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Will ‘Patriot Party’ save Trump’s political future?

Global Times 2021-01-25

Former US president Donald Trump floated the idea of launching his own political party called the "Patriot Party" during in his final days in the White House, reported the Wall Street Journal. It was a tense time for Trump as the walls closed in and the House of Representatives initiated a second impeachment against him. Some of his own party allies criticized him for inciting the January 6 riot on the Capitol.

Indeed, the attack on the Capitol not only shocked the US but also drove many of Trump's Republican allies soul searching. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who had been a stanch supporter and ally of Trump, broke with Trump, and accused him of provoking the mob - even stating the assault was an insurrection.

Even former vice president Mike Pence, a conservative Republican who was regarded as a subservient Trump "yes man," refused the former president's call to decertify the electors on January 6. He also skipped Trump's farewell ceremony to attend Joe Biden's inauguration.

If Trump means what he said and set about establishing a third party, what challenges will it pose to the US two-party system, especially to the Republican Party? And will it become a vehicle for Trump's political rebirth?

Historically speaking, third parties never work out well in the US two-party system. There have been many third parties that have come and gone in the US, but none has been able to seriously challenge the entrenched two-party system. Even the extremely popular 26th US president Theodore Roosevelt Jr., whose face is depicted on Mount Rushmore alongside with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, failed to win the 1912 presidential election when he was frustrated with his own party and founded a third party.

In today's US political environment, where presidential campaigns need huge amounts of money and expansive institutional support, an independent or a newly founded third party candidate will be no match for either a Democrat or Republican candidate. This is why Trump campaigned as a Republican presidential candidate in the first place in 2016.

Even if Trump founded a third party, it will be a serious headache for the Republican Party. Today, the Republican Party is increasingly evolving into three factions: Never Trumpers, Trump Republicans and the so-called RINOs (Republicans in name only). Among these factions, Trump Republicans are the strongest, as attested by the fact that 197 House Republicans voted against impeachment in the aftermath of the Capitol riots.

If Trump set up a Patriot Party with its distinct flavor of populism and ran a presidential campaign again in 2024, it would surely draw many followers out of the Republican Party. It may even doom any Republican candidate's chance of winning the election. Moreover, Trump may even damage the Republican Party's future by hollowing out its political base.

Moreover, Trump's political future as a potential presidential candidate in 2024 will probably be decided in the pending Senate trial for his second impeachment. The House has impeached Trump for his role in the riots on the Capitol and will send it to the Senate for trial in the coming days.

If Trump is convicted in the Senate, which require two thirds of all the Senate votes,  and the Senate then votes to bar Trump from future office, his hopes of running a presidential campaign again in 2024 or future will be dashed. According to the 14th amendment of the US constitution he will be barred from running for any political office because he has been found guilty of "insurrection."

Still, don't expect to count Trump out. He can still exert considerable political influence by establishing his own party and supporting his political candidates even if he himself does not run. So far, a few Senate Republicans are openly standing up to approve of the impeachment, even though many question the constitutionality of impeaching a former president. If Trump is acquitted in the Senate trial, he will remain a formidable political force and headache, for both parties.

Will his "Patriot Party" be aggressive and dangerous? It is ironically worth pointing out that part of the word "patriot" is "riot."

The author is professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University.

Source: Global Times