It’s Time to Plant a New Flag
Ok, here’s the easy part: The Republican Party is what it is, it’s the Trump/Trumpy party, it’s the party of nationalism, protectionism, authoritarianism, wall-building, intolerance, fear, resentments, grievances, middle fingers to the rest of the world, lying, and utter disdain for democracy and the rule of law. In other words, it’s Donald Trump’s party. All this talk about a GOP “civil war” is just wrong. There is no war. There is no great divide. The party is pretty darn unified. Republican voters, by really solid majorities, want Trumpism.
Here’s the hard part: What about all the rest of us? What about all the conservatives, former Republicans, moderate Republicans, independents, and even moderate Democrats who want absolutely nothing to do with this new Trumpy Republican Party? What do we do?
The options are actually pretty straightforward. Stay and try to reform the Republican Party; hang out in the land of independents; join the Democratic Party; or, start a new political party.
The chief objections to each of these options are pretty straightforward as well. The Republican Party isn’t changing, so it’s not reforming. If you hang out in the land of independents, you’ll probably be hanging out there for the rest of your natural life. Though many have enormous respect for the Democratic Party, issues and policies matter, and the vast majority of conservatives, when it comes to issues and policies, just have a fundamentally different world view than today’s Democratic Party. And finally, it’s really, really, really hard in our two-party dominated politics, to start and sustain a viable third political party.
So given all these realities, and this may sound counter-intuitive, but the best and most obvious thing to do at this moment in American history is the thing that’s really, really, really hard: Launch a new political party. Just do it.
It’s time to plant our flag, take ownership of where many American voters are, and begin down the difficult road of building a new political party. A “radically centrist, common sense, let’s get shit done party.” A party that is populist in tone and centrist in policy outcomes. A party that’s socially tolerant and fiscally responsible. Yes, a party that embraces democracy, decency, the rule of law, and telling the truth. Those should all be self-evident. But also a party that recognizes the key issues of our day –trade, climate, immigration, health care, the economy, et. al.– and advances responsible public/private reforms and solutions. You know, like, climate change is real, it’s a huge problem, we need to act now, but no, we don’t need a Green New Deal and total government overhaul of our economy. We need government leadership and private sector investment and innovation to tackle the problem of climate change.
We know there’s an audience for a radically-centrist party because this is where most Americans are ideologically. We know there’s a unique opportunity for such a party now because the Republican party will continue down the Trumpy road it’s on, continuing to shrink as it becomes more and more extreme, ceding turf in the middle. The Democratic Party faces a similar challenge as it continues to be tugged to the left.
It will be difficult, but with the growing constituency in the middle, all that is required to get a new party off the ground is money, effective messaging, and organizing. And, yes, the creation of such a centrist party now may initially redound to the benefit of the Democrats. In effect, “breaking up” the Republican Party could put the Democrats in charge for a number of years. This is a risk no matter when the flag is planted. Despite the risk, given how unique this political moment is– especially with the rapid polarization of the two major parties– a third party is much more viable than folks realize.
There is a lot of talk among former Republican consultants, strategists, former elected officials, and thinkers about forming a new party or developing a principled faction within today’s Republican Party. Speaking for myself only, any new political party must avoid labeling themselves “center-right”. Labels are limiting, and “center-right” has the unfortunate baggage of sounding like it is beholden to frustrated old think-tank conservatives. Whatever the new political party is it must be much broader and more dynamic than “center-right.” In addition to conservatives, it must attract independents, centrists, Democrats, people of color, and especially young people. “Center-right” won’t do that. “Center-right” is old. It’s boring. Instead, think radically-centrist. Think of making moderation cool. Think of a populist message with centrist policy solutions. This sort of messaging has a much broader appeal in today’s politics.
Finally, to launch a 3rd party, it needs to be a bottom-up endeavor. It’s got to be launched as a real grassroots movement. It can’t be top-down. It can’t be a bunch of political insiders “declaring” a new party and then hoping to find a constituency–begin with and energize a constituency first.
It’s time. Time to plant this flag. I don’t think most Americans realize it yet, but the Republican Party, as a national party, is dying. The 166-year-old Republican-Democratic two-party duopoly is coming to an end. This is the perfect time to take this leap. The audience is there for it, the outside money is there for it, and young people would rally around it. “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” So said Basil King, a Canadian clergyman and author over 100 years ago. For those of us who find ourselves in the radical middle in between Trumpists on the right and progressives on the left, now is just such a time to be bold.