Non-Trumpian conservatives who leave the GOP are finding themselves politically 'homeless'
Following the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol Building, thousands of conservatives responded by leaving the Republican Party. But they are still conservatives, which begs the question: where do they go now? Journalist David Siders discusses their options in an article by published by Politico on February 22 — and conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, in a column published that same day, argues that the only thing sane conservatives can do at this point is bolt the GOP.
Siders points to Jim Hendren, a state legislator in Arkansas, as an example of a conservative who recently left the Republican Party to protest its current direction.
"When Jim Hendren, a longtime Arkansas state legislator, announced on Thursday that he was leaving the GOP, it marked the latest in a flurry of recent defections from the party," Siders explains. "Tens of thousands of Republicans across the country have changed their registrations in the weeks since the riot at the Capitol — many of them, like Hendren, becoming independents. Other former party officials are discussing forming a third party. But if the Republicans' reasons for leaving the GOP are obvious — primarily, disdain for former President Donald Trump and his stranglehold on the party — the sobering reality confronting them on the other side is that there's really no place to go."
Anti-Trumpers are done with the GOP. Where do they go now? https://t.co/Ws80WJqTAX— Jon Cooper 🇺🇸 (@Jon Cooper 🇺🇸)1613997832.0
Hedren, a nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, told Politico, "What I see in the Republican Party is the next four to eight years are going to be a civil war that is going to leave many people homeless."
Siders writes that the Democratic Party "continues to move leftward" and "isn't a good ideological fit" for conservative ex-Republicans. And according to former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh — who was very active in the Tea Party before he became an outspoken Never Trumper — conservatives who have left the GOP because of Trumpism are "kind of in the wilderness."
Walsh told Politico, "Right now, everybody's just trying to figure out how to coalesce what is a small fraction of the Republican Party — what do we do with it. And starting a third party is extremely difficult."
At the state and/or country level, many GOP officials have been censuring anyone who dares to speak out against former Trump. Recent targets have included Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — all of whom are being lambasted by fellow Republicans in their states for favoring Trump's impeachment. And those censures remind someone like Hedren why he left the GOP.
John Thomas, a GOP strategist, told Politico that for conservatives who leave the GOP, the "whole problem" is "where do they go." Thomas believes that discussion of forming a third party "is not going to last, because you get tired of having no influence.… At the end of the day, parties are gathered because, collectively, they wield influence. That's the point. If you can't wield influence, it doesn't matter how good you feel about it. It's about power."
One option that Siders doesn't mention in his article is the Libertarian Party, which some disenchanted ex-Republicans have joined over the years. Former Rep. Bob Barr received the Libertarian Party's nomination in the 2008 presidential election, although he returned to the GOP in 2011. And former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, an ex-Republican, received the Libertarian Party nomination in the presidential races of 2012 and 2016. But the Libertarian Party, like the progressive Green Party, has remained marginal. Barr and Johnson ran for president to make a point, not because they actually expected to win in the general election.
In her Post column, Rubin laments that the GOP is beyond redemption at this point and that it has no room for non-Trumpian conservatives.
"For a few years now," Rubin writes, "I have posited that the 'old' Republican Party cannot be revived, that the current MAGA Republican Party is not worth sustaining and that sane Republicans — ranging from Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — have no reasonable hope to rescue their party."
Rubin adds that even Fox News "is no longer nutty enough for" Trump's MAGA base. The conservative columnist notes that in October 2016, according to USA Today/Suffolk polling, 58% of Trump viewers said Fox News was their most trusted news source — and now, that number is down to 34%.
"The MAGA people are not going to decamp from the GOP," Rubin warns. "They now have the instruments of party control. It is the narrow stratum of reality-based Republicans who need to leave if they cannot live with a racist, anti-democratic, anti-truth majority….. The vast majority of elected Republicans have already made peace with the wackos…. An anti-Trump Republican is fast becoming an oxymoron."
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