On his way out the door, right before it hit him in his ass, twice-impeached madman Donald Trump said, “Have a good life. We will see you soon.” What might’ve been a throwaway line from a person incapable of surrendering the limelight received added context when The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump had discussed starting a new “Patriot Party” with his aides—a five-alarm fire that has Republicans panicking and Democrats licking their chops. In fact, it might be a major factor as Senate Republicans struggle with how to handle the impeachment trial.
And yet I wouldn’t bet on it ever happening.
First things first: Let’s stipulate that Trump never does anything for anyone except himself, and maybe Ivanka. While several Republicans would love to bask in its light—the Paul Gosars and Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the right-wing MAGA/Q fever swamp—Trump’s entire reason for building this party would be for the benefit of the TRUMP brand, and nothing else. And how could it not? There is no such thing as a Trump ideology (beyond “owning the libs”). There isn’t a cause that motivates him, a higher calling or purpose. He clearly didn’t even like the job of president! He barely showed up to work, didn’t read briefing papers, watched television all day, and said the dumbest shit ever said by a president … and that includes eight years of George W. Bush!
All Trump cared about was the title, being the Big Man with his airplane and taxpayer-funded Big House and his precious bully pulpit, which he used to, well, bully people. For example, at a reelection rally in Ohio, Trump wasn’t making a case based on how he had improved people’s lives, or a policy vision for a second term (a question he was repeatedly asked during the campaign and he could never answer). Nay, he could only focus on the perks of being president. “[Air Force One has] more televisions than any plane in history! They’ve got televisions in closets, in bathroom, on the floor, on the ceiling.”
So what would being a member of the Patriot Party entail beyond the further aggrandizing and enrichment of Trump himself?
Forget any broader strategy of pressuring Republicans, again, on policy grounds. Trump is too stupid to formulate any real strategy, and too aloof to care about any outcome beyond “they better kiss my ring” and “send me more money to save America.” That last part may actually loom large. Trump saw the $200 million that he raised for his big “fight the steal” lie, and he wants more. His real estate empire is on the verge of collapse, with banks refusing to do further business with him. Mainstream television isn’t going to give him another show to bail him out financially. The MAGA rubes are his last chance. And sure, campaign finance law prohibits candidates from enriching themselves from campaign contributions, but since when has Trump cared about the law? He’d do what he wants and dare a toothless Federal Elections Commission (FEC) to do something about it. And if the FEC did act on it, he’d tie it up in the courts for years.
Remember, Trump is a guy who couldn’t manage to get a platform for his own Republican Party convention—are we really going to pretend that his Patriot Party would have one?
So what would the actual impact of this party have on elections? If smartly set up (ha ha), it might function as the Working Families Party, which endorses in primaries and supports candidates who back its agenda. Or maybe like the Democratic Socialists—again, focusing heavily on primaries, mostly on friendly territory, trying to push Republicans closer to Trump. There could be a “Patriots caucus” in the House that would push Q conspiracies, Putin’s agenda, and whatever other inanities whip up its white supremacist base.
At the presidential level, imagine Trump going on his own (or, hilariously, whoever emerged from the Patriot Party primary process—Don Jr. or Ivanka), splitting off critical votes from the mainstream Republican Party. If Republicans lost even 10% off their toppling (or flip it around: Trump got the bulk of base Republican support, 90% of it), this is what the electoral map would look like with a split right:
Furthermore, Alaska and South Carolina would be competitive. And you can believe that the right-on-right rhetorical violence would be fierce in such a contest. The fireworks from a Ben Sasse vs. Donald Trump matchup could even render the Democrats an afterthought, with Joe Biden waltzing easily to reelection. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to us.
Which is why it is in Senate Republican (and minority, ha ha) Leader Mitch McConnell’s interest to nip this shit in the bud. His best way to do it? Conviction. He takes away Trump’s ability to run again, and he removes 98% of the any impetus Trump might have for this party. Will Republicans have to deal with pissed-off MAGA assholes for several years? Of course, but it should be pretty clear at this point that Republicans need some time in the wilderness to rethink who they are if they are going be competitive at the national level.
The demographic trends that flipped Arizona and Georgia this time aren’t ebbing. Republican Texas is next, and South Carolina and Mississippi three to four presidential cycles behind. Kansas doesn’t have the racial and ethnic diversity of other transforming states, but it has higher-than-average education levels and is also moving in the Democrats’ direction. All of those states would more than offset any Republican gains in the rust belt and Minnesota.
