As Long as Trump Controls the GOP, We Won't Have a Third PartyRoundup
tags: Republican Party, Donald Trump, third parties
Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton University. A specialist in modern American political, social and urban/suburban history, he is the author and editor of several books, including White Flight (2005), One Nation Under God (2015) and Fault Lines: A History of the United States since 1974 (2019).
This week, a Gallup Poll revealed that support for a new political party in the United States has reached an all-time high. Nearly two-thirds of Americans — 62 percent — agree that Democrats and Republicans “do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.”
A closer look, though, shows the surge in support for a third party has come largely from the ranks of Republicans. While Democrats and independents have slightly cooled to the idea, Republicans have suddenly embraced it. Last fall, only 40 percent reported to Gallup that they supported a third party; now, 63 percent say they do.
This flirtation with a third party is, in many ways, a ritual of American politics, as the losing side in a presidential contest invariably grumbles about the status quo. (It’s no coincidence that Gallup’s previous high marks on third parties came in the aftermath of presidential races, in 2017 and 2013.)
Republicans have lost control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives over the past four years. The understandable tensions that have stemmed from such losses have been aggravated by former president Donald Trump, who now seems intent on waging a civil war for control of the GOP. Polls show the former president still holds considerable sway over the party’s base, with 59 percent of Republicans naming him as their preferred candidate for the 2024 election and a significant number indicating they’d follow him into a third party if needed.
Meanwhile, the handful of Republicans who’ve broken with the president publicly during his second impeachment have been singled out for censure by their state parties, showing that the Trump divisions run deep. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted to acquit the president, came under fire from Trump this week, in a scathing letter that promised primary challengers for any official who sided with the Kentucky senator.
But there seems little chance that a GOP "civil war" will spark the rise of a new party on the right. The Republicans who are most vocal about bolting are Trump’s own supporters. As long as he controls the party, he’ll keep them there with him. The minority of Republicans who’ve broken with Trump could break off to form their own conservative party devoid of the Trumpist cult of personality, but the odds of that happening are slim, for several reasons.
For starters, we need to remember that we already have a third party — as well as a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, and on and on. To be sure, the impact of these minor parties is largely negligible. There are dozens of “parties” that are barely more than vanity projects for their leaders and donors.
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