On Jonah Goldberg, Third Parties, and Dealing With Uncletifa

I am out of my league here. Charles Cooke, Dan McLaughlin, and Michael Brendan Dougherty have all weighed in on Jonah Goldberg’s idea for a new third party. All, including Jonah, are better writers than me and all are smarter than me. We’ve arrived at Beavis (or Butthead) commenting on Einsteinian theories of space-time.

Jonah’s idea is that the conservatives who do not like the Trump wing of the GOP should form a third party and engage in coalition-building with the GOP.

If a Republican candidate met its requirements, a new party of the right could endorse the Republican, the way New York’s Conservative Party does. If not, a non-Trumpy candidate could play the role of spoiler by garnering enough conservative votes in the general election to throw the election to the Democrat.

This is more appealing than the alternative some would bully the non-Trump conservatives into, i.e. voting Democrat.

In fact, there is a concerted effort by media-friendly pundits who used to identify as Republicans that those Republicans who want to stop Trump must vote Democrat. To me, this is like the climate change people saying if you want to stop climate changing, you need to commit suicide to stop your carbon emissions.

A third-party alternative, as Jonah describes it, would be a non-suicidal sensible alternative for a lot of people who are tired of the fractious nonsense so much of the GOP is dealing with right now. And, to be clear, a lot of it is nonsense. The silly “I’m for negative X because the Democrats are for X” talking points, the revisions of January 6th into some sort of patriotic act, etc. — at some point, you find yourself either outside the party or hobnobbing with crazy.

In Virginia the other day, crazy literally came to town and held a rally for Glenn Youngkin wherein they pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States, but it was a flag that had flown during the January 6th nonsense. It was like idol worship. Youngkin has to appeal to suburban voters who are not really fans of Antifa smashing small businesses or of Uncletifa storming into the U.S. Capitol. But Uncletifa came crazy out of the attic and wants to be seen with Youngkin just as he’s closing the deal with those suburban voters.

It is both ridiculous and counterproductive if the GOP wants to win outside its base. Some of these people are actually probably fine with losing so they can continue to claim 2020 was stolen. So I get Jonah’s desire for somewhere where conservatives don’t have to argue with the Thiel-bros, the would-be white nationalists, the populists who think they’re in the majority when they’re not, the banging-side-chicks-is-okay-Christians, etc. all of whom are trying to redefine conservatism in various ways. (There are also a great many new factions worth spending time with and getting to know.)

There’s just one problem.

It won’t work.

This is not an intellectual argument on my part. I don’t really consider myself an intellectual anyway. I have Jonah, Dan, et al for that. There’s no philosophical objection. I just used to be an elections lawyer and look at it that way. The Democrats and Republicans long ago set aside their feuding to make sure ballot access for third parties is ridiculously impossible. The last third party to get ballot access was the Reform Party and it is not in every state and had to rely on a billionaire to get off the ground.

One could totally hijack the Reform Party or another party, but most now have power structures designed to keep their leaders in charge while winning nothing and doing nothing. They’re like the Libertarian Party with less weed and as many wins. You’d have to engage in a well-coordinated effort to take over a party.

It’s just not practical without a billionaire Ross Perot type and then you’re at the mercies of the billionaire’s whims instead of Steve Bannon’s and Peter Thiel’s. I’ve increasingly realized a lot of billionaires are kinda kooky in a “no one challenges them or disagrees with them ever” kinda way.

As I see it, the problem is a lot of us used to be not of the establishment, but of the part of the conservative movement the establishment took seriously and we had some serious ideas ( or at least guys like Jonah do). Now, to stay in power, the party establishment (which really has not changed) has to listen to Aunt Flo who thinks the vaccine has a microchip in it and Uncletifa who thinks the CIA used Hugo Chavez’s ghost to hack into voting machines and that Ashley Babbit is a martyr while George Floyd got what he deserved.

It’s all rather unseemly and embarrassing particularly because we all know the establishment guys don’t believe any of it, but nod sincerely and act as if they believe it. Of course, the establishment guys didn’t really believe us either. They are professional head patters.

Frankly, therein lies the rub and it is why I can grin and bear it. The establishment guys will say and do whatever they can to stay in power. The people most willing to believe the crazy are the least likely to get elected and the people most proficient at lying to the crazy are the ones who stay around. They are, after all, the ones the party revolted against and led to Trump. But those guys are still the ones in charge. They’re really good at theater and surviving. It is one of the least appreciated aspects of the Age of Trump — all the people who the base wanted to purge by bringing in Trump are still the ones in charge.

It’s all gross and unseemly, but I think what is happening now is a passing fad. A large group of people came into politics inspired by Trump. They don’t really know what they’re doing in politics or how it all works. Now the billionaires who want in on the action are throwing money around and they’re getting played by the grifters and bled dry. The island of misfit toys is trying to lead them all. The professional establishment operators are experts at playing all sides and the odds are in their favor. They’re not conservatives. But they aren’t really crazy either.

Meanwhile, there is a center of mass growing between the establishment and the crazy that still cares passionately about small government, social conservatism, etc. They are building bridges between the folks who see January 6th as heroic and the people who know it wasn’t. They are people who care passionately about the cause of conservatism as I know it, but also understand a lot of the people closest to Uncletifa do have some valid grievances and concerns about government, the social safety net, growing inequality, and the power of corporations, the wokes, etc.

So I think we’ll all be mostly fine. Politics is a cynical game with a lot of crazy right now. We are a year removed from Trump who is, for now, still on the scene, and things are still sorting out. There are a lot of people who are performing on social media and trying to find their place in this political realignment we’re all going through. I mostly feel politically homeless and wandering. I’m okay with that right now. This stuff always has a way of sorting itself out. In the meantime, when you’re homeless and wandering, you get to see the stars and other things.

All I will add is that I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who used to all claim to see the world in the same way and now they all hate each other and see things differently. Some of them now hate me and think I’ve sold out or am no longer a conservative. As I noted the other day, I haven’t really changed in any of my thinking, but I am less certain about a lot of people and things today. So I just figure I have to show way more grace to everyone, even when it is not reciprocal. There’s just no reason for me to get into squabbling with a bunch of people who no longer believe what they once believed and haven’t quite gotten to believing what they’re selling now.