Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has engendered a lot of
excitement, some positive and some negative, this week with his announcement
that he will run for president as an independent Democrat. As Mr. Schultz talks
about giving moderate Democrats an option that doesn’t advocate confiscatory
socialist policies or, hopefully, the abortion of full-term infants, the question
on the minds of many conservatives and moderates is, “Where is the Republican
The Democrats and the Republicans are two very different
parties, but they have similar problems. Both parties are ignoring the moderate
and independent voters who decide elections and are catering to the fringes in
their base. In both cases, the party leaders are pushing forward with unpopular
and even destructive policies and doing their best to alienate swing voters.
About the only thing that the two parties can agree on is to keep borrowing and
Schultz has stepped forward to tackle some of the most egregious economic proposals
of the new left. So far, he has not waded the brewing infanticide debate, but
he has sharply criticized wealth taxes and national healthcare, going so far as
to call Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s
(D-N.Y.) tax plan “unamerican.”
President Trump has performed well in some areas, notably
with judicial appointments and tax reform, but there are a number of areas where
many conservatives would like to see a Republican version of Howard Schultz
steer the party back toward its traditional conservative roots. Many conservatives
would like to see an end to the trade war and removal of the Trump’s tariffs, a
renewed sense of cooperation with our allies, and an end to America’s retreat
from its responsibility as the leader of the Free World. We would like a
candidate who understands that solving the immigration problem means more
than just throwing up a border wall. Conservatives need a candidate who is
a real dealmaker, not someone who played one on TV. Two years after Obama left
the White House, Obamacare is still in dire need of reform and seemingly off
the GOP radar.
Most of all we need a candidate who has the character and
temperament to be president. Where Donald Trump has had some policy successes, he
has been an abject failure at uniting the country and representing the
conservative ideology. The president’s behavior, including his tweeting, has
not only led to a number of humiliating legislative defeats and the blue
wave in the 2018 midterms, but it is also
convincing a generation
of young voters that Republicanism is bigoted, meanspirited, hypocritical, and capricious. Trump is literally
driving suburban moderates and independents into the arms of Elizabeth Warren
and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
To make matters worse, a merger
late last year between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee will make it more difficult for potential primary candidates to challenge Trump.
The move is similar to the Hillary Clinton’s takeover of the Democratic
National Committee in 2016, a move which stacked the deck against other Democratic
hopefuls and laid the seed for Donald Trump’s victory over the beleaguered,
scandal-ridden Democrat. Not that Trump would be likely to lose the primary
anyway. He is still overwhelmingly popular within the Republican Party, if not
in the rest of the country.
Perhaps this explains why Erick
Erickson wrote earlier this week, “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.” Not only is the Republican brand damaged,
possibly beyond repair, by President Trump, but
the party has doubled down on Trump, time and again, to the point where few
Trump critics are left.
There are a few, however. Larry
Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, has floated the possibility of
challenging Trump, but few other sitting Republicans have broached the idea. Ben Sasse,
a Republican senator from Nebraska, is one of the most vocal Trump critics
still in office, and has not ruled out a
presidential run against Trump. Senator Ted
Cruz (R-Texas) and fellow 2016 candidate Marco
Rubio (R-Fl.) don’t seem interested in challenging President Trump.
The president’s stranglehold on the Republican base and the RNC
would make a challenge from within the GOP tantamount to political suicide. Unless
Donald Trump is severely weakened over the next few months, it seems unlikely
that a serious candidate will emerge. Few sitting Republican officials would
want to risk their next re-election in what would almost certainly be a losing
proposition. Gov. Hogan, the term-limited governor of a blue state, would be
better positioned than most Republicans to run.
If no Republican mounts a primary challenge to Trump or if the president wins the nomination, it would be up to an outsider. Conservative author Brad Thor announced his intention to run against Trump last year but has since been quiet on the subject. John Kasich, the former governor of Ohio and a 2016 candidate, has hinted at a run as has former Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. Former Senator Jeff Flake, another Trump critic who was long considered to be a likely candidate, has already bowed out. Evan McMullin, who mounted a conservative third-party campaign in 2016, seems to have dropped out of sight but could reappear.
2020 will be the year when the Republican Party decides whether it wants to be a conservative party or a populist party built around Donald Trump’s ideas. In 2016, the Republican embrace of Trump was frigid and forced and was only accomplished through what many saw as the necessity of preventing a Clinton presidency. In 2020, we can expect the argument that the campaign against [insert Democrat here] is another most important election of our lifetime, but if Donald Trump is the Republican standard bearer it will be with the full complicity and cooperation of Republican voters and the party will be forever, irretrievably changed.