Politics and gossip go hand in hand. The political gossip of the moment questions the future of America’s two-party system. Will former President Donald Trump form his own political party before the 2024 Presidential Election? Will moderate Republican Senators, who publicly criticised Trump at length, break off from the GOP ("Grand Old Party" as it is referred to) in order to form a more moderate party?
Naturally, gossip will most likely remain just gossip so the questions that this article will consider are: How does one form a new party? What is the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) role in creating a new political party? And how likely is this potential schism of the Republican Party?
So, you want to create a new political party?
Creating a new political party at the national level starts at the FEC. The FEC is an independent regulatory agency created in 1972 to enforce election law. In order to start a political party, it has to be registered with the FEC and the requirements for registration are laid out in detail on their page.
First, the committee applying to become a party has to have a detailed record of political organising. They cannot form a party from nothing; there must demonstrate activity at the national or state level. When the registration is completed, the Commission will review the application and determine whether or not there has been enough evidence of political organising in order to qualify. Political activity can include grassroots organisation, lobbying legislation, or fundraising for candidates. Most importantly, the committee applying has to prove that they plan on participating in the national election, not just the state or local elections.
If a party is going to remain at the state level, each state will have its own rules and regulations for declaring a political party or getting the name of the party on the ballot. It may be a petition, registration, or a certain number of votes reached after the primary. There are often many more political parties at the state level than there are at the national level because it is often much easier than getting accepted by the FEC. Nonetheless, if a party is going to run campaigns on the state level (ie. State Constitutional Offices or State House Offices), the party must abide by the state rules. However, if the committee has their eyes set on a national office, forming their own party, their future lives or dies with the FEC’s decision.
Overall, it is not insanely difficult to form a new party, especially if you can fundraise enough money for your particular cause. The difficulty will be what follows; such as adhering to election finance law, recording each bit of fundraising for the FEC, and filing reports with all expenditures. Making sure that the party does not break the law when it comes to spending and raising money can all be tricky.
Why does a political party need to register with the FEC?
The core purpose of registration is to have a means of enforcing campaign finance law. The FEC is in place to enforce the Federal Election Campaign Acts of 1975 which constitutes a series of legislations between 1907 and 1966 that regulate campaign funding, expenditures, political action committees (PACs), and individual contributions to campaigns.
The largest changes to these Acts in the past 20 years occurred in two 2010 Supreme Court cases (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and SpeechNow.org v. FEC). While the Citizens United case determined there could not be a limit on corporate spending on electioneering communications, SpeechNow.org v FEC determined that there could not be limits of individual contributions to private fundraising bodies.
Overall, the bulk of the United States Campaign finance law is rooted in nearly 40-year-old legislation. Changing campaign finance law is challenging, however, because it requires a balancing act between not allowing the richest in America to flat out determine elections by using their endless funds, and therefore protecting freedom of speech. In a much-contested decision, the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case deemed that “independent political spending” is free speech and thus no monetary limits can be imposed.
Therefore, political parties have to tread lightly between the lines of internal spending and external support. Every dollar taken in and expended by the campaign has to be carefully recorded. However, any corporation can choose to spend as much as they please to support said campaign. The FEC is, by all means, the enforcer of these lines and boundaries.
Is talk of the Republican Party schism just talk? What can we expect from the future of the Grand Old Party?
In early January 2021, there were rumors swirling whether Donald Trump would start his own political party. This came from sources close to the former president after his loss in the November 2020 elections. Over the past year, Donald Trump had many conflicts with GOP leaders including former Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
However, after the Conservation Political Action Conference (CPAC) during the week of 25 February 2021, it looks like Trump changed his mind. In a speech he made at the Convention, he claimed that they would not start a new party because it would split the vote in Florida, a state that the Republican Party desperately needs to hold onto if they are to have any chance of winning in 2024. Whether or not Donald Trump will run again in 2024 is still up in the air, but his support in the Senate is already split. Senator Bill Cassidy has already expressed that he does not think Trump will be the party nominee in 2024, but Mitch McConnell still claims he will back the former president.
Trump may be attempting to unify the party but his speech at the CPAC did not address the thousands of Republican voters who are leaving the party following the 2021 Capitol riots. As of February 2021, 33,000 California Republicans have left the GOP. Similarly, 12,000 and 10,000 Republicans have left the party in Pennsylvania and Arizona respectively. Across all 50 states, nearly 140,000 Republicans changed their voter registration between 6 January and mid-February 2021.
It is not only voters who are changing their minds about the party. Former Republican officials are considering breaking off from the GOP to form a more moderate party. It is important to note that this is different from the rumors of Trump’s plans because they want to form a more moderate party whereas the former president was interested in moving his party further right, These moderate Republicans have taken no concrete steps to form a new party, however. Part of the reason is that many moderate Republicans depend on the vote of Trump supporter voters in their own elections.
For the time being, it looks like there will not be a new national political party in the United States. However, if things change, the legal pathway through the FEC will be essential in the process of creating a new party in a country that just prefers two.