Often lost in the discussion about Donald Trump’s quick ascension up the political ladder is the fact that, even before he faced Hillary Clinton in the general election, he handily beat 16 primary challengers.
While he won’t have to pull off the same feat in 2020, the odds of him facing at least one credible Republican primary challenger in 2020 seem to get better and better with each passing day.
On the surface, the notion that Trump could face a primary challenger in 2020 is far-fetched. The last time that a serious challenger ran against an incumbent president was in 1992, when Pat Buchannon squared off against President George H.W. Bush, after the latter infamously broke his “read my lips, no new taxes” campaign promise.
George H.W. Bush ultimately prevailed, winning every single primary contest that year, before falling to Bill Clinton in the general election.
Despite the lack of historical examples of sitting presidents having to fend off serious primary challengers, there are plenty of reasons to believe that 2020 will be different.
After just 80-some days in office, the Trump presidency is a chaotic mess. President Trump’s job approval numbers are cratering. His campaign is under federal investigation for possible collusion with a foreign adversary. He is openly warring with factions of his own party. The economic momentum he inherited has sputtered, with the economy creating a paltry 98,000 jobs in March. His two top advisors, Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, hate each other. And his once stable base of support continues to erode.
Formerly ardent supporters like right-wing media hacks, Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter, along with a host of alt-right talking heads have also publicly called out Trump for his interventionist response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, noting the clear contradiction with his “America First” campaign rhetoric.
Missiles flying. Rubio's happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary's on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) April 7, 2017
He told us he would be the president of America, not "the world." Could somebody show him pictures of Americans raped & killed by illegals? https://t.co/zhdohjXgdf
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 7, 2017
If, hypothetically speaking, an incumbent president were to be in a weak-enough position that they were vulnerable to a primary challenge from within their own party, it would look an awful lot like what we see before our eyes.
While Trump’s presidency continues to lurch from one crisis to another, an old adversary is quietly taking steps, which one might take, if they were planning to challenge President Trump in a Republican primary.
One of the first steps that politicians who plan to run for president do is to first deny that they intend to run for president (but subtly leave the door open) and, shortly thereafter, publish a book that makes it sound a lot like they intend to run for president. This tried and true blueprint for running for high office has been followed to a T by a certain Republican governor from Ohio.
In a March interview with CNN, old Trump nemesis and current Ohio governor, John Kasich, stated that he doesn’t intend to run for elected office again. Predictably, however, Kasich left the door open to the possibility by stating in the same interview, “You don’t close the door on anything…”
Later this month, Kasich will also publish a book, entitled, Two Paths: America Divided or United, which positions him as a clear critic of the divisive and alienating governing approach employed by President Trump. Excerpts from the book released by the publisher like “we cannot allow exclusion to take the place of inclusion,” and “we cannot accept distorted truths and half-baked notions simply because they make us feel good…” don’t exactly leave much to the imagination about how Kasich feels about Trump.
Couple this development with the facts that Kasich formed a 501(c)(4) nonprofit political organization, Two Paths America, just weeks after Trump was inaugurated and his Super PAC and campaign apparatus continue to exist, and he sure sounds like someone vying for the White House in 2020.
History would tell us that President Trump will enjoy near-uniform support from his party in 2020 and face no credible primary threat. After all, no primary challenger has succeeded in displacing an incumbent president since 1884 and that was largely due to the deteriorating health of then-President Chester Arthur.
If Trump’s presidency continues on its current trajectory, however, the resiliency of that streak will come into question. Trump has plenty of time to right the ship during his first term and render any talk of a primary challenger as irrelevant, but until then, John Kasich (and others) will continue to keep at least one eye on 2020.
Sam was raised in our nation’s capitol and, for as long as he can remember, has always been an avid political junkie. In a former life, he worked as a staffer to a U.S. Senator. He now works as an economic development consultant in Atlanta, but moonlights as a freelance political writer as a way to scratch his political “itch.” He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.