to allow for this “safety” fallback position for third parties to be sustainable in the long term. There is precedent on the right in support of RCV in Utah and other states, this does not need to be a partisan issue.
Campaign finance reform
This issue, once a mainstay of political discussions in the 1990s and 2000s, has lost momentum in the wake of the Citizens United ruling in 2010. Since then, large donors have bankrolled private funds to both sides of the political spectrum (often dark money), favoring republicans but most beneficial to mostly to the wealthy donors and corporations.
There is a principled argument to redefine how we run elections, but it will never happen under a two-party system. The entrance of a third party allows the opportunity for a powerful coalition to step in to propose and pass controversial legislation. This could be a sacrificial position, but by having the Democrats and NCP align together, even financially weakened, they would outnumber a potentially more monied GOP. This works particularly well in line with Ranked Choice Voting, changing the dynamic of the election while monied interests are reduced.
What this looks like is anyone’s guess, but if both the NCP and Democrats agreed to shift the political dialogue towards ideas and not funding, there is a unique opportunity to make long-term changes that benefit American democracy.
Both parties are guilty of gerrymandering, there should be no mistake on this. The two-party system has created a reinforcing cycle for gerrymandering, with minorities trying to correct the previous parties’ abuses by stacking on additional abuses (in the opposite direction) when they come to power. Yes, this has been particularly egregious on the right the past decade, but it should be a non-partisan issue to fight.
Democrats in a coalition with NCP can forge an alliance to pass legislation requiring nonpartisan-led districting or consider refusing seats from gerrymandered districts. Nonpartisan boundaries have already been achieved in some states, and despite the criticism of there being ‘no nonpartisan option’, the truth is there are methods and parties willing to do this such as in the case of Colorado, Missouri, and Iowa with other models available. 4
Redistricting based on communities rather than politics, done by nonpartisan actors, in conjunction with Ranked Choice Voting requirements, can work in concert with each other. These changes would only succeed with a commitment from both Democrats and the NCP (and perhaps in the future, the GOP) to compete on ideas, but it is a start. It is possible. A fast defection and creation of the NCP could help contest gerrymandered districts before next year’s elections, benefitting everyone, but voters most of all.
Who are those who could lead the charge?
This is a good question. Representative Cheney has already staked her claim of putting democracy before the zparty, even if it costs her power. While she purports to want to help the GOP shift away from Trump, she could do better by taking her principled stance to form the NCP. The rest of the House is questionable, but if the GOP continues down its current path, it is likely that other Representatives may look for an escape hatch, but that can only be used if it exists.
On the Senate side, things are more promising. With such a narrow margin of votes, a small defection to the NCP would carry enormous influence. Mitt Romney seems a likely candidate to lead the charge but taking such a bold position may be out of character even if his criticisms of the former president have been clear. Perhaps a reflection on his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney, who took strong stances on civil rights and regularly turned down excessive bonuses as CEO of American Motors could help inspire him to lead what will be a very controversial initiative.5 Other Trump critics in the Senate, Susan Collins, Ben Sasse, Lisa Murkowski, might be willing to take a final step out if done as a group.
Outside the Congress, there are hundreds of policymakers and state representatives waiting for an opportunity to talk about issues and integrity again. Somewhere, there is the youthful, not-Josh-Hawley committed to conservative principles and American values and not the rantings of a single angry man who cares for nothing other than himself. There are new leaders out there we do not yet know simply because they have not been given a chance to be heard above the yelling.
A New Conservative Party would give them this opportunity.
Let’s say goodbye to the current two-party system
There is nothing sacred about the current American two-party system. The country has had other viable parties in its early days, with the modern Republican party being a third party that morphed into its current position. There is something to be said about traditions: they die when they can no longer defend their relevance.
What is at stake here is not a party, but democracy itself. The savior to bringing out country back together may just be a new party, committed to principle and integrity.
5 Putnam, R. The Upswing, p 66.