A Republican pollster, Tony Fabrizio, for reasons that mystified many Republicans, put out a poll showing that 50 percent of GOP voters would prefer President Trump in the 2020 race. He claimed it was proof that Trump was “crushing a hypothetical GOP primary field. So much for the ‘buyer’s remorse’ the DC insiders are convinced the GOP has.” Umm, 50 percent for an incumbent, only seven months into his presidency? That sounded weak to many Republican commentators.
Let’s be honest here. Trump may not be around in 2020. He may not want to run. But if he does, one can imagine that the right candidate could indeed beat him, especially if Trump continues as an ineffectual president and/or presides over the loss of one or both houses of Congress.
We’ve learned that Trump’s hard-core base is unlikely to abandon him, but can the rest of the party be unified around a single figure? For those seeking to de-Trumpify the party, five guidelines may prove helpful.
First, one cannot excuse, enable and turn a blind eye toward inappropriate behavior now and expect to rescue the party in a few years. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), for example, cannot be that man. This does not mean an anti-Trump candidate needs to have opposed Trump on everything — Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) voted with him on Obamacare — but he or she cannot be seen as condoning the faults which render Trump unfit to govern.
Second, if Trump is still there in 2020 the country is likely to be emotionally exhausted, if the last seven months is any guide. A stable, calm, happy warrior would therefore be welcomed. Someone to end the dysfunction and embarrassment caused by Trump must himself be free from financial corruption, grandiosity and impulsiveness. Trump proved that ideological purity is grossly overrated. Primary voters, like general-election voters, are looking for a person more than an agenda, a figure who exudes strength, determination and a sense of command. Candidates should worry less about ideology (Trump surely has no fixed views) and more about presenting himself or herself as a president we can be proud of
Third, hyper-partisanship and hyper-polarization haven’t given Americans the results they want. The notions that one has to be an extremist and political bomb-thrower to accomplish conservative aims should have been dispelled by Trump. A Republican broadly acceptable to the party with a track record of accomplishing aims Republicans like (e.g. fiscal discipline, school reform) and success in working across the aisle would be a refreshing change.
Fourth, the GOP was already heavily tilted toward southern, white males. Trump promised to bring new voters into the GOP but actually increased its demographic biases. Western Republicans (socially tolerant, libertarian-ish on economics, strong on property rights), moderate New Englanders and Midwesterners and, especially women, tired of a president who celebrates the Confederacy and sounds like he wants to go back (at least) to the 1950s may be looking for a stark change from Trump.
Fifth, Trump surely demonstrated how he can bully and belittle his opponents. Someone able and willing to engage, to use humor as a weapon and a shield and to, when needed, needle the president will stand a far greater chance of beating him than someone who is averse to throwing a punch or two.
Many Americans hope and pray Trump will be gone by 2020. If not, Republicans need to think hard about finding a figure mentally and emotionally tough enough to pummel Trump. As we have seen, when he gets hit he tends to whine and flail away, revealing his own unfitness for his job.