A group of more than 100 former Republican officials have discussed the possibility of forming a “center right” party due to their unhappiness with the direction of the GOP under former President Donald Trump and the likelihood he’ll be acquitted at the end of his second impeachment trial, according to Republicans who participated in the conversation.
Former Republican House Rep. Charlie Dent confirmed to CNN that he and about 120 Republicans held a conversation last Friday about whether to form a new party or a new faction within the Republican Party that would operate independently from the GOP.
“Clearly, there are a number of Republicans like myself and other Republican leaders, who want a clean break from President Trump, and we are kind of rallying around some core founding principles like truth and honesty, and democracy, and rule of law,” the former Pennsylvania congressman, who is a CNN contributor, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday.
The remarkable move would exemplify how fractured the Republican Party is, but Trump still has a high approval rating among Republican voters and the two-party system has dominated the US political system for centuries.
Reuters first reported on the Zoom call that included former officials who served in the GOP administrations of Trump, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan talking about the Republican Party’s future and the possibility of forming a center-right breakaway party.
The call came nearly a month after the January 6 insurrection on the US Capitol, when Trump supporters attempted to stop the certification of the 2020 election, believing the false claim promoted by Trump that it was stolen from him. One week later, the US House voted to impeach Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” with 10 Republicans joining with Democrats.
Despite the visceral presentation from House impeachment managers during Trump’s Senate impeachment trial this week, Republican senators have signaled that they will vote to acquit Trump, arguing Democrats have not made a strong case that Trump’s words led to the violent actions in January and that the trial is unconstitutional since Trump is a former president.
Dent told CNN on Thursday that Trump is likely to be acquitted and “will not be held to account,” and he will then attempt to take down Senate Republicans who vote to convict him and the 10 GOP House members who voted to impeach him.
“That’s what I’m most fearful of now, that Trump will feel vindicated. He’ll feel like he’s been exonerated,” Dent said, adding that he thinks Trump will try to hold those who voted against him “accountable in his own perverse way.”
Dent told CNN that Republicans like himself believe it’s important to rally around GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Fred Upton of Michigan, and GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, “who stood up for truth, for principle and want to make a clean break and want this party to be different.”
“What we want is, we don’t want to cling to the past, cling to a man who is disgraced, in any way, shape, or form. We don’t want to follow that man who brought nothing but defeat and misery and insurrection,” Dent said. “Let’s go forward, not backwards.”
Anthony Scaramucci, who did a very brief stint as White House communications director under Trump, also confirmed he too is a part of the discussions with other former Republican officials to form a “center-right party.”
“I think what’s happened over the last three or four days has fortified a very large group of people” who believe that if Senate Republicans don’t convict Trump that the “party is going to split into two pieces” so that it’s “diluted and completely weakened,” Scaramucci told CNN’s Cuomo.
Scaramucci predicted that Trump will be acquitted in his Senate trial and that 5-20% of the GOP will break off and start a new party.
“It will be a center-right party that will be cooperative with the Democrats and it will liquidate the nonsense on the far-right,” said Scaramucci.
Evan McMullin and Dent both confirmed to CNN that the group was roughly split about whether to form a faction or a new party.
McMullin, a former House GOP aide and current executive director of Stand Up Republic who organized the virtual meeting, told CNN on Thursday that the discussion was “primarily about creating something new to help change the direction of the party or challenge it directly.”
He said that if a new faction is formed, they would put forth their own Republican candidates and even, in some cases, support Democratic candidates for election. He cited Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who’s up for a six-year term in 2022, as a candidate they would support if he were to run against a GOP candidate like Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward, a hardline Republican who has aligned herself with Trump.
McMullin said Friday’s call was a starting point for ongoing discussions about the policies they’d support, telling CNN that the group did discuss various social issues but will articulate their stances at a later time.
He had previously told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield on Sunday that the “current direction” of the Republican Party is “destructive, both for its own interests, but most importantly, for the interests of the country.”
“So as extreme as some members of Congress are getting on the Republican side, as the party deals with those related issues, there’s also an opportunity for renewal and rebirth, and that’s what we spoke about,” he said.
McMullin, who ran as an Independent for president in 2016, acknowledged that the Republican Party is still largely under Trump’s control.
“What we’re about is a new direction for the party, and we’re trying to unite people who are committed to our foundational values, to democracy, and to who are desiring that, regardless of who they supported in the past, and the fact our numbers are growing is the most exciting thing about it,” he said.