- A group of Republicans is threatening to form a spinoff party if the GOP doesn’t reject Trump.
- It plans to release an open letter outlining principles to save the party, an organizer told Insider.
- But Republicans in Congress warned that creating an alternative GOP would damage the party.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A coalition of anti-Trump Republicans is threatening a move that could totally upend American politics.
Their message comes straight out of the last six chaotic years and essentially boils down to this: Abandon twice-impeached former President Donald Trump or they’re going to form an alternative Republican party.
But the prospect of a splinter GOP isn’t sitting well with some Republicans in Congress who spoke with Insider this week and warned of dire consequences from a further fracturing of a party that’s already divided by one wing’s loyalty to Trump and another’s quest to return to the politics of Ronald Reagan.
“Having three parties in this country would make it very difficult to get a working majority in the Senate and House,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican of Iowa who said fracturing the GOP would make an already dysfunctional Congress even worse.
“It’d be a wrong thing to do,” added Grassley, an 87-year old who’s mulling one more re-election run in 2022.
Try telling that to the Republicans who look at the Trump era and warn that much, much, much worse things will happen to the United States and the wider geopolitical world if no one stands up to the Florida man whose rage tweets once captivated the world.
An organizer of the newest Republican realignment organization told Insider that his group plans to release an open letter Thursday morning to Trump-enamored party members titled “A Call for American Renewal.” The unveiling, the organizer said, is partly timed to show embattled Rep. Liz Cheney that she is not alone in her disdain for Trump. It will come a day after House Republicans formally voted on Wednesday to strip Cheney of her position in the GOP leadership as conference chair because of her outspoken remarks critical of Trump and the reality that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square.
Their missive is expected to feature a preamble — punctuated by certain key terms including “conspiracy,” “authoritarianism,” and “replacement” — followed by a dozen guiding principles conservatives want to reaffirm.
It is not a direct call to split from the party — yet. But it also does come with an explicit threat that “we’re going to hasten the creation of an alternative” GOP if fellow Republicans don’t walk away from Trump and let him retire in peace.
‘A breakaway movement’
The group of about 100 Republicans who are talking about taking steps to create a new conservative party include some stalwarts from the GOP’s not-so-distant past: former Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Denver Riggleman of Virginia, and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania; former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman; and former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele.
“If the GOP can’t break free of the nauseating cult of personality around Donald Trump, then they’ll not only get an intra-party civil war, they’ll see a breakaway movement running against them in key races around the country,” Miles Taylor, the former Trump administration official who in 2018 wrote an anonymous op-ed critical of his boss, told Insider.
His opinion piece sparked a 2-year round of Washington’s favorite parlor game — Guess the Leaker! — until the former Department of Homeland Security official revealed his own identity after leaving the administration.
Taylor added that fellow conservatives sickened by the demagoguery that’s prevailed over the last few years know what they have to do: crush Republican extremists.
“The current GOP leadership has bought into this hook, line, and sinker, and only fealty to Trump matters at this point among those leaders,” Whitman told Insider on Monday.
Trump has dominated the Republican Party since losing the 2020 election, which he continues to claim without basis that he won. He’s exacting revenge on political opponents from his post-presidential perch in South Florida — and for the summer, New Jersey — where loyalists reaffirm their allegiance and get their marching orders.
Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, is one of many Republicans who’ve experienced Trump’s wrath via tweet-like statements and the new “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” blog.
Fellow House GOP leaders, Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana had initially been careful — at least publicly — not to outrightly criticize Cheney. But they began targeting her in recent weeks, egged on by Trump.
Cheney had rejected the idea of an alternative party when it first became public in February in the aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob that sought to hijack the certification of the 2020 Electoral College votes.
It’s not clear if she would now support a GOP spinoff as she faces increasing pressure from her party while she remains unflinching in her criticism of Trump and warns of his danger to the party. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
‘I’m not interested in that’
Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who voted to convict Trump during the Senate’s impeachment trial in February, told Insider creating a new party would damage the GOP. They fear it would deliver a gift to Democrats who will need to hold on to their slim majorities in both the House and the Senate in 2022, and the White House in 2024.
“I’m aware of people who have been discussing that … I’m not interested in that,” Toomey, who is retiring after his term ends in 2022, told Insider at the Capitol. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’m going to stay in the Republican Party.”
If the party splintered, Toomey added, “we will not be politically viable.”
