Could a Challenger Beat Trump for a 2020 Republican Primary Bid?

April 5, 2019

The pool of democrats vying for the 2020 presidential primary bid is seemingly growing wider by the day. There are currently 16 notable candidates throwing their hats in the ring and vowing to put an end to the nonsense that has been the Trump administration. Indeed, it has been a turbulent three years since Trump assumed the presidency. Multiple probes into dealings with Russia, pornstar payments, border walls, and far, far too many poorly-formed tweets have made for a time that is going to read like weird fiction in future history books. Most people are unhappy with the status quo, with ABC News’ FiveThiryEight estimating Trump’s disapproval rating being at slightly over fifty percent. Democrats who have opposed the many unprecedented actions of this administration are hoping to topple Trump in 2020. But what about the republicans who have spoken out against him?

 

Photo: Element5 Digital on Unsplash 

 

Despite the imprudent loyalty and “Trumpism” that has gripped much of the GOP, there have been a few individuals who have stood up to the commander-in-chief. Former republican Arizona House of Representatives member, Jeff Flake, vowed not to give his support to any Supreme Court justice nominees by the president until a bill protecting the Mueller probe could be brought to vote. Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee spoke out against the administration’s handling of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and was one of fourteen republicans to vote for measures to end US support of the Saudis in the war in Yemen. Former Ohio governor John Kasich--who ran against Trump in the 2016 republican primaries--has been vocally against most things that Trump has done. Now, there are reports that he may challenge Trump again in 2020.

 

With small, but definite cracks revealing themselves within the republican party, is it possible that a challenger could beat Trump in the primaries to run against a democrat for the presidency in 2020?

 

No challenger has ever beat an incumbent president for a party nomination in modern history. Most recently and notably, Pat Buchanan--who had been a top aid to Presidents Nixon and Reagan--ran against President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Though he did not win any primary election, his challenge exposed a weakness in the republican party that would prove fatal in the general election, when President Bush lost to Bill Clinton. Many consider Buchanan’s campaign to have been a harbinger of Trumpism. In an interview ahead of the 1992 New Hampshire primary, Buchanan spoke of the need to “make America first again.” He ran brazenly racist campaign ads, and was accused of stirring racial resentment to rile white, working class voters.

 

Similar situations have happened in previous election cycles. Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter in 1980 for the democratic nomination and lost. But Carter then lost the general election to Ronald Reagan. Before that, Gerald Ford was challenged and only narrowly won against Ronald Reagan for the republican spot on the general ticket in 1976, but Ford then lost the presidency to democrat Jimmy Carter.

 

Of course, history doesn’t necessarily predict what will happen in the future, and if the current administration has demonstrated anything, it is that precedent doesn’t mean much. Trump filed for his 2020 campaign on the day of his inauguration and has held numerous campaign rallies throughout his presidency already. This in itself is unusual, but what is even more so is the fact that the Trump 2020 re-election campaign has officially joined with the Republican National Convention to become a single entity. Usually, a party committee only works with a nominee. Under this plan, the campaign and the RNC together will be the Trump Victory organization. The combined resources of this merger will make an intra-party challenge uniquely difficult. However, it has been pointed out that the RNC could be taking a risk by linking themselves so contretely to Trump. He is still the subject of multiple ongoing investigations, and has already committed a number of offenses that probably would be deemed grounds for impeachment in normal times, such as granting his unworthy son-in-law top secret security clearance, and firing the director of the FBI and his own Secretary of State.


Trump has confidently expressed that he would welcome a challenge by John Kasich. It is worth mentioning too that former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld has officially announced that he is running against the president for the republican nomination too. One Morning Consult poll estimates that only one third of republicans would be open to voting for a primary challenger, however. And based on history and the organizational assets at the president’s disposal, it is likely that the 2020 election will come down to Trump and one of the many democrats gearing up to take a shot at him. But a lot could happen in the next two years, and “likely” is also what they said about a President Hillary Clinton…

 

Tristyn Surprenant is working toward her B.A. in Communications and Media Studies with minors in Writing and Digital Media Production at Emmanuel College in Boston, MA. She works as a research assistant and a writing tutor, and serves as the co-chair of a campus club that promotes female body-positive activism. She hopes to someday work in broadcast journalism.

 

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