Stumped by Trump, Disaffected Republicans Should Create a Third Party for 2024

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How do moderate Republicans approach the 2024 presidential election?  For those who are reluctant to vote for Donald Trump, what are the alternatives?  

There is no shortage of potential GOP candidates, as noted in Max Greenwood’s survey in The Hill, with this headline, “The 10 Republicans most likely to run for president in 2024.” 

What’s expected is that all, including former VP Mike Pence, will opt out if and when the GOP’s presumptive nominee posts a glitzy video of himself alongside his spouse, Melania, on a Trump Tower escalator, this time going upward.  

These presidential hopefuls are already positioning themselves, making appearances at the early primary states or setting up political action committees to boost GOP candidates ahead of the 2020 midterm elections.  Of course, all of them must cope with the tricky dynamics of being viable without upsetting their presumptive and vengeful leader.  Should Trump opt out, it will be a messy primary with each of the wannabes targeting the MAGA base, pushing the party further to the right.

Republicans remain hopeful looking at 2024, given President Joe Biden’s poll numbers spiraling downward, his age, the COVID tsunami crippling the economy, and Democrats’ struggle to accomplish their agenda with slim margins in the Congress.  At the same time, if Donald Trump becomes the GOP nominee in the next presidential election, a fragment of the party loyalists will likely face a daunting choice between fear about another Trump presidency and reluctance to vote for a Democrat.  

Has Trumpism taken over the Republican Party, trashing its traditional values and beliefs championed by leaders such as Bob Dole, Ronald Reagan,and Mitt Romney?  At a forum in Rochester, NY, I recently appeared alongside a former Republican Congressman who observed that “Donald Trump had hijacked the Republican Party.”

But where to turn? 

Concerns about Trump led some prominent anti-Trump Republicans to set up the Lincoln Project in 2019.  In The New Yorker, Paige Williams published an analysis highlighting the project’s influence on Republican politics, claiming that its attacks on Trump were splintering the party’s traditional base.  It even dared to cross the line, formally endorsing Joe Biden for president in April 2020.

Beyond producing a number of anti-Trump TV ads and its leaders making regular appearances on cable network news programs, would the Lincoln Project make a difference as we approach the 2024 presidential election?  A better path, in my view, is to transform the Project’s Political Action Committee into an independent third party, and then proceed with ground level operations to secure enough signatures to get on the ballots in key battleground states.  

There’s a clear parallel to this suggestion. Back in 1992, Texas billionaire Ross Perot launched his candidacy by forming an independent party that placed his name alongside then President George H.W. Bush and the Democrat challenger, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. Before the era of social media platforms, Perot built a national base among those who read his On Wings of Eagles and were inspired by his highly publicized rescuing of two U.S. citizens in Iran.  He also had a populist message – strong opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and pledge to reduce the national debt – that resonated nationally at the time.

On election night Perot won 18.9% of the popular vote, the highest share of the vote won by a candidate outside of the two major parties since Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party in 1912. Perot’s gambit had a riveting effect on the Bush candidacy, with Perot taking votes away from him in key states.  

George H.W. Bush was one of just two incumbent presidents (besides Jimmy Carter in 1980) since World War II to lose a re-election campaign.  While Perot did not win a single electoral vote, he certainly had an impact on the outcome — Clinton flipped a total of 22 states that had previously voted Republican in 1988.  

The Lincoln Project could charter an independent party and get it on the ballot in key states, but the obvious question is who would be on the ticket.  One suggestion would be the pair of Rep. Liz Cheney and former Ohio Gov. Robert Kasich.  Both have credentials and the guts to refute Trump’s claims of election fraud and authoritarian rule.  Their focus would be on true GOP policies and issues that would offer an alternative for the disheartened Republicans who will be casting ballots in the 2024 presidential election.  

Liz Cheney’s latest public comment sounded the alarm for many fellow Republicans: “Donald Trump can never be anywhere near the oval office again.”  The ousted former president will likely end Cheney’s career in the U. S. House of Representatives, but she may be the one who foils Trump’s return to the White House ever again.

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Don Bonker is a former Member of Congress from Washington’s Third District and former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Trade. He now lives on Bainbridge Island and consults on international trade issues.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Don, the best thing that Republicans can do for the Democrats is to adhere to your suggestion.
    Rather than split the party work on Congressional and Senate races, and cede the Oval Office to the Biden campaign, letting the Trump era die of natural causes.

  2. The risk, of course, is that such a third party would attract enough Republican voters who would otherwise have voted for Biden to deliver the election to Trump. To minimize that risk, a third party should run to the right of Trump, trying to suck enough MAGA votes away to help Biden (or whoever is the Dem nominee) in battleground states. A Kasich/Cheney ticket might give Never Trump Republicans a comforting option to spare them the agony of having to vote for a Democrat in their order to avoid voting for Trump, but end up with exactly the outcome they wish to avoid. If this is really about preventing Trump’s return to office tomorrow need candidates who would draw away many more Trump-, leaning voters than possible Biden voters. A tricky problem.

  3. I don’t see a realistic possibility of a GOP split.

    The best hope remains that the physical health of Trump himself won’t allow a run, or criminal prosecution, and that DeSantis becomes the nominee. DeSantis would absolutely be able to unite both populist right voters and centrist conservatives, and carry a whole lot of centrist liberals as well.

    As for party split, though it won’t happen, I’d argue we actually have four different major political bases in the nation: Progressive-Socialist Left, Centrist Liberal, Centrist Conservatives and Populist-Nationalist Right.

  4. Disaffected Republicans is not a phenomenon.Disaffected Democrats, however, is!

    ‘Projection’ is as ‘projection’ does, attempting to make this projection on the center-right is too lame. Clearly, the Left views the world through an ideological prism as well as a mirror but accusing others of the very things they’re doing is simply vile.

    Lastly, Kasich/Cheney does not represent the mood of the county (more projection).

  5. I agree that the Bonker Plan could help re-elect Trump. Its virtue is rather that it makes a broad pitch for a new GOP and elevates some political figures to prominence. Both Cheney and Kasich are old mavericks, rather than new lights.

  6. Thanks, David, — topic worthy of discussion. Any hint the idea would favor Trump, I definitely would not submit. I did not mention Ralph Nader, one of his 4 bids was in 2000. No question a party spoiler, contributing to Gore’s defeat. In Florida, Bush beat Gore by 537 votes. Nader got 97,42, no doubt at Gore’s expense. Nader’s stated purpose for filing, “a crisis in democracy.” Sounds familiar today. Cheney or Kasich my preference, but the door is open should this be an option. Appreciate the comments.

  7. Need a billionaire candidate like Perot. Some dead end politician like Cheney may volunteer to run in a 3rd party candidacy that can’t win, but she’d have to fund the campaign – money spent on a 3rd party is a poor investment for anyone else.

  8. Appreciate comments, even contrary views. Picking Tom Corddry to respond, several points:

    A 2024 3rd party may attract Republican voters who would otherwise go for Biden. Highly unlikely. Not independents who have that option but GOP loyalist who can’t stomach Trump but voting Demo is a political sin (as evangelicals). Definitely benefit Biden.

    .Suggest that 3rd party to the right of Trump would “suck enough MAGA votes” that will help Biden. We know Trump created and owns MAGA. No way will they abandon or betray their autocrat leader (except vaccine issue).

    Kasich/Cheney ticket may offer to never Trump voters a comforting option, but need candidates who can draw away many more Trump-leaning voters. A valid point

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