You know what would make the implicit threat of a Trump third party run even more thrilling? That would be if he also fielded a slate of MAGA down ballot candidates. Enjoy these examples: Sherrod Brown is up for reelection in Ohio. Presumably the GOP will want to run some establishment candidate like Secretary of State Frank LaRose or self-funding businessman Mike Gibbons. How much easier would it be for Brown if J.R Majewski, Gym Jordan or Madison Gesiotto Gilbert were to run on the MAGA line? And in Texas, where Ted Cruz is seeking reelection, imagine if he runs on the Republican line and Trump gets some crackpot like Ronny Jackson to run on a MAGA line. Last time Cruz was up for reelection he won by just over 200,000 votes (2.6 points). I would think a MAGA candidate running with Trump at the top of the ticket could get at least 15-20% in Texas. That would almost guarantee a win for Julian or Joaquin Castro. Lets see Tudor Dixon, Matthew DePerno or Kristina Karamo run as MAGAts against Debbie Stabenow in Michigan while the Republican Party runs whomever the DeVos family picks to run as a Republican. And imagine MAGA lunatics and proven losers like Joe Kent (WA), John Gibbs (MI), Paul DeGroot (NJ), Neil Parrott (MD), Karoline Leavitt (NH), Kelly Tshibaka (AK)... running for vulnerable Democratic-held House seats on a MAGA line!
Early this morning, Shelby Talcott and Morgan Chalfant looked at the threat of a potential Trump third party run. “Republicans who have spent the last two years wondering what happens if Donald Trump wins the 2024 nomination,”they wrote, “suddenly have another question on their mind as he begins to look more vulnerable: What happens if he loses? Trump’s loose attachments to the Republican Party are already raising speculation about a potential third party move, which could be devastating to the eventual nominee’s chances.”
On Sunday, ABC’s Jon Karl asked former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan about Republican fears that Trump “marches across the street and declares he's an independent candidate” if he doesn’t win the nomination. Ryan predicted Trump “would not want to be blamed” for handing Democrats a win.
It’s not an easy idea to dismiss. Trump first explored a run for president as a Reform Party candidate in 2000, and has teased a return to his independent roots when he feels threatened by Republican leaders. During the 2016 cycle, he repeatedly refused to rule out a run outside the GOP if he lost the primaries, even saying it gave him “a lot of leverage” in his first debate.
“In 2015, Donald wasn’t initially being taken seriously by the GOP as a potential candidate,” Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and now a critic, told Semafor. “His threat to run as a third party candidate was to ensure people knew of his intent and that he would have no problem with destroying the party if they stood in his way.”
Michael Short, who worked at the Republican National Committee at the time, likened it to a “hostage situation.”
After January 6th Trump reportedly told RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel that he would leave the GOP to start a new party just as Republican leaders were weighing whether to convict him in his impeachment trial (both Trump and McDaniel denied the claim). Two weeks after the Senate acquitted him, he announced “We are not starting new parties” in a speech at CPAC.
While two sources close to Trump quickly dismissed speculation about a potential third party run— one person in Trump world said there was “quite literally nothing to” the claim while a source close to the former president’s campaign called it “an absurd idea”— one Trump administration veteran wouldn’t entirely rule it out.
“I don’t see that happening right now,” the former official told Semafor. “But Trump was so successful in part because he ran against the elite and out of touch political establishment on both sides, so I’d say it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility.”
Mounting a competitive third party or independent bid would be challenging for Trump, who has already declared his candidacy as a Republican.
Roger Stone, who ran Trump’s 2000 effort, noted the Reform Party at the time had larger infrastructure, extensive ballot access, and matching public funds after two runs by Ross Perot. Getting on the ballot now would be more expensive and logistically complicated and could run into “sore loser” laws. It would also “guarantee the election of a Democrat.”
…Even if Trump doesn’t leave the party, some Republicans argue he could do just as much damage by refusing to endorse the nominee if it’s someone other than himself, or by discouraging people from voting based on false claims of fraud.
“I don't know if he's gonna be the nominee, but if he's not the nominee, I don't see him saying, ‘Oh, well, I didn't win, but I'm gonna just get behind all these great candidates.’ He’s likely to be disruptive,” Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, told Semafor.
Former RNC communications director Doug Heye told Semafor that Republicans should be concerned about a battered Trump dragging down the entire party, pointing out that it’s difficult to picture him “on a stage supporting a nominee that isn’t him.”
Some Republicans blamed their losses in the Georgia runoffs in 2021 on Trump’s insistence the election was stolen, which they say convinced a crucial slice of supporters that their vote would not count and that their state’s Republican leaders could not be trusted.
“We know he’s not a gracious loser. We know that he doesn’t forget and holds grudges,” Brendan Buck, a former spokesman for Paul Ryan, said.
A new Georgia poll released by AARP this morning shows Warnock beating Walker 51-47%, largely because of independent voters breaking for Warnock by 15 points. Who gets the blame? The GOP is preventing Trump from campaigning for Walker in-state. Just try to imagine what Trump will say on December 7 if Walker loses. (By the way, you can contribute to Warnock’s campaign here.)