NOEL KING, HOST:
Republicans are fighting other Republicans. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are criticizing each other colorfully. Local Republicans are censuring members of Congress for not backing Trump enough. Is it time for a third party? Some people are asking, seriously, though not for the first time. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is following this one. Hey, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: Talk about this fight between McConnell and Trump. It's pretty serious.
MONTANARO: Well, yeah, I mean, it's remarkable. You had this back-and-forth between Trump and McConnell after Trump's impeachment acquittal. And it's not every day you have one party leader saying that another is responsible for a riot at the U.S. Capitol. And then the other responds and called the first guy a dour, unsmiling political hack. So, you know, this is where the state of the party is right now. And I think we've all known for years that these are two very different men. So it's not surprising their relationship ended up this way, but it's pretty stunning for it all to spill out into the open so publicly.
And this feud, you know, also isn't contained to just Trump and McConnell, I have to say. They represent two wings of the party struggling for its self-identity after Trump. You know, one side really wants to move on from Trump. The other, though, still very much in Trump's camp. Those two sides, though, are not equal. Most Republicans who voted to convict Trump, by the way, have been censured in their home states for crossing him. And Trump still gets very high ratings from Republican voters. Two-thirds of them want to see him still lead the party. So for the foreseeable future, this is very much his party.
KING: What about the Republicans, then, who don't like Donald Trump?
MONTANARO: Well, we've seen a higher than usual number of registered Republicans quit the party after the Capitol attack, tens of thousands, actually, across the country. And a lot of them say that they're fed up with him. We also saw this week for the first time really interesting numbers. The percentage of people calling themselves independents hit 50% for the first time since Gallup started asking that question. And a record number of Americans are now saying that they believe a third party is necessary. But I have to put a big pause on a lot of that because before we start talking about the country ready to abandon the two-party system, we should understand the spike is coming mostly from Republicans. You have some who are disaffected with the GOP for its embrace of Trump. But most of the change is actually coming from Trump supporters fed up with the Republican Party and how it's treated the former president.
KING: In modern US history, as you have pointed out before, third parties get talked about a lot and then they don't materialize. Or they do materialize, but they're really tiny. Does anyone think this time's going to be different?
MONTANARO: You know, it's highly unlikely. There have been a couple of movements on some of this. Someone like Evan McMullin, who ran for president as an independent in 2016 and is a registered Republican - he's, you know, tried to sort of work on getting one started, actually, among some disaffected Republicans. But I talked to him this week, and he actually thinks that the Republican Party isn't going to be ready to move on from Trump for at least a few more cycles. So you have a lot of people disaffected with the system.
But politics, we have to remember, is about alliances. And it's hard to create alliances with people who don't like or agree with each other very much. You know, take these two sides that are splintering off from the Republican Party. It's not like you're going to get them in the same room and get them to agree on a set of policy positions. I mean, they couldn't be more different. You know, and this is something we've known for a while. Pew actually did a big study on this a few years back and found that we're probably something like eight different political parties when you look at the spectrum of our beliefs.
KING: Sounds like it'd be hard to get them to even agree on a name. Thanks, Domenico.
MONTANARO: (Laughter). You're welcome.
KING: Domenico Montanaro also writes the NPR Politics Newsletter. You can find it by going to npr.org/newsletters.
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