Just flipping Texas and North Carolina alone keeps a Republican Party wholly dependent on white non-college evangelical voters so far from a presidential majority that it is doomed to eternal minority status. Republicans need college-educated whites (both urban and suburban), and they need to do better with growth demographics (Asian, Black, Latino, and Muslim). Trump Republicanism isn’t going to get that done.
What’s worse, the GOP advantage in the Senate will erode over time. Arizona and Georgia both went from two Republican senators to two Democratic ones seemingly overnight (though it took a decade of hard organizing to make it happen, of course). Texas came close to flipping a seat, and Democrats will hold those seats before long.
Susan Collins won’t be around forever in Maine. That seat will eventually be Democratic. South Carolina and Mississippi will be more competitive in the next two decades. Statehood for Washington, D.C. and maybe Puerto Rico would further erase their built-in advantages. And again, if Republicans retreated to a white evangelical base, they could still hold an easy 30-40 Senate seats, representing a fraction of the U.S. population, but that’s not going to get them a majority.
On the other hand, if Republicans excise the Trump cancer, wander in the wilderness for one to two presidential cycles, and start winning back college whites while eating away at Democratic dominance with voters of color, then you have a national party once again.
By all indications, that’s where McConnell’s head seems to be. He’s done playing with Trump and his cult: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” It doesn’t hurt that conservative mega-donors and corporate PACs are refusing to donate to Republicans until they clean house of the insurrectionists.
So for conservatives suddenly in danger of losing control of their party to American fascists, that might not be a bad course of action. They had a good run, got themselves an ill-gained 6-3 Supreme Court majority, some nice tax cuts, a few wars, and lots of environmental degradation and higher global temperatures. None of that would’ve been possible with a truly democratic America, one in which the Senate actually reflected people, not cow country, and one in which presidents got popularly elected by a majority of the American people, not just a handful of battleground states.
And sure, it led to an actual insurrection and occupation of the U.S. Capitol by American Nazis, but all in all, I’m sure they’d do it all over again. It’s just that the bill has come due, and they now have to pay the price.
Then again, they can roll the die some more. They can gamble that a deplatformed Trump won’t have anywhere near the juice to maintain his level of influence. They can gamble that they can still keep control of the Trump-only hidden deplorable crowd, that it was just a few “bad apples” and antifa infiltrators who caused the Capitol insurrection. They can guess (with good reason) that Trump is incapable of managing anything well, and that his party wouldn’t be any different. Remember, this is the guy who bankrupted a casino. This is a guy whose most successful investment is the one he had nothing to do with. He’s the guy who surrounds himself with hucksters and grifters like Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowski, and Brad Parscale.
They can try to blow kisses at Trump and hope it keeps him (and his MAGA/Q adherents) satisfied enough to keep him in the fold. This is the Sen. Lindsey Graham approach. “I hope people in our party understand the party itself. If you’re wanting to erase Donald Trump from the party, you’re gonna get erased,” Graham said on Fox News. “Most Republicans like his policies, a lot of Republicans like his style. A lot of people are disappointed with him personally at times but appreciate the outcomes he’s achieved for our country.” Maybe if they stroke his ego enough, Trump will be stay happy until he loses interest and heads off to the golf course.
And is there really that much danger? Trump can’t tweet his threats, and he doesn’t have a White House press office to distribute his proclamations. He was never able to generate small-dollar donations for other candidates, including his preferred primary choices. (Not that Trump would ever direct his supporters’ dollars anywhere but into his own pocket.) And anyone betting that this party will ever get off the ground and have enough juice to seriously impact Republican politics would be taking one hell of a risk. I wouldn’t take that bet. Trump just doesn’t have a track record of success.
But for Republicans, it’s an existential question: Do they cut the Trump cancer out, wander in the wilderness for a few cycles, then rebuild in the image of today’s America (more diverse, more educated, more secular), or do they keep going down the same path that cost them the House, the Senate, the White House, and the critical support of key growth demographics (not to mention, Arizona, Georgia, and soon, Texas), while at the same time remaining beholden to the whims of an egotistical madman?
If I were them, I’d rip off the Band-Aid and start rebuilding today.