The Republicans need a competitive presidential primary if they want to win in 2020. Not having a serious primary leaves both the party and President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) at a serious disadvantage going into next year’s elections.
The Grand Old Party (GOP) needs a competitive primary for several reasons. First, Trump is an unpopular president in a weak position; he had an approval rating of 42.5% on 18 July 2019, FiveThirtyEight estimates.
Under those circumstances, the only way Trump can win in 2020 is to energize and mobilize the Republican base. Nothing fires up the base like a good primary battle.
Why Trump Needs a Competitive Presidential Primary
Republicans will need a high turnout because the race is likely to have a narrow margin of victory, as in 2016. In fact, Trump owes his presidency to 77,744 votes in three states; Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, The Weekly Standard estimates.
Meanwhile, Democrats will be awake and aggressive because of a close and brutal primary battle. For instance, US Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) was leading the California primary by a margin of just 2% according to a 17 July 2019 Quinnipiac poll.
Under those circumstances, Democrats will have had a year and a mobilize and energize their base. Republicans will have a few short months.
History Shows Competitive Primaries are Good for Parties
Historically, parties perform better after a competitive presidential primary. For instance, Trump won an unexpected victor after a very competitive primary in 2016. Moreover, President Barack Obama (D-Illinois) easily beat US Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) in 2008 after a bitter battle with Hillary Clinton.
In both cases, the popular candidate who faced little primary opposition went down in defeat. Moreover, primaries often bring unusual but highly competitive candidates to the forefront.
For instance, Donald J. Trump in 2016 and Bill Clinton (D-Arkansas) in 1992, Clinton did not emerge as the Democratic frontrunner until the fifth 1992 primary, Michael Greiner notes at Medium. Trump faced serious competition until April 2016.
Primary Elections are Good Practice and a Great Test
Another problem Republicans will face next year is that their candidate has spent the past four years sitting on his rear in the Oval Office. Meanwhile, months of gruelling campaigning will toughen and harden the Democrat.
Therefore, Trump could be a like a prizefighter who is completely out of shape. but going into a championship match. Additionally, he will face a hungry; and probably younger, contender in that match.
A few good primary rounds could toughen Trump and give him the edge he will need in fall 2020. Trump will have to be at the top of his game then, because this time the Democrats will pull no punches.
Hillary Clinton (D-New York) lost because she dismissed Trump as a lightweight. Democrats will not make that mistake next year.
Interestingly, Hillary’s sorry primary performance predicted her defeat in December. Clinton came close to losing the Democratic Primary to a fringe candidate; US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). Clinton’s failure to cope with Bernie presaged to her failure to wage an effective campaign against Trump.
Therefore, another reason for a primary is to assess the capabilities of the party before the major battle. The 2016 primary exposed bitter divisions and poor organization in the Democratic ranks, but only Trump paid attention. A Republican primary could expose weaknesses the GOP needs to address before the big contest in the fall.
A Real Primary Challenge could Keep Trump Honest
President Trump has become a loose cannon, whom the GOP cannot control. Trump’s behavior is now so erratic and arrogant, I think it could hurt all Republicans at the polls next year.
In particular, Trump is ignoring two of his most popular campaign pledges; adopting a noninterventionist foreign policy and pulling American forces out of the Middle East. Instead, the United States is close to war with Iran and stumbled into a clumsy coup attempt in Venezuela.
Interestingly, the situation reminds me of 2006 when Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress because of President George W. Bush’s (R-Texas) unpopular war in Iraq. Obama’s victory followed in 2008. Ironically, Trump is repeating some of Bush’s blunders.
However, a real primary challenge could keep Trump honest on foreign policy. Notably, many Republicans; including those at The American Conservative, are already brutally critical of Trump’s foreign policy.
Thus, the ground for a foreign policy challenge to Trump is fertile if somebody wants to take it. In addition, even, The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher; who is normally sympathetic to Trump, calls the President’s behavior at a recent North Carolina “horrifying” and unhinged.
Under these circumstances, I think there is enough support for a real primary challenge to Trump – if somebody will risk it.
Why Aren’t Republicans Challenging Trump?
Unfortunately, the only primary challenger to Trump is a fringe figure; former Massachusetts Governor William Weld. Weld; the Libertarian Vice-Presidential candidate in 2016, had raised just $700,000 as of 3 July, 2019, ABC News reports.
Incidentally, cultural and fiscal conservative folk hero Mark Sanford is thinking about entering the Republican presidential primary, The Post & News reports. Sanford; a former South Carolina governor and Congressman, is an impressive figure, but I think it is late for him to launch an effective primary challenge.
Meanwhile, even Republicans critical of Trump like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are sitting the primary out. My guess is history is driving those individuals’ cowardice.
Over the last 50 years, four sitting presidents faced serious primary challenges, and all four lost. Those presidents were Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-Texas) in 1968, Gerald R. Ford (R-Michigan) in 1976, Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia) in 1980, and George H. W. Bush (R-Texas) in 1992. Given that track record, no politician wants the blame for losing the White House.
Moreover, three of the four primary challengers who wrecked presidents saw their careers go nowhere. Notably, LBJ’s nemesis U.S Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-Minnesota), Carter’s foil US Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), and Bush’s gadfly columnist Pat Buchanan are now footnotes in the history books.
America Needs a Real Republican Party not a Trump Fan Club
However, the man who thwarted Ford; Ronald Reagan (R-California), came back to win two presidential elections. Thus, unless we have another Reagan waiting in the wings, Republicans could be in for a dull primary.
On the other hand, if guys like US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), US Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), or Jeb, want political redemption challenging Trump is the best way to achieve it.
One of those men could establish himself as a second Reagan. Remember, Reagan led the Grand Old Party (GOP) out of the mess Richard M. Nixon (R-California) left it in. Unfortunately, I do not think any of those guys has the courage or imagination to do that.
That’s sad because the Republican Party needs a shake up and Trump deserves a good primary challenge. Hopefully, we will see a real Republican presidential primary because the United States needs a competitive GOP not a Donald Trump fan club for a second party.