To those who thought Donald Trump would leave the news once he left office, you were wrong.
Sure, the former President is no longer inciting deadly insurrections, mismanaging one-in-a-century pandemics or ignoring the largest crisis to ever face the world (that’s climate change), but he hasn’t totally left our collective psyche.
He was in the news again this past week, as new polls start to show the potential of his return to national politics. After reportedly considering the idea of starting a new party, public surveys are showing Trump with a large following among conservative voters.
A Hill-HarrisX poll found 64 percent of registered Republicans said they would join a new party started by Trump. A Scott Rasmussen poll found 23 percent of voters would support Trump’s so-called Patriot party, compared to 46 percent who would support the Democratic party and just 17 percent who would support the Republican party.
This data is startling, not just to liberals who hoped they had seen the last of Trump, but also to conservatives. If the Patriot party truly found as much public support as these polls indicate, the GOP might be relegated to third-party status.
But the results of these polls should not be trusted. It’s not that this data isn’t reputable — it’s that it doesn’t translate to reality.
Take, for instance, the most clear failure of translating support on paper to support in real life. The GOP has existed for centuries. It has the organization and identity required to win the presidency.
There are state and municipal Republican parties. There’s advocacy groups, like Moms for America and Freedom Works. And then there’s the money — Sheldon Adelson (rest in piece) and the Uihleins, Stephen Schwarzman and Kenneth Griffin.
Sure, some of these special interests would take their support — and money — with them to support Trump’s next endeavor. But many would stay with the Republicans, and more important, the fundamental structure and organization of the GOP would remain in place.
Trump, on the other hand, would be forced to start from scratch. No state leaders, no support from DC, no voter contact info or email lists. The Patriot party would have to build from the ground up.
This makes it increasingly difficult to create a cohesive party. What are the odds that Trump — who is notoriously unorganized — could put together a slate of more than 300 candidates across the country by 2022, or even 2024? Pretty close to zero.
And then there’s simply the inertia of political support. Sure, it’s easy to say yes or no to a stranger on a phone call. But it’s far more difficult to take the path less trodden and vote for a party different from your political identity and social network.
Lastly, how much of Trump’s support was because he worked within the established structures of American politics? If, in 2016, he had run as an independent — which Republicans were legitimately fearful of — he would have had no chance of winning.
Sure, Trump would have stolen votes from Republicans on the margins and probably prevented the GOP from taking back the White House, but it would be nowhere near the necessary votes to even make a dent in the electoral college.
Trump’s support came because he won a plurality of votes from a fractured party and worked within the system — albeit in an unconventional way — to reach the highest office in the world.
Republicans are right to be fearful of a Trump party. Even if it doesn’t come close to winning any office — which it won’t — it will hurt the GOP’s efforts for unity both in policy and on the ballot. But the Patriot party has no real chance at success — the institutional barriers are just too high.
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