Former GOP Rep. Steve Bartlett, who signed onto the letter, told Insider that the coalition of center-right Republicans has been working quietly for the past couple of years to come up with a set of principles to renew the Republican party.
“The underlying belief is that the American political system and the Republican Party have undergone just a great crisis, if you will,” Bartlett said. “And so it’s renewing our sense of decency and good government and core values.”
Traditional Republican values of limited government, free enterprise, strong economic policies, national security, character, and decency, he said, have been thrown aside, and the new group wants to restore the GOP’s “core values” going back to Abraham Lincoln.
“It’s not just Donald Trump, but it’s Trumpism and also the worship of one man,” he added. “I mean, that’s appalling in and of itself.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who is one of Trump’s most vocal critics, told Insider on Tuesday he’d not heard of the discussions for a new GOP, and that he wasn’t involved. But he added, “Nothing surprises me in politics.”
Group planning a town hall meeting
Next up for the splinter GOP group: hosting a town hall-style meeting in June at which organizers will discuss the principles they’ve laid out, discuss their agenda with supporters, and map out a future for conservatives craving change.
Another first step is to recruit like-minded candidates in the mold of anti-Trump Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and try to win GOP primaries, and if not primaries, at least to win with independent candidates.
“There’s not going to be a new party, like, next week,” Bartlett said. “You first try to work with what you’ve got.”
The group is also still strategizing how it will take the fight to Trump-loving candidates around the country. One idea is to deploy center-right political action committees to “accelerate and incubate a new generation of principled leaders.”
Taylor said he’s all for developing a solid farm team ASAP.
“These anti-democratic forces within the GOP are going to be back in 2022, 2024, and beyond,” he added.
But creating a new party is not going to be easy, or even possible in a meaningful fashion.
Trump remains deeply popular among the base of the party, which turned out in the largest numbers ever for a Republican president in the 2020 election.
While a recent poll found that for the first time since 2019, Trump’s support among Republicans was declining with 50% saying they support the GOP more than they support him, compared to 44% who back the former president more than the Republican party, he still remains the de facto leader of the party with powerful fundraising machinery.
Trump himself once floated the idea of starting his own “Patriot Party” before allies talked him out of it.
Third parties have been notoriously difficult to sustain in the US. They lack the fundraising and organizing resources they’d need to beat Republicans or Democrats in any election. Think the Libertarian Party or the Green Party. More often than not, they serve as spoilers for the major party they’re more closely aligned with.
“Part of what’s driving that discussion is that some people just don’t like Donald Trump and they want everybody else to not like Donald Trump, but the reality is that he is in many respects still the titular head of our party,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Republican of North Dakota told Insider Tuesday, adding he wasn’t surprised that discussions for an alternative GOP may be happening.
“But more important than him and his personality is that his philosophy is the governing philosophy of the Republican Party. It’s not as globalist as it used to be … It’s a populist conservatism” the North Dakotan added.
Cramer, who has frequently defended Trump, said it would “be very unfortunate,” if the group of anti-Trumper saw through their threat to create a new party “because politics only works by addition.”
All about that unity
Republicans who talked with Insider on Tuesday all urged the party to stick together despite their differences.
“Going into 2022 it’s all about unity,” Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican of Ohio said, chuckling a bit before calling back “Big tent!” as he headed to a meeting in the US Capitol.
In January, Portman, a George W. Bush administration alumnus, announced that he’s retiring at the end of his second term. He bemoaned the “partisan gridlock” that’s made his job insufferable.
Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa, shook her head “no” and looked visibly dismayed when asked about splitting up the GOP.
“We need party unity,” she said.
The Republicans say the party’s “tent” is big enough for even those with different philosophies — all while the party works to punish members who dare go against Trump, such as Cheney, Kinzinger, Romney, and others.
“There’s some in the party that don’t want to give up the old sort of Republican Party,” Cramer said. “But that doesn’t mean there’s not room in the tent for all of those views. They’re certainly much more aligned with Donald Trump’s Republican Party than they are with the socialist agenda coming out of the Democratic Party, and to splinter it one more time would not achieve any party’s policy.”
Others, such as Trump loyalist Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Florida’s Rick Scott, who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, downplayed the threat of a new faction of the party organizing more formally.
“That’s much more of the fever dream in the press; that’s something that isn’t actual political reality,” Cruz said. “I don’t think any such effort would go anywhere, and I understand that Democrats would love to see that happen, but I think that’s quite unlikely.”