Two years ago, I ended election night alone, watching the 2020 presidential returns while locked in a safe house in Northern Virginia with an armed guard stationed outside. Why? Because after I quit Donald Trump’s administration and campaigned against his reelection, his supporters wanted me dead.
Last week’s midterm elections are proof that Trump has completed his ruination of the GOP. The Party of Lincoln has been overrun by low-quality candidates, rampant conspiracy theories, and a vile culture of intimidation.
As the twice-impeached, disgraced ex-president prepares to announce his candidacy again this week, conservatives of conscience should quit the party and join a new one.
A third party may not seem like the obvious solution. Indeed, American history is littered with the tombstones of party experiments that never gained popular support. But the environment has changed dramatically.
For the first time in history, roughly half of Americans now say they are political independents, rather than Democrats or Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of voters report that they would vote for a third party. And a movement is underway across the nation to enact political reforms — like ranked-choice voting, open primaries, and anti-gerrymandering — that will make it easier for third-party candidates to win.
Fresh competition is desperately needed. In poll after poll, the overwhelming majority of Americans say they are unhappy with Congress, yet more than 90 percent of incumbents tend to get reelected because the two major parties have written the rules to favor the status quo. The result is that most seats are not competitive.
As this year’s midterms proved once more, whenever a seat does open up, the system rewards fringe candidates in the primaries. This leaves us with bad choices in the general election — such as the glut of MAGA extremists who ran this cycle.
For conservatives frustrated with the takeover of the GOP by radicals, the Democratic Party is not an alternative home. Progressives have no hope of luring wayward Republicans as they, too, are grappling with their own fringe elements. Republicans aren’t going to join a party that wants to federalize health care, create new government giveaways, ramp up regulation on entrepreneurs, and continue bank-breaking federal spending sprees that have put America in an alarming financial position. (Not to mention the left’s fondness for identity politics.)
That’s why it’s time to give voters somewhere else to go. If not, common-sense GOP voters risk staying in a party that is aiding and abetting the return of Donald Trump and the perpetuation of his destructive movement.
It wasn’t supposed to end up like this.
In 2016, Republican officials prayed the caustic New York businessman was just an aberration. Many of us opposed his candidacy and urged elected leaders to rescind their endorsements, believing the storm would pass.
Then he won. And conservatives faced a choice: Allow the erratic tycoon to wreak havoc on the presidency, or try to keep him in check. I joined the latter camp and went to work for John Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security.
A so-called “Axis of Adults” was supposed to bring stability to the administration. For a time, it did. Some of Trump’s worst impulses were thwarted by leaders who joined the executive branch clear-eyed about the risks the man posed. However, the president turned out to be more unhinged than many of us realized.
From inside the administration, I wrote an anonymous opinion piece in The New York Times to reveal publicly what Trump’s Cabinet was saying privately: The commander in chief was dangerously unfit for office.
He wasn’t governing like a conservative. He wanted to govern like an autocrat, hell-bent on avoiding congressional oversight, ignoring federal courts, and weaponizing the powers of the presidency for political gain.
But no one could keep him in check. Trump went ahead with catastrophic policies he’d previously been talked out of — from harsh anti-immigrant crackdowns to a hasty withdrawal from Syria — while systematically eliminating the adults in the room.
So I quit the administration and went public to urge voters not to reelect him. I was joined by the largest alliance of ex-officials in US history to campaign against a president who appointed them. As expected, the MAGA attacks poured in. Many of my fellow GOP dissenters were forced to flee their homes, leave jobs, drain savings accounts, or increase their physical security in the face of death threats.
Fortunately, Trump was defeated. His noxious brand of politics seemed on the verge of receding, making way for the return of rational Republicans.
This year’s midterm elections have proven the opposite. Not only have far-right forces remained influential, they are still largely in command of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, many rational Republicans have retired or been defeated.
Now Trump is poised to mount a comeback that could break the GOP — and the country — if conservatives continue to hold their noses by staying in the party or futilely trying to fix it from within.
The MAGA movement is uninterested in genuine conservative principles — in limited government, the rule of law, an open exchange of ideas, a free market, and American global leadership. Instead, it champions the use of government power to punish political enemies, the defiance of democratic norms, censorship of competing views within the party, protectionist economic policies, and foreign policy isolationism.
Worst of all, the MAGA-dominated Republican Party is fomenting a culture of political intimidation that is powered by conspiracy theories, which have, in turn, fueled assassination plots against elected leaders. Indeed, polls show that much of the GOP base believes outlandish claims about a secret cabal in control of the government, a war against white people, and a stolen presidential election.
Reform from within has failed. We must inject choice and competition back into our republic. Part of that can be done by fixing election laws. But as outgoing GOP Representatives Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney have hinted, a third party may be the more powerful and necessary option.
That’s why after quitting the GOP earlier this year, I joined the Forward Party, which is working to cast itself as America’s anti-extremist political tribe.
Forward is unafraid to endorse common-sense leaders from across the spectrum, which is what we did this midterm cycle by backing pro-democracy Democrats, such as Representative Abigail Spanberger in Virginia, as well as the handful of Republicans willing to fight against the MAGA majority in the GOP, such as Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Next year, Forward will start running its own candidates in federal, state, and local races. Skeptics worried that a third party will be a “spoiler” need only look at how uncompetitive our current system is. It’s already spoiled.
The results of the midterms hint at how desperate Americans are for a cross-partisan option. In states such as Ohio, Georgia, and Kansas, it appears that voters engaged in widespread ticket-splitting — picking and choosing candidates from both parties.
To succeed, a new third party doesn’t need to disrupt the two-party system overnight. All it needs is to gain a small foothold in American politics, enough to force the two major parties to come to the table and deliver what the majority of Americans want: a government focused on doing, not dividing.
Miles Taylor, a former official in the Department of Homeland Security, is the author of “A Warning,” a book about his time in the Trump administration. Follow him on Twitter @MilesTaylorUSA.