A New Center-Right Party Shimmers into Position

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Image by Christopher O’Toole from Pixabay

Conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg recently revived the debate over the need for a new, conservative political party, arguing in The Dispatch (the conservative but Trump-skeptical online publication he co-founded) that forming a new party is a better alternative for Never Trump conservatives than voting for Democrats. Aroused, the anti-anti-Trumpers at National Review fired off three quick responses in opposition, while David French (The Dispatch’s senior editor) weighed in in support.

Goldberg’s argument and the responses he provoked fail to reflect what is happening on the ground in real-time. The reality is that the center-right has already created a political movement, which very well may evolve into a third party.

Goldberg refers to a New York Times op-ed by Miles Taylor (the former chief of staff in the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration) and Christine Todd Whitman (the former Republican governor of New Jersey). In that op-ed, the authors argue that to defend democracy, anti-Trump Republicans need to vote for Democrats in 2022.  Goldberg argues that a better option is the creation of “a third party with a simple, Reaganite conservative platform combined with a serious plank to defend the soundness of elections.”  

Goldberg fails to place this seemingly simple choice – alliance with Democrats or a new party – in the broader context of what is actually happening.  Taylor and Whitman were not writing for themselves, but as leaders of the Renew America Movement (RAM). RAM is the political organization launched by hundreds of current and former Republican leaders, including myself. Taylor and Whitman made it clear that RAM will be supporting candidates of both parties:

[W]e will endorse and support bipartisan-oriented moderate Democrats in difficult races… and we will defend a small nucleus of courageous Republicans, such as Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Peter Meijer and others who are unafraid to speak the truth.

Taylor and Whitman also indicated that RAM would support independent candidates who will not run as spoilers for the Democrats. Rather, RAM will take local circumstances into account in those cases where Democrats can be convinced that an independent is the most viable option to beat a Trump Republican. They cite Utah as an example, where Senator Mike Lee (a Republican who supported Trump’s refusal to concede defeat in the presidential election) almost certainly cannot be defeated by a Democratic challenger. But an independent might succeed – which is why former Republican Evan McMullin, a member of RAM, announced recently that he was entering the Utah race.

In the short term — the 2022 and 2024 elections — RAM’s efforts will  focus not just on supporting Democrats  but on an “all-of-the-above” electoral strategy to help prevent Trump and his supporters from regaining power and destroying our democracy. But as Taylor and Whitman made clear in their editorial, the option of forming a third party remains on the table in the long term:

Starting a new center-right party may prove to be the last resort if Trump-backed candidates continue to win Republican primaries. We and our allies have debated the option of starting a new party for months and will continue to explore its viability in the long run.

Is this movement (and potential new party) the “conservative, Reaganite” alternative Goldberg is looking for? We have chosen to use the term “center-right,” but the meaning of labels is in the eye of the beholder.  We are all current or former Republicans, and RAM’s first action was to adopt a set of guiding principles, “A Call for American Renewal,” that includes this arguably Reaganite statement on economic opportunity:

We recognize open, market-based economies as consistent with our natural liberty and the optimal means of ensuring economic mobility and the allocation of scarce resources. We support sensible and limited regulation, including to ensure equal opportunity, and affirm government’s vital role in assisting vulnerable citizens, while encouraging self-reliance without the impediments of cronyism and corruption.

The point is, we have moved beyond debating what should be done about Trump and his takeover of the GOP. We have moved on to doing the hard work of winning elections. We raise money, endorse candidates, gather allies, hire political professionals, and build a grassroots base. 

Today, almost five and a half years after the hashtag #NeverTrump began trending on Twitter, the center-right movement is composed of hundreds of prominent current and former Republican leaders, hundreds of thousands of donors large and small, and millions of social media followers. It includes intellectual leaders, media pundits, think tanks, political operatives, and a robust fundraising, organizational, and political infrastructure.  The ground is being laid for this movement to evolve into a party if events take us there.

The Republican Party has not exactly split – yet – but chunks of it are breaking off. This new center-right movement is a reality. But where does it go from here? And how long before it is capable of winning elections? This new movement is still far from reaching full development. But it was a factor in the 2020 election, and it is gearing up to make a difference in 2022. I think America needs this movement to be successful. Our democracy is still under threat, and we are likely to face a massive constitutional crisis in the next two elections. We can’t avoid this fight, and to win it we need to build a broad, pro-democracy coalition that includes those of us who used to be loyal Republicans. The good news is that it’s happening.

Note: This post represents the author’s opinion and does not reflect the positioning of the Niskanen Center, where this article first appeared.

