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Max Burns Never-Trump Republicans want a new party. They're kidding themselves.

Even if the GOP 2.0 secures a marquee name to champion its message, its role would almost certainly be as a political spoiler.
Image: Donald Trump, balloons, Republican National Convention: Day Four
Donald Trump walks on stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

Rep. Liz Cheney's unceremonious, closed-door ouster from House Republican leadership last week prompted renewed soul-searching among an ever-decreasing rump of Trump-skeptical conservatives. Unfortunately for vocal Cheney allies such as Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the hollowed-out and Trumpified GOP has little soul left to search.

A Call for American Renewal’s roster of over 100 anti-Trump Republicans is a veritable “Who’s That?” of Republican politics.

Other conservatives are done looking for redemption in the ruins of the party. A new coalition of old-guard Republicans pulled from the Bush and McCain camps recently launched A Call for American Renewal, the most explicit threat to splinter the GOP since a pre-election attempt to rescue the GOP from Trumpism imploded. The group claims it wants to "defend our republic" and "rededicate [the GOP] to founding ideals — or else hasten the creation of an alternative."

That's easier said than done.

With the exception of former Trump pal and White House communications director-turned-critic Anthony Scaramucci, A Call for American Renewal's roster of over 100 anti-Trump Republicans is a veritable "Who's That?" of Republican politics. Among the laundry list are former one-term Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia, who lost his seat during the 2020 primary to far-right Trump loyalist Bob Good, and Miles Taylor, the former Homeland Security chief of staff most notable for penning an anonymous New York Times op-ed and book slamming his then-boss Trump

"There is a cohort of people who want an 'I'm not crazy' coalition that they can join," Taylor told MSNBC. That cohort, however, doesn't include a prominent Republican office-holder, though it does boast a political graveyard of George W. Bush allies, like Christine Todd Whitman, who left government for the private sector in 2003, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who gave up politics in 2005. That's an immediate problem for the movement and a sign of just how dominant Trump's ideology has become among those GOP officials who actually wield political clout.

This is ironic, because Trump's popularity has softened in recent months, potentially setting back GOP efforts to regain lost ground in competitive states like Virginia. There, an embarrassing Trump-focused Republican primary led to familiar cries of a rigged election when Trump's preferred candidate lost.

Across the party as a whole, an NBC News poll released late last month found, a majority (50 percent) of Republicans considered themselves supporters of the GOP, compared to just 44 percent who supported Trump above all, the first time that has been the case since July 2019.

But mild dissatisfaction with Trump isn't the same as political courage. Most prominent Republicans have publicly aligned with Trump even as voter support erodes, and they're buckled in for the long haul. That creates the opening for more traditional Republicans to toy with forming a new party — but it's a slim one.

The history of American third parties doesn't offer much hope. Last year, Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen garnered just 1.2 percent of the vote in a typical third-party showing. In fact, no third-party candidate has achieved a double-digit popular vote total since Ross Perot in 1992, and data trends indicate that popular support for third parties has been in steady decline since then.

And even if the GOP 2.0 secures a marquee name like former Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah to champion its message, the role would likely be as a political spoiler rather than a serious candidate: Even former President Theodore Roosevelt, at the time one of the most popular figures in American culture, barely surpassed a quarter of the popular vote and garnered just 88 electoral votes in an iconic third-party campaign in 1912. No one on the Call for American Renewal bench commands anything near Roosevelt's profile and platform.

That hasn't stopped disaffected Republicans from setting their sights on fence-sitting "Biden Republicans" — mostly suburban moderates who broke with Trump but remain aligned with GOP ideas like small government that have gone extinct in the post-Trump GOP. Those voters were largely responsible for Trump's upset victory against Hillary Clinton in 2016, while Biden returned formerly right-leaning suburbs to the Democratic column to help power his 2020 win.

But there's little sign that the Never-Trump Republicans had much to do with the shift, including the Lincoln Project, one of the most prominent such groups going into 2016, several of whose members now appear on the Call for American Renewal roster.

More important, experts say, are the shifting demographics of those neighborhoods. "Suburbs are simply far more diverse than they used to be," a FiveThirtyEight analysis explains. "Suburbs have also become increasingly well-educated, and that may actually better explain why so many suburbs and exurbs are turning blue." Both communities of color and Americans with higher education tend to vote Democratic — combine those factors and you have a recipe for major electoral shifts.

And there's no indication that shift is reversing. Recent polling from Harvard's Kennedy School shows Biden dominating the suburbs, where 6 in 10 voters view the president favorably. Biden and Democrats' lead in suburbs is such an existential threat to the GOP that Georgia Republicans have collapsed into infighting over how suburbs once represented by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich are now reliably Democratic bulwarks.

The Call for American Renewal is also hoping to recapture the support of women who have been fleeing the GOP since Trump's first campaign. That may be harder than they think, too. Though it's possible the group could restore some of the ground Trump lost to women, who went nearly 6-in-10 for Biden, Republicans have been losing women voters for years.

In 2008, Barack Obama enjoyed a 7-point advantage among female voters. By 2012, that edge had grown to 10 points. Last year, Biden routed Trump among women by a jaw-dropping 15 points. While white women still vote more conservatively than their nonwhite peers, it's clear that women overall are shifting to the left and that there aren't enough of them up for grabs for a GOP offshoot to have real heft.

Mild dissatisfaction with Trump isn’t the same as political courage. Most prominent Republicans have publicly aligned with Trump even as voter support erodes.

A more moderate GOP incarnation would also be looking to peel off centrist Democrats alienated by Biden's turn left. There's just one problem: Most Americans see Biden as more moderate than Obama, and Republican attacks are failing to persuade voters that Biden is actually a secret radical socialist.

Even if some disaffected Republicans return to the GOP under a new banner and a few moderate Democrats are wooed, it's clear that it won't be enough to make the party a serious contender except potentially in a handful of House and Senate seats. The latest effort to salvage "traditional" GOP values is big on messaging and threats, but without serious buy-in from a significant number of current Republican leaders, it's dead in the water.