Rep. Liz Cheney thinks that if the GOP nominates Donald Trump for president again in 2024, it will be the end of the Republican Party. Or at least the end of the Republican Party as we currently think of it.
“I think that the party has either got to come back from where we are right now, which is a very dangerous and toxic place, or the party will splinter, and there will be a new conservative party that rises,” Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, predicted during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Which is a big deal!
After all, we’ve had a two-party dynamic in this country for a very long time – so the notion that one of the two major parties would splinter into two is something that would make history.
The question then becomes whether Cheney is right.
Start here: There is, without question, a vocal anti-Trump wing within the Republican Party. Cheney, the vice chair of the January 6 committee, is perhaps the best known of that group. But there are, without question, more members of that group, including Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and a few others.
What’s harder to tell is how big of a group that actually is.
The answer depends on what poll you look at.
A recent New York Times/Siena College poll showed that just 1 in 10 Republicans viewed Trump either somewhat or very unfavorably. By contrast, a majority – 56% – in that same poll said they had a “very” favorable impression of Trump.
An AP-NORC poll offers a slightly more optimistic view for the likes of Cheney. Roughly 6 in 10 (57%) of Republicans in that poll said that they wanted Trump to run again for president in 2024, while 43% said they did not. Of course, saying that you don’t want Trump to run again is different than believing that a new party should be formed to accommodate those Republicans who cannot and will not support Trump.
Polling aside, the numbers suggest that Cheney’s splinter party would face long odds.
Cheney lost her GOP primary for Wyoming’s sole House seat – badly – to a Trump-backed candidate. Kinzinger is retiring, but would have likely lost had he run again. Of the other eight House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the January 6, 2021, attack at the US Capitol, six more have either retired or lost their primaries.
In the Senate, Trump is targeting Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the only one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict him who is on the ballot this November.
And the 2022 primary season more broadly affirmed Trump’s lasting power within the GOP. Trump-backed candidates won Senate primaries in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Ohio and North Carolina. (Of J.D. Vance, the Ohio Republican Senate nominee, Trump told a crowd at a rally last month: “J.D. is kissing my ass he wants my support so bad.”)
Trump’s preferred candidates also won GOP primaries for governor in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. And even in Maryland, a Trump-backed candidate beat Hogan’s endorsed candidate.
It is not too much to say that Trump is trying to purge the Republican Party of dissenting voices. And that it is working. Trump’s record of crushing opposition has led Republican leaders – most notably House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy – to fall in line with Trump, acquiescing to his false claims about the 2020 election.
There are few data points to suggest that a viable new conservative party could emerge – or at least emerge quickly – if Trump does run and win the Republican nomination in 2024.
There are voices and pockets of opposition, yes. But it’s also beyond debate that that group is less powerful today than it was a year ago or two years ago.
That’s not to say that a rival third party – organized around conservative principles – couldn’t emerge at some point down the line. It could – especially if Trump loses in 2024, relegating Republicans to another four years out of White House power.
But the fact remains that, as of today, there is scant evidence that there is a robust group of anti-Trump (or pro-conservative) voices that would form the core of another party in opposition to the current iteration of the GOP.