If Donald Trump was a normal guy, right about now he’d be running either to a psychic or a shrink to find out why his life is going to hell all at once. As if the fifth column in the White House, as manifested by the anonymous op-ed writer, and the Mueller investigation weren’t enough to deal with, plus McCain’s death and Woodward’s book, we find out that in the wake of the Manafort/Cohen imbroglio, yet another tornado cloud is forming on the horizon: forces are in motion to primary Trump in New Hampshire. New York Magazine:
“I just finished reading a book about the French resistance. It reminds me of that. People are meeting over their garages — their ateliers — trying to figure out who’s going to do it,” said former New Hampshire attorney general Tom Rath, the longtime GOP operative in the state who helped Kasich in 2016 and remains plugged into the governor’s broader orbit.
“It is inevitable that Donald Trump will face a primary,” said Jennifer Horn, who stepped down as the state’s GOP chairwoman after Trump’s election, talking to me even before the dual legal blows to the president. “It certainly remains to be seen who, and how strong, how credible, that challenge will be.”
Now this process of primarying a faltering president is nothing new, nor are the results that are generated for the opposition party. In 1976 Ronald Reagan took on Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter won the White House. Then Carter was challenged by Ted Kennedy in 1980 and who took the White House but Ronald Reagan. Then, in 1992 George H.W. Bush was at the very least rattled by the television campaign run by Pat Buchanan, and he lost to Bill Clinton. But none of them, and I mean none of them, had problems anywhere near the magnitude of Trump’s. So what does a primary for him look like?
There’s option A: an all-out NeverTrump-style protest campaign against the president that would challenge him directly. While that would almost certainly fall far short, it would serve to prove to anti-Trump conservatives that the Republican Party is not yet fully unified behind the president — potentially weakening him, or exposing his weaknesses, enough to ensure a Democrat’s election.
Or, B, perhaps the likelier option: a wait-and-see campaign that doesn’t really go anywhere, unless Trump implodes and the alternative candidate is ready to swoop in and save the GOP’s day. To be successful, even this type of candidate would likely already need to be laying quiet, just-in-case groundwork in order to rise above the inevitable free-for-all that would result in Trump’s hypothetical implosion — donors ready to donate, organizers ready to organize, activists ready to activate.
John Kasich, Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake are names being considered as primary contenders. Sasse and Flake have been outspoken in their criticism of Trump, both in the Senate and in books they’ve published, on the general theme of the erosion of core conservative values. And of course there’s always Mike Pence, who insists that his PAC and his visits with the Koch brothers are no biggy, while denying that there’s any truth to the New York Times saying he’s running a shadow campaign.
Be that as it may, this is the kind of conversation that happens at this point in the election cycle. Trump will take any serious talk of a primary as a personal challenge, so for that reason nobody wants to trot out the primary plan too far ahead of time.
“If you’re going to shoot at the king, you have to hit the king. And if you’re going to shoot, you have to be sure. So waiting is wise. Look at the midterm elections: Republicans need to see if they’re going to get their clock cleaned,” and if the nationwide anti-Trump fervor is as significant as many expect, said Ari Fleischer, the George W. Bush White House press secretary who’s become a more-often-than-not Trump defender. “Here’s what’s known that will shake up the environment: midterm elections, government shutdown possibilities and government rancor that creates discontentment — or contentment — and Bob Mueller.”
Former Bush and Romney aide Kevin Madden said, “We will probably be about three hours into 2018 midterm coverage on Election Night before every single political conversation turns to 2020.”
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