The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A primary challenge to ‘Individual-1’ has gone from ludicrous to essential

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel speaks at the RNC's winter meeting in Washington in February. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
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Last month, I started thinking that no matter how long the odds, some Republican needed to enter the primary to challenge President Trump, hereinafter “Individual-1.” My original reasoning for a primary run went something like this: There is little downside, and if there is even a remote chance of knocking down the sitting president, forcing him to forgo a second term (as President Lyndon B. Johnson did) or softening him up for the general election (as Ted Kennedy did to President Jimmy Carter), it becomes a worthy endeavor.

Since then, Individual-1′s Justice Department says Individual-1 directed and coordinated with Michael Cohen to violate campaign finance laws. The Justice Department also implicitly says Individual-1 lied when he was pursuing a lucrative business deal with Russia well into 2016 while Russia was interfering with our election and Individual-1 was buttering up Russian President Vladimir Putin in interviews and debates. Stop right there.

Even if none of this was illegal in the slightest, wouldn’t this (not to mention all the efforts to derail investigators, his threats and smears of law enforcement, etc.) be grounds for dumping Individual-1? After all, how could we reelect someone who obtained the presidency under false pretenses, has continued to lie to the American people and has so many conflicts of interest we cannot tell whether he is pursuing the United States' interests or his own with regard to Russia and Saudi Arabia? How could a major party offer up such an individual — knowing what we all know — for another four years? (This is entirely different from the concern about impeaching a president, which undoes the will of the voters, but what is the party’s moral justification for supporting him in 2020?) At the very least, it would make the “Lock her up!” chant quite awkward.

Two stunning developments in the special counsel's investigation shed light on investigators' focus on President Trump as a main subject of interest. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Moreover, the man who loves to give out nicknames now has one of his own, Individual-1. Provided Democrats don’t nominate Hillary Clinton or a far-left ideologue (this is in no way out of the realm of possibility), any semi-competent Democratic candidate could make the obvious case that we cannot very well elect someone who has been accused by his own Justice Department of misconduct (whether technically legal or not, whether impeachable or not). At some point, won’t Republican primary voters figure out that renominating Individual-1 would be a huge and unnecessary risk? I don’t put it past Democrats to screw up any race, but losing to someone dubbed Individual-1 by his own Justice Department would take real skill.

Consider all the horrible developments that could take place after the nomination but before the general election. Individual-1 could be indicted by a U.S. attorney who thinks Justice Department guidelines against indicting a sitting president are wrong. A state prosecutor could indict Individual-1. Russia could drop an exquisite piece of kompromat — or threaten to. It’s nutty to sign up for another four years of a ticking time bomb.

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Moreover, we now know the Kremlin did have leverage over Individual-1 — at the very least because he lied about business dealings, and because his son was enticed into soliciting help from a foreign government. We’re going to reelect someone who for all intents and purposes has acted as if he were compromised?

Republicans better have an alternative presidential candidate, for without one, every Republican down-ballot from Individual-1 might get swept out to sea in an electoral tsunami that would make 2018 look like smooth sailing.

Even with all this, Individual-1 would still be the overwhelming favorite to get the nomination, given the Fox News/talk radio/Individual-1 cult bubble most Republicans inhabit. Think how daft that is: Asked whether they want as their nominee someone who lied to them over and over (“No business with Russia!)” to get the presidency and is possibly compromised — not to mention someone who is a chaos-producing, awful manager who hires only the worst people — or some other Republican who might have solidly conservative views (whatever those are these days) and have a sterling reputation and stable personality, they’d still go with Individual-1. It’s mind-blowing.

You’d think the chances of a primary upset against Individual-1 are, what, at least 10 percent to 15 percent? That’s better odds than most of the Democrats leaping into their standing-room-only primary have.

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