Several potential 2020 prospects have come to Georgia in the past few months to visit. None came as potential challengers to the President, but it was clear that is what they wanted to talk about.
Up front, I told them all I expect to vote for President Trump in 2020. While he and I do not see eye to eye on all issues and I have strong reservations about him personally, I went third party in 2016 only to be thoroughly disappointed and I see the Democrats going so far left in 2020 that I have no doubt Trump will be the only candidate not hostile to my views in 2020. I could sit it out, but it is not my nature to sit out a Presidential race.
I think the Republican Party is Donald Trump’s now, for better or worse. I think there is an opening for a third party in the United States for the first time in a long time, but I do not think that is going to happen. Trump or sitting it out will be the only viable options for conservatives in 2020.
What I see from the potential candidates who met with me makes me think there will be a challenge to the President in a primary and a potential third party challenge from the right.
The recurring themes of all the potential candidates is the same. To a person, they have said that much of what President Trump has done policy wise is good. He has failed to articulate, but has executed, a mature foreign policy. Despite his personal preferences, his administration has been aggressive against Russia and also understands what it is dealing with in China and Iran. He has aggressively fought the bureaucracy and rolled back the regulatory state. His tax reform package was good. The military has been focused back on keeping the country safe instead of being used as an instrument of social policy change. His judicial picks have been solid.
But they also share common critiques. They think the President has also risked our economic future with tariffs. He has ruffled feathers with allies for no reason. He brings out the worst in others and lets others feel comfortable in behaving terribly. He is impulsive in the worst ways and often rushes forward only to have to walk back. He has done nothing about the debt and deficit and has ruined the GOP’s reputation as a good fiscal caretaker. Through his behavior more than his policies, he is driving the next generation away from conservatives. Right now the GOP is playing a short term game that will collapse in the long term.
Essentially, each person has made the case that the good we have gotten from President Trump’s administration comes mostly from those around him and the bad has come from his own behavior.
The risk each of them sees to running is that they cannot make a difference. They all are convinced President Trump is going to lose in 2020 and they are all convinced that the polling and Clinton dynamics of 2016 so thoroughly poisoned the well that President Trump’s base will never see it coming. Two of them are very fearful that this will plunge the country further into crisis in 2020 as it becomes the GOP convinced the Russians stole the election.
None of them like Kasich and think a Kasich candidacy is actually a gift to President Trump’s re-election. I think they are right on that point.
One of them is thinking of mounting an independent challenge from the right and is presently working with lawyers on ballot access issues. He could mount a challenge with his own money.
For now, I am not sure who all will get in. The GOP leadership is more certain than ever it is going to happen. Given the conversations I have had, I think they are right to be concerned. But, as I told the people who met with me, I still think President Trump is the nominee in 2020. But I also told them I’ve previously said I saw no reason for anyone to challenge the President in the primaries. However, I increasingly think the issue of where the GOP is on the Trump spectrum continues to fester and the only way to resolve the issue is to have that fight. Better now than later.
Ultimately, however, I think the GOP is a party in decline and I think if anyone wants to challenge it, the challenge is best done with the establishment of a new third party. Such a party should be socially conservative, but I think it will have to view itself as a fiscal steward of the country, which means it’ll not be as pro-tax cut and probably will be in favor of larger social welfare programs than I prefer.
At this point, however, the GOP is largely defined by one man and the party itself stands for nothing other than what he wants. With only around 40% of the country supportive, and less than that strongly supportive, the GOP could be brought low with only a bit of effort. I just don’t see it happening unless someone wants to be John C. Fremont.
We are in interesting times and I definitely think we are in an age of transition and political realignment.