Perhaps a related question to Why does the US only have two major political parties? ...

If the Republican party is composed of Trump supporters and those who would wish to distance themselves from him, what would prevent the "anti-Trump" Republicans from organizing themselves into a "New Republican Party" and fielding their own "third option" candidate? If, for example, the general thinking is that Trump will ultimately lose to Clinton, would that not provide an opportunity for a more favored right-wing candidate, perhaps one who might fare better?

The point of my question is to explore just how solidly the American system is locked into its two existing parties, and whether there is a viable scenario by which a third option could form, even if only temporarily, as a way to solve an awkward problem.

  • 1
    Despite of our deep concern about the recent major standoff in the Republican party of the U.S., I believe your post rather conveys the message (of "almost inevitable" splitting the party in two) than genuinely asking the question See the FAQ: „…your question is just a rant in disguise: “______ sucks, am I right?” Aug 3, 2016 at 0:39
  • @bytebuster Actually, I'm an outsider - a Canadian. I'm used to seeing at least three parties at our federal level, more at provincial level or within ridings (voting districts). There is some fluidity to Canadian parties as well, with various splits and merges happening over time. True, I have the opinion that Trump would not be good for either America or the world at large, but, personal opinion aside, I am curious about the dynamics of the US political party system as it compares to others e.g. Canada.
    – Anthony X
    Aug 3, 2016 at 1:18
  • Nothing is preventing anyone from forming their own party. The two party system, though helped by the size of the two big ones, is really a result of how we vote in this country. The system naturally gravitates to two major parties.
    – user1530
    Aug 3, 2016 at 4:44
  • I find it very curious that you could swap "Trump" and "Clinton", along with "Democrat" and "Republican", and still get an equally applicable question here. Aug 4, 2016 at 3:30
  • @JoelHarmon except in one instance the establishment unequivocally supported the candidate while in the other the party base unequivocally supported the candidate. Aug 4, 2016 at 13:48

2 Answers 2


In theory, a party split is possible. That's how both current parties were founded:

The Democratic-Republican Party (which often called itself a/the republican Party) split after the 1824 election was sent to the House of Representatives to decide - one of the two candidates (Andrew Jackson, the winner) formed the Democratic Party with his supporters, and the his opponents formed the National Republican Party, which absorbed the remnants of the Federalist Party and eventually merged into the new Whig party. (The modern Democratic Party traces to this split.)

The Whig Party tore itself apart over the question of slavery after their 1852 convention - many northern Whigs (including Lincoln) joined the new anti-slavery Republican Party, while many of the southern Whigs joined the American Party (aka the American Republican Party, aka the Native American Party (in the sense of anti-immigration, not that of Indians), aka the Know Nothings) or the Constitutional Union Party, and then eventually seceded. (The modern Republican Party traces to this split.)

However, in the modern highly-polarized political atmosphere, a split like that would likely result in the splitting party losing most or all of their political influence for the next several years: 49% vs 48% is relatively even, but 49% vs 26% vs 22% is a clear victory for the 49%. Even if it becomes 45% vs 30% vs 22%, the unsplit party has a significant advantage.1 This doesn't mean it won't happen, but it does mean that a large number of career politicians would have to choose principles over power - something that was much less of an issue in the past.

On a more immediate note, it is too late for a newly split-off party to nominate a candidate for the 2016 elections. Each state has ballot access rules which determine who will show up on that state's ballots in November. I believe all the deadlines have passed at this point, so a new candidate would have to be a write-in in every state, but I'm not sure all states even count write-ins.

It would be possible to organize a campaign to promote faithless electors to vote for the new party's candidate instead of the one they're bound to, but that would probably provoke a major backlash from the public (even worse than the one that was threatened around "stealing" the convention nomination from Trump) and may trigger a constitutional crisis ("Why are they allowed to do that? We need to fix it!").

So not only would the splitting party lose long-term influence, they'd also be all but throwing this election in the process. A split around the mid-term elections, with both halves having two years to organize themselves and put up a presidential candidate in 2020 would be their best option, but that just plays back into the long-term issues.

1: All numbers for demonstration purposes only - they don't correspond to any actual values.

  • I think I misread the question as "could the party split", rather than the reverse. The answer's still accurate, although I'd have worded it differently if I'd noticed. I may re-slant it tomorrow to emphasize the "why not" side.
    – Bobson
    Aug 3, 2016 at 3:15
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    TL:DR: "the answer to your question is pragmatism" :) +1
    – user4012
    Aug 3, 2016 at 15:29
  • Answer re-slanted, and another summary paragraph added. @user4012's TL;DR is right, though. Pragmatism.
    – Bobson
    Aug 4, 2016 at 3:40

Although there are a fair amount of conservatives who oppose Donald Trump in the Republican Party, Trump nevertheless mainly got votes from registered Republicans during the primaries. We can assume that a lot of these registered Republicans have conservative beliefs which would align with those of "a New Republican Party." Seeing as how post RNC and pre DNC polls had Clinton and Trump virtually tied, a third party would just split the 50 percent of right-wing votes and hand Clinton the election. There exists third party candidates like Gary Johnson who share libertarian values with traditionally right-wing voters in America.

In any case, the best political strategy in order for Clinton to lose would be to have Trump remain the only other option. A third party stands a better chance in a four party system where Democrat votes could split meaning an ultra-progressive party being in the picture as well.

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