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Former Washington State Republican lawmaker and State Party Chairman. Republican nominee for the US Senate in 2016. Now an independent.

12 COMMENTS

  1. It’s happening all over.
    The left wing of the local Democratic Party is trying to drive out anyone who opposes neo-racism etc etc

    I can imagine an alternative center-left party..

  2. Jonah Goldberg and David French still burn with a hatred for Trump (what else is new). In other news, liberals and Leftists have formed an unholy alliance, forcing traditional Democrats to look elsewhere.

    The Left seeks to vanquish all infidels. Who knows how liberals can live with themselves (and Leftists) given the ugly choices they’re making? That is, choosing not to rally for their historic and longstanding virtues of truth-beauty-goodness.

    The infinitive ‘to conserve’ (verb) is no longer a dirty word, especially in light of the maniac pace of change and chaos we’re experiencing at the moment. Political opportunists need to cool their jets, we don’t need a Cultural Revolution, incrementalism and decentralization will do nicely for now, thank you.

    • Such a fusion party would be ideal but is it possible?

      We do indeed have significant differences; Reasonable people can disagree but we do indeed have our disagreements.

      The only thing that unites us… And indeed it is a BIG thing… is we care about constitutional government.

      I’ve been struggling to figure out how rational Republicans and Democrats could be working together. Suppose we had a fusion “party of national unity” and was able to elect a president and vice president, who would agree to act as copresidents, in one term.

      But what would they do legislatively? Could they agree on, for example, healthcare?

  3. What is needed IS a 3rd Party made up of Independents. Neither current parties really represents the people’s business. How anybody could be proud of the 2 party system we currently have representing us, is “The Mystery”.
    Let’s start with term limits.

  4. Chris Vance.

    I like your idea of a fusion party of national unity. But we do have some real policy disagreements.

    Yes we do agree on one HUGE thing called constitutional government.

    But beyond that, reasonable people can disagree. Suppose we had a center party with a president and VP, one each from the legacy parties. How would they govern? Could a fusion party agree on, say, healthcare?

    I’m taking your idea seriously because I can easily envision a split in the Democratic Party, at least here in western Washington.
    (The Party apparatus is so controlled by progressives that elected officials feel free to endorse one Democrat over another Democrat in races; that’s not good for the party.)

    So how could a fusion party GOVERN if it ever got into national office?

  5. It doesn’t seem completely implausible to me that as a nation we’re getting to a point of such extreme political polarization that a big tent liberal democracy (small ‘L’) party, that stands for individual liberty, pluralism, fair and impartial democratic (small “D’) institutions and processes, a free and open public square where we are all treated as equals regardless of our backgrounds and identities, fiscal prudence and fair and well regulated capitalism, etc, might begin to gain traction against the increasingly authoritarian collectivism and destructive populisms that are increasingly warping both established parties (with the Republicans well in the lead on this race to the bottom, to be sure). A multi-racial party that puts a set of foundational principles above hyperpartisan tribalism, that believes in pragmatism and compromise, and that could unite the center left and center right under one banner against the extremes on both the right and the left.

    I don’t think we’re quite there yet, and our political system makes the formation of a viable new party extremely difficult, both both parties seem to be increasingly brittle as partisan extremism gains purchase within the extant party structures.

  6. You can’t create a new party without some compelling new solutions, such as tax (as Henry George tried to do), electoral reform (the Progressives), rural policies (the Populists), and non-extension of slavery (the Republican Party). I also think that it might be best to have a series of state parties pioneering these new parties, as happened with California and Wisconsin for the birth of the Progressives. And I would add that such a party is more likely to arise if led by a young, impatient figure, not sour old Republicans longing for Ike or Reagan and other discredited voices of the past. I would build the new party on a limited number of urgent themes: inequality and climate change.

    • Part of my point in writing this piece was to make clear that while people talk about this as an abstract theory, in the real world it is already happening. It is happening via evolution, not a master plan. And more than anything it is driven by a rejection of the extremes of the two parties.

  7. David Brewster,
    I don’t think Vance is really proposing a new party but a neo-Republican Party — a Dan Evans Party — which doesn’t require new ideas.

    A FUSION party — made of people who can no longer be either Republican or Democrat — is indeed far more difficult and does as you say require a fresh approach since there are likely real philosophical differences.

    For example my question for Vance would be whether his new party could imagine condemning (through eminent domain) the electric car charging program that Tesla has established. It’s an essential for further progress in EVs. Just an example and maybe not a great one to try and determine the meat of his party

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