I have previously wrote about why Ted Cruz is not the person to lead the conservative movement forward. This thought did inspire me to think about what a potential 2020 Republican Primary would look like.
Chances are that Trump is going to run again in four years. I would argue that no matter what he does in those four years, he has disqualified himself from receiving re-election, due to the fact he has ensured entire people groups will never feel or be fully represented with him in office, among other issues. Additionally, there is simply no evidence he is going to suddenly turn around and be mature, respect religious liberty for all, actually view women as human beings instead of sex objects, etc.
That means for those who are, like me, on the Republican side of the aisle, there are a few political objectives we need to focus on accomplishing. The most immediate ones are to pressure Republican legislators to curb the worst of Trump’s proposals in Congress, punishing his most complicit supporters in the 2018 primaries if possible, and hopefully identifying #NeverTrump candidates to run in special elections to replace Trump appointees (Most Likely AL-Senate, KS-4, GA-6, SC-5, and MT-AL to replace Sessions, Pompeo, Price, Mulvaney, and Zinke , respectfully).
The ultimate goal, though, will be to go after Trump himself in 2020. Obviously there will be a number of logistical obstacles (Trump having the advantage of incumbency, support of RNC apparatus, etc.). Before Anti-Trump Republicans can tackle those, though, there has to be a candidate. If Trump is bad enough in office that he is vulnerable to a serious challenge in 4 years, it would presumably require a candidate who is completely free of the Trump stain. That limits the field considerably. At the same time, there is a weird game theory dynamic where most likely only one of these candidates could run and possibly win (think back to this year, with multiple Trump challengers cannibalizing each other’s votes). That said, here is a brief look/dream sequence at some of the #NeverTrump Republicans who could challenge Trump in 2020:
Category 1: The Past Presidential Candidates
These are the candidates who have been there before and know what it takes to run a campaign.
Mitt Romney: As the most prominent Republican to speak out against Trump, he would be at the top of the list. That said, his posturing to possibly get Secretary of State would be mocked, and it’s doubtful that he would want to run a 3rd time to potentially lose again.
Carly Fiorina: She was well-liked by virtually everyone on the Republican side during her run for President. That said, she appears to have mostly thrown in her lot with Trump at this point, and it’s uncertain whether she is capable of turning the “likability” factor into hard votes. Additionally, she supposedly has other things on her mind, including a challenge to Tim Kaine in the Virginia US Senate Race in 2018.
Evan McMullin: He would probably be willing, but it’s hard-to-say whether he could build enough name recognition/support/fundraising dollars among the Republican Primary Electorate.
These are people who have won elections and will (with one exception) have platforms to stand-up to Trump over the next 4 years.
Ben Sasse: He has strong credibility with the Anti-Trump crowd for being a leading voice against him this past year, which could get him establishment votes. At the same time, he is an ideological conservative who has a lot of bona fides that could win him tea party/Cruz voters. He strikes the right balance to potentially be a credible challenger. That said, his Senate seat goes up in 2020, and it would be a loss for him to potentially lose both a Presidential campaign and a chance to run for re-election.
Mike Lee: Lee is also an ideological conservative. It’s hard to say whether he could expand his appeal beyond his mostly tea party/libertarian base. If he can, then he would make noise in a hypothetical race.
Jeff Flake: Flake will have a tough re-election in an increasingly purple state in 2 years, which could distract from any other efforts. That said, he is a mostly traditional conservative who was ahead of the gay marriage curve and could appeal to Rand Paulish constituencies with his mostly anti-intervention stances.
Lindsey Graham: He is the opposite of Jeff Flake. He is somewhat moderate on issues such as Immigration, but is possibly the most hawkish Republican holding Federal office today. While I agree with him on Immigration, that set of positions might not get a broad hearing in a Republican primary.
Kelly Ayotte: She has a good record as a Senator, is from an early primary state, and probably wouldn’t have another office to distract her. That said, Senators who lost re-election bids generally don’t get enough traction on the level needed to succeed.
The people with the executive and political experience necessary to succeed
John Kasich: For as much blame as Kasich gets for taking Anti-Trump voters away from credible challengers in 2016, he was one of the most outspoken individuals against Trump this year. He hasn’t shown any signs of relenting, and term-limits out of office in 2018 anyways. The big questions are whether he could broaden his appeal beyond the establishment/moderate wing of the party, and whether tea partiers would be willing to vote for him in a 1-on-1 with Trump.
Larry Hogan: He has a great life story and won as a Republican in a blue state. He may have the Kasich problem though, and less name recognition to go with it.
Susana Martinez: She has tea party bona fides as being one of the original stars of the movement in 2010 (to be fair, though, so does Marco Rubio, and we see how that turned out in 2016). She also has demographic appeal. It’s hard to say whether she has the national profile of some of these other names at this point, though.
Bill Haslam: He is little known outside of Tennessee, but he has governed largely as a traditional, effective Republican in a Southern state while winning huge vote margins. He term-limits out in 2018, and could largely self-fund any further runs for office he may have interest in making.
Brian Sandoval: He is a social liberal who supposedly is more interested in returning to the Judiciary as opposed to running for another office. That said, he has governed as a Republican in an increasingly blue state, and is a talented politician.
Robert Gates: He is one of the most qualified people on this list. That said, he is not one of the most charismatic, and between qualifications and charisma, voters are biased towards the later.
Condoleezza Rice: Many Republicans still admire her from her time in office, and an African-American female scholar would certainly be a contrast with Trump. That said, she also has a moderate streak that could prevent her from getting the votes needed to defeat Trump.
Justin Amash: He has little name recognition outside of the Libertarian community, but he has been very critical of Trump on issues important to Libertarians, and that has been more than many Republicans have been to date.
Barbara Comstock: She has a very impressive resume, is sufficiently Anti-Clinton for Republican tastes, has demographic appeal, has won close elections in a swing district, and is a gifted fundraiser. Her problems would largely be the same ones any Congressional member would have jumping from the House to the national stage.