Trump al­lies work to stop GOP chal­lengers in 2020

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - BY STEVE PEO­PLES, ZEKE MILLER AND JONATHAN LEMIRE As­so­ci­ated Press NEW YORK


Don­ald Trump de­clared him­self “the most pop­u­lar pres­i­dent in the his­tory of the Repub­li­can Party” on Wed­nes­day. Yet his al­lies fear a pri­mary chal­lenge from a high-pro­file Repub­li­can could doom his re-elec­tion.

The con­cern was out­lined in a pri­vate email shared among Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee mem­bers hours af­ter the GOP’S last failed pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, Mitt Rom­ney, lashed out at Trump’s char­ac­ter and global lead­er­ship in an opin­ion ar­ti­cle pub­lished in The Washington Post. Rom­ney is set to be sworn in as Utah’s ju­nior sen­a­tor on Thurs­day.

His scathing mes­sage was widely in­ter­preted as a sign of en­cour­age­ment for Republicans in­clud­ing out­go­ing Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich and re­tir­ing Ari­zona Sen. Jeff Flake to take on Trump. While a suc­cess­ful pri­mary chal­lenge is highly un­likely given Trump’s grip on the GOP base, some fear it would con­sume en­ergy and re­sources badly needed by Trump, who is fac­ing record-low ap­proval rat­ings and signs of re­volt among sub­ur­ban vot­ers.

Win or lose, any pri­mary chal­lenge would al­most cer­tainly hurt Trump’s re-elec­tion, warned RNC mem­ber Jevon Wil­liams of the Vir­gin Is­lands.

“Messrs. Rom­ney, Flake, and Ka­sich will con­tinue chas­ing their fan­tasy of be­ing pres­i­dent, even if that means de­stroy­ing our party and deny­ing Pres­i­dent Trump re-elec­tion,” Wil­liams wrote to fel­low RNC mem­bers in a mes­sage ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press. “Look, the po­lit­i­cal his­tory is clear. No Repub­li­can pres­i­dent op­posed for re-nom­i­na­tion has ever won re-elec­tion.”

Ka­sich was clearly en­cour­aged by Rom­ney’s crit­i­cism of the pres­i­dent.

“Wel­come to the fray, @Mit­trom­ney,” Ka­sich wrote in a Twit­ter post Wed­nes­day shar­ing Rom­ney’s ar­ti­cle.

Ka­sich ad­viser John Weaver said it’s been “aw­ful lonely” for Ka­sich in re­cent years as one of the GOP’S most vo­cal Trump crit­ics.

“It’s not so lonely now,” Weaver said.

Ka­sich, who leaves of­fice later this month, is tak­ing steps to strengthen his or­ga­ni­za­tion ahead of a pos­si­ble run by adding paid staff and vol­un­teers to his po­lit­i­cal and fi­nance teams.

His ad­vis­ers say he has yet to de­cide whether to chal­lenge Trump – ei­ther as a Repub­li­can or as an in­de­pen­dent – al­though Ka­sich was quick to visit New Hamp­shire, the base of his last pres­i­den­tial

run, af­ter the Novem­ber midterms.

The de­bate among Republicans is how – and whether – to pro­tect Trump. Wil­liams called on his RNC col­leagues to change party rules to make it harder for a vi­able pri­mary chal­lenge to take shape.

Cur­rently, any can­di­date who wins a plu­ral­ity of del­e­gates from five states can be nom­i­nated from the na­tional con­ven­tion floor. That num­ber, which was higher in past years, was low­ered at the 2016 con­ven­tion in re­sponse to con­cerns from grass­roots ac­tivists. Now some of those ac­tivists, loyal to Trump, fear the po­ten­tial con­se­quences.

In­cum­bents in ei­ther party bring uni­ver­sal name recog­ni­tion and mas­sive in­sti­tu­tional sup­port to their re-elec­tion cam­paigns, and an in­sur­gent ef­fort to deny Trump the nom­i­na­tion would al­most cer­tainly fail. But there is still am­ple room for a po­ten­tial spoiler to en­ter the race to try to deny Trump the sup­port needed to win the gen­eral elec­tion.

Pri­mary chal­lengers in 1980 and 1992 helped weaken then-pres­i­dents Jimmy Carter and Ge­orge H.W. Bush, who were ul­ti­mately de­feated in Novem­ber.

Still, lit­tle has come of re­cent dis­cus­sions in South Carolina and New Hamp­shire, where lo­cal of­fi­cials hoped to take steps to block po­ten­tial Trump chal­lengers. RNC of­fi­cials now say the na­tional GOP’S rules can­not be changed be­fore the 2020 na­tional con­ven­tion.

Former RNC mem­ber Saul Anuzis of Michi­gan said Trump’s team missed an op­por­tu­nity.

“No­body wants a pri­mary. It’s not healthy for us,” Anuzis said. “You’ll have the Democrats at­tack­ing Trump and some Republicans at­tack­ing Trump. How does that help us?”

Trump, whose party suf­fered deep losses in the Novem­ber midterm elec­tions, shrugged off the prospect of a se­ri­ous pri­mary chal­lenge.

“They say I am the most pop­u­lar pres­i­dent in the his­tory of the Repub­li­can Party,” he told re­porters.

Gallup found late last month that just 39 per­cent of Amer­i­cans ap­proved of Trump’s job per­for­mance, a mark lower than any pres­i­dent in ei­ther party at this point in his pres­i­dency since at least 1954. That said, 89 per­cent of Republicans ap­proved of Trump’s job per­for­mance.

The pres­i­dent is ea­ger to un­leash his re-elec­tion ma­chin­ery and has pushed to col­lect pledges of loy­alty from across the GOP to quell any hint of an in­sur­rec­tion, ac­cord­ing to a cam­paign of­fi­cial and a Repub­li­can fa­mil­iar with the in­ner work­ings of the cam­paign. Nei­ther was au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly and both re­quested anonymity.

The Trump team has dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of a chal­lenge from some­one such as Ka­sich or Flake and now, one ad­viser said, Rom­ney would en­ter the con­ver­sa­tion.

Most in Trump’s or­bit were not wor­ried about Rom­ney, but oth­ers wor­ried that the new ar­ti­cle, which was pub­lished to great buzz, was merely the open­ing salvo in co­or­di­nated ef­fort by some Republicans to deny the pres­i­dent the party’s nom­i­na­tion.

Pub­licly, RNC of­fi­cials were united be­hind the pres­i­dent.

“There is no con­cern or ex­pec­ta­tion at the RNC of a pri­mary chal­lenge for Pres­i­dent Trump at all,” said RNC mem­ber Bill Palatucci of New Jer­sey, a state where Republicans suf­fered painful losses in Novem­ber. “There may be dis­agree­ments, but you ex­press those dis­agree­ments in pri­vate. As dif­fi­cult as a midterm cy­cle that we had, ev­ery­body still wants a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent and not El­iz­a­beth War­ren or Bernie San­ders.”

Rom­ney him­self in­sisted that his ar­ti­cle was not in­tended to sig­nal any in­ter­est in a third Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial bid, but he de­clined to en­dorse Trump’s re-elec­tion.

“I haven’t de­cided who I’m go­ing to en­dorse in 2020,” Rom­ney said on CNN. He con­tin­ued: “I’m not run­ning again. We’ll see if some­one else does in a Repub­li­can pri­mary or not. Time will tell.”


John Ka­sich dis­cusses his fu­ture dur­ing an in­ter­view Dec. 13 in Colum­bus, Ohio. Ka­sich is tak­ing steps to strengthen his or­ga­ni­za­tion ahead of a pos­si­ble pres­i­den­tial run.

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