A number of mostly former Republican officials are discussing how to move the party forward in the aftermath of the Trump presidency, raising the possibility of a formal split from the GOP, according to two people leading the discussions.
Reuters first reported that dozens of these party faithful are in talks to form an anti-Trump third party. Two of the leaders, Evan McMullin, a former chief policy director for the House Republican Conference who ran for president in 2016 as an independent, and Miles Taylor, a former Trump administration Homeland Security official, told CBS News that that a decision on this has not been made yet. The discussions may also result in creating a faction within the GOP.
The group holding the talks consists of current and former elected officials, some from the past four Republican presidential administrations, as well as GOP leaders at the state and national level. More than 120 of them logged onto a Zoom call last Friday to talk about the party's future. McMullin said it included people who used to support President Trump, and not just people who opposed him.
The talks were revealed this week, as the Senate holds its second impeachment trial of Mr. Trump. The House passed an article of impeachment against him in January for inciting insurrection in connection to the storming of the Capitol on January 6, while Congress was counting the votes cast in the Electoral College and affirming Mr. Trump's defeat by President Biden. It was a day McMullin called an inflection point for many Republicans.
"After the insurrection, what we see now is a fourth to a third of a party desires a new direction," McMullin said. "We now have a larger segment of the party to work with." But he conceded that there is still not enough support in the short term "to change the direction of the party."
McMullin said 40% of those who participated in the call wanted to immediately form a new party, and 43% thought they should establish a new faction in the party to work within the GOP or independently of it. Both McMullin and Taylor acknowledged the difficulties of actually launching a third party, especially one that's viable in a political system dominated by two major parties.
"We wouldn't have talked about it if we didn't think it was plausible," Taylor said. "But at the same time, everyone is clear-eyed about the challenges. Third parties have been tried many times and have failed many times in this country."
Both men likened the movement to the Tea Party, an activist movement that sprung up within the Republican Party a decade ago. Tea Party leaders backed candidates in primary challenges, but would come together to support Republicans after the process.
A key question may be how receptive the Republican base is — at the moment, it is still devoted to Mr. Trump. A recent CBS News poll found 73% of Republicans said it was very or somewhat important that Republicans show loyalty to Mr. Trump right now. A third of Republicans said they would join Mr. Trump if he formed a new political party.
Taylor described the idea of the group as "Tea Party light and less to the right." He thinks there's potential for more support than polls suggest.
"We read the energy at the grassroots level a different way," Taylor said. "We see a lot of folks that are ready to turn the page and that's kind of where we feel the momentum is."
Republicans have seen a drop in party registration in key battleground states since the January 6 attack, with most of those voters listing themselves as unaffiliated with a party. It's not clear what impact that will have on future races and in some states, voters who aren't registered with the party can still participate in Republican primaries. A Gallup poll from Wednesday found the GOP's approval rating is at 37%, a six-point drop since November. That was fueled by a 12-point drop in favorability among Republicans — from 90% to 78%.
As these Republicans ponder their next steps, McMullin said they plan to back moderate Republicans, like Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger and Alaksa Senator Lisa Murkowski. But the group would also sometimes support non-Republicans.
"A new faction would support good Republicans, but also may back independent candidates who have actual viability," McMullin said. He added that there could also be a desire to help independent candidates and support "unifying Democrats" who run against "extremist Republicans," which could include backing Arizona Democratic Senator Mark Kelly if he were face someone like Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward in a general election.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, an ally of Mr. Trump, recently told Fox News that Republicans need to come together to succeed in the midterm elections.
"If we continue to attack each other and focus on attacking on fellow Republicans, if we have disagreements within our party, then we are losing sight of 2022 ," McDaniel said.
Jason Miller, an adviser to Mr. Trump, told Reuters, "These losers left the Republican Party when they voted for Joe Biden."
Taylor dismissed the idea that this would divide the Republican Party and hand wins to Democrats.
"Our objective is not to break away and split the vote. Our objective is actually to create a more compelling alternative that people on the right can rally around as more attractive to a broader set of the American people," Taylor said. "If we're successful we pull the center of gravity in the GOP our direction."
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