America has a long history of third parties playing a role in presidential politics. These third parties have usually formed over a specific issue. A good example of this was the emergence of the Republican Party in the 1850s that formed to counter the Whig Party on the issue of the abolition of slavery. The new Republican Party supported the abolition of slavery. Today, however, we have a third party that did not follow the traditional path of forming the party and then seeking out candidates to run on that line in the election. The divide between the historical way third parties came about and how this soon to be new third party came into existence will be fodder for political scientists for decades. I predict that there will be many doctoral theses written on this phenomenon.
The third party I am referring to is the P.O.T. Party. And, no, it’s not a political party formed around the national movement to legalize marijuana (the U.S. Marijuana Party already exists) and end the criminalization of personal marijuana use and possession that has led to mass incarceration of otherwise non-criminal Americans. Especially, the mass incarceration of people of color as a way to continue our historical suppression of people of color. The new political party I am referring to is the Party of Trump, or P.O.T.
Last year’s presidential election was a clash between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Third-party candidates, like the Green Party representative, had no chance of winning the presidency. And, while third parties have had an effect on the outcome of presidential elections (many people feel Ross Perot’s campaign in 1992 led to Bill Clinton upsetting the incumbent president George Bush), history tells us voters will choose either the GOP candidate or the Democratic Party nominee. However, what has emerged since the November election was finalized through the Electoral College, a third-party candidate is occupying the White House. Since being sworn in, Trump has been slowly distancing himself from the Republican Party and acting as a third-party entity, neither Republican nor Democrat, but the Party of Trump.
In my opinion, what Trump is doing, whether by design or just through happenstance, is turning the traditional third-party path to forming a legitimate party on its head. Instead of running as a third party candidate like George Wallace (American Independent Party, 1968) or former Republican president Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive Party, 1912) against the traditional two-party system, Trump was able to co-opt the Republican Party, win election to the presidency and then establish the P.O.T. Party. Trump’s governing (if you can call it that) style has gone from focusing on castigating Democrats for holding up his agenda, to now disparaging those who should be his allies, the Republican congressional leaders—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. In essence, Trump is a Party unto himself.
The possibility of Trump running as a third party candidate came up numerous times during the Republican Party’s presidential primary campaign in 2016. There were many news stories that if Trump didn’t win the Republican nomination, he would run as a third-party candidate. Trump vacillated on his answer to the third-party candidacy question. However, the people running Trump’s campaign knew that it would be impossible for him to win as a third-party candidate. The reason being that following George Wallace’s strong showing in the 1968 presidential election—he received about 10 million votes—Republicans and Democrats became so alarmed that a third-party candidate might actually win in the future, that leaders in both parties enacted laws on the state level making it extremely difficult for third-party candidates to get on individual states’ ballots. So, instead of spending millions of his own fortune as a third-party candidate, with no chance of actually winning the presidential election, and thus paving the way for history to repeat itself with a Clinton victory, Trump and his advisors decided that the only path to becoming the president was as the GOP candidate. Then, should he win, Trump’s personal platform—not the GOP’s—could be imposed on America.
As we have seen since “Day One,” January 20, 2017, Trump has had difficulty in getting Congress to adopt his very singular-focused, undo-everything-Obama-did agenda. A myopic agenda intent on two things: repealing the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) and isolating the United States from the rest of the world through the building of walls, backing out of international treaties, and limiting access to our country by people fleeing political and religious persecution. At first, Trump blamed the Democrats for being obstructionists. He then started to point out individual, low-level Republican Congressional members as the reason he couldn’t get any of his “Day One” agenda items passed. And, now, we have Trump attacking the GOP leadership for causing “a mess” that will make it even more difficult for Trump’s agenda to be enacted by Congress.
What I believe Trump is laying the groundwork for is that, should the Republicans fail to nominate him for re-election in 2020, Trump will break from the GOP and establish a new party. (That is, of course, if he is still around and wants to run again.) For want of a better name right now, and to appease Trump’s narcissistic nature, I call the new party the P.O.T. Party, or Party of Trump.
I think what the Trump people see is a mid-30-percent approval rating in the polls. A rating that, while historically low, has stayed pretty consistent since he took office. It might fluctuate a point or two, in either direction, but it looks like about one-third of the country will stay with him no matter what he does. So, should he choose to run as anything other than a Republican in 2020, his strategy will be to keep his P.O.T. base, destroy those anti-Trump Republicans by getting enough of the GOP base to cross Party lines and help carry him to victory, and leave the Democratic Party as the only opposition political party. Trump would have destroyed the Republican Party from within, created his own Party and changed the course of U.S. political history by winning as a third-party candidate. After all, as we have seen time and time again, Trump’s only loyalty is to Trump, not to the GOP And what would be a better way for Trump to placate his ego, than to name his new party after himself.