Party’s Over: It’s Time for Conservatives to Leave the GOP

Since the conclusion of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the GOP has been tearing itself apart. And Senator Ted Cruz is already positioning himself to pick up the pieces and put the party back together.

National Review is reporting that Cruz donors are less-than-happy with his actions, however. Some are even threatening to support other candidates in future races.

On the night before Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination, Cruz gave a rousing speech in which he encouraged Americans to vote their consciences. The delegates in the Quicken Loans Arena, however, responded to this statement of principle with loud booing and threats of physical violence.

Photo credit: Disney | ABC Television Group via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Photo credit: Disney | ABC Television Group via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The speech was not the first time Cruz and his allies attempted to change the course of the convention, either. Prior to Cruz’s seismic remarks, conservative stalwarts Ken Cuccinelli and Senator Mike Lee tried to weaken the Republican National Committee’s power over the primary process. Serving as delegates on the rules committee, the Tea Partiers tried forcing votes on important rule changes to help secure grassroots victories in the future.

“This was an opportunity for the grassroots to finally spread power out in the party unlike 2012 and instead, we had a redo of 2012. We had a chairman gaveling through people who legitimately obeyed the rules to get a roll call vote. This was disenfranchisement, dare I say,” Cuccinelli said.

Clearly, Cruz and his allies have driven themselves into a tight corner in their attempt to preemptively position their 2020 campaign for the Republican nomination. But, instead of coming off as an elder statesman prepared to lead the party of the future, Cruz alienated many in the Quicken Loans Arena and several of the mega-donors so instrumental to his 2016 run.

Other rising stars in the conservative movement — Tom Cotton, Scott Walker, Ben Sasse, and Marco Rubio — are each attempting to chart their own paths to the Republican nomination in 2020, too. While they may not have as dramatically risked their careers as Cruz did, they are still making a major strategic error by betting on a strong GOP.

The Republican Party will never again be a vessel for conservative statesmen. The Titanic has hit the iceberg, and trying to be captain of a sinking ship is futile. This national convention was the last stand for conservatives in the Republican Party. And conservatives lost.

If the chaos in Cleveland proved anything, it is that the RNC’s stranglehold on the party is tighter than ever. People like Reince Priebus are not interested in reforming Washington — they are only interested in controlling Washington.

Even if Ted Cruz’s bombshell of a speech positioned him well with voters, the RNC — and now possibly former Cruz donors — will still do everything in their power to prevent insurgent campaigns from winning primaries. They will make peace with all kinds of ideologies and identity politics — nationalism, populism, social liberalism — if it means they will retain control of the party’s organs.

Instead, would-be conservative statesmen ought to work on building new political institutions from the ground up. They ought to declare independence from the Republican Party and build a new party.

Certainly, this will be no easy task. All of the interest groups and factions in Washington want to maintain the status quo. The vast administrative state gives them an unprecedentedly massive system of patronage from which to profit — a system the political establishment will not give up on lightly.

But, this task is not as difficult as some may say.

Conservatives, both those who begrudgingly support Trump and those who are steadfastly #NeverTrump, have shown a willingness to return to a politics of the common good, a politics rooted in the American Founding’s respect for the transcendent moral order and the dignity of each person.

The American people are hungry for serious alternatives to the status quo. Many support Trump for this reason, although the shady business at the RNC ought to prove he would be no real change. On a platform proudly declaring “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none,” a new party could take the political world by storm.

Of course, there are major questions of fundraising and ballot-access that a new party would have to address. Admittedly, these are difficult to answer. Ted Cruz’s donors are demonstrating an unwillingness to buck the status quo of Republican politics. Better for America, a group looking to recruit an independent candidate and secure ballot access for this election, is struggling with both goals.

Difficult, however, does not mean impossible. The Libertarian Party managed to secure ballot access in all fifty states, despite their fringe views and out-of-touch candidates. And some wealthy donors that may be willing to bankroll a new party, like the Koch brothers, have refrained from going all-in to support Trump, spending their money on down-ballot races instead.

With the right message and a charismatic leader, a serious third-party challenge could be just the shake-up American politics needs.

Whether Cruz’s speech encouraging Americans to vote their consciences was a great start on a path to this ambitious political project remains to be seen. At any rate, there is still much, much more work to do. And until Cruz and others recognize the futility of their continued allegiance to the Republican Party, little good can be done.

Michael Lucchese works for the American Principles Project.