The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Will there be a credible challenge to Trump for the GOP nomination?

Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld addresses a gathering in Bedford, N.H., on Feb. 15. Weld plans to challenge President Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination. (Charles Krupa/AP)

When last seen, Bill Weld was running as the Libertarian candidate for vice president in 2016 alongside former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. Before that, he was the very moderate and mild Republican governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997.

In the wake of his announcement that he will challenge President Trump for the GOP nomination in 2020, Weld may have more supporters in the media than among the GOP faithful. He has always been outside of the emotional center of the Republican Party and has no case to make that he is the answer to those who wish to dethrone President Trump as the GOP’s leader. Weld is nearing gadfly status — if he is not already there.

But Weld’s entry into the race does invite the question of whether Trump could be credibly challenged in the Republican primaries in 2020.

I believe the Republican Party will outlive Trump, but there is no question that Trump and the “America First” agenda of strong borders, fair trade as opposed to “free trade” and an honest foreign policy that requires more of our allies and directly challenges our competitors now forms the core of the Republican Party. Weld is driven by some sort of personal compulsion rather than answering any legitimate call from within the party. The same goes for members of the old guard such as Jeff Flake and John Kasich, who are often mentioned by members of the commentariat class as potential challengers to Trump.

So what is the scenario that could propel a credible GOP challenger to Trump in the primaries? Perhaps, in late spring, if Trump is running behind in the polls against every single Democratic candidate and if he is implicated in some sort of criminal conduct or if an economic or international trauma plagues his presidency, then there could be a more welcoming environment for a challenger.

But it will not be from the likes of Weld, Kasich or Flake. Fair or not, they represent the genteel incrementalist past. Conservatives who represent a majority of the party nationwide believe that establishment Republicans are responsible for slowly giving America away. Generally speaking, the energy of the Republican Party is supplied by the president and his America First agenda. It is unlikely that any of that will change between now and the convention in 2020.

Still, as the 2020 race gets underway, the mainstream media will try to keep Weld and any other challengers afloat. Look for them to over-report if an opponent lands any blows to make it seem as if support among Republicans for the president is developing some cracks. As a reality check, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval among Republicans is 89 percent. At this point, it looks as if Weld et al. are more likely to serve as useful foils for the president rather than serious threats.

Republicans have plenty of legitimate complaints about Trump, even if the party leadership chooses to refrain from engaging in pointless dissent. But Weld does not come close to satisfying the Republicans who find Trump repulsive at the human level or are just embarrassed by him. There is nothing to suggest that GOP voters are close to abandoning Trump. Even if events do take us down the path where Trump could be vulnerable, the rival will not be a traditional establishment figure. Someone else would have to take advantage.

Read more:

Stephen F. Hayes: The country needs a Republican to challenge Trump in 2020

Sarah Longwell: The right strategy to primary Trump

Jennifer Rubin: Here’s just the guy to primary Trump

David Byler: Sorry, Republicans, Larry Hogan isn’t the answer to Trumpism

Henry Olsen: Trump delivered the best, most Reaganesque speech of his tenure