The Post reports: “The anti-Trump movement inside the Republican Party — long a political wasteland — is feeling new urgency to mount a credible opposition to [President]] Trump before it’s too late. With state deadlines for nominating contests rapidly approaching in the fall, potential candidates face pressure to decide on running within the next few weeks.” While former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld is the only declared candidate, former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh, former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford, and former Ohio governor John Kasich have all mulled running for the nomination.
The president remains hugely popular with Republicans. At one point, the thinking among Republicans resistant to Trump was that the Russia investigation and testimony from former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III would break his grip on the party. That hasn’t happened, but recent events suggest that clinging to Trump has become riskier for the GOP.
Escalating fears of a recession (along with Trump’s erratic, unhinged reaction to those fears) and signs of Trump’s emotional meltdown (e.g. refusing to visit Denmark because it would not sell Greenland to the United States, his anti-Semitic accusation of Jews’ disloyalty) provide Republicans every reason to worry that he will drag the party under. To make matters worse, poll results show a mammoth gender gap, loss of support from white women and Trump consistently losing to several Democratic candidates in a head-to-head contest.
Possible Republican entrants’ consideration of a primary run is critical for several reasons. For starters, if the bottom drops out of the economy or Trump suffers a complete collapse, Republicans will start searching for Plan B. Having plausible candidates already in the race lessens their fixation on propping up Trump.
And even if you think there is zero chance that any of the Trump alternatives can win a single delegate or a substantial number of votes, the presence of these alternatives is critical to the country and the future of the party. There is some benefit to having Republican voices make the case against Trump from the right on everything from taxes to Russia policy. This might embolden voters to switch parties and/or suppress enthusiasm among Republicans for his reelection. Much more important, providing alternatives makes clear who in the party is an irredeemable Trump apologist.
The argument for Trump in 2016 in some GOP circles was that Hillary Clinton was worse. This argument was absurd at the time, and even more so in retrospect, yet it was the ostensible reason that some Trump voters gave for supporting him. The excuse in 2020 would be that somehow whomever the Democrats pick will be worse. Again, I find this ludicrous, given Trump’s foreign policy recklessness, obstruction of justice as detailed in the Mueller report, personal unfitness and abject corruption. Nevertheless, if we do accept it for the moment, then what’s the excuse for rejecting pro-life, conservative alternatives to Trump?
There really is none, and here it is important to strip away the pretense and rationalizations that so many Trump supporters utilize to defend their support of an indefensible president. They prefer a president who is racist, xenophobic, corrupt, cruel, misogynistic, dishonest and unhinged. They cannot claim that they are voting against Democrats and their supposedly scary left-wing agenda. In choosing Trump and not another Republican who’d pursue their issues with none of the toxic qualities Trump embodies, they identify themselves as enablers of all those vile qualities, lose any plausible excuse that they are simply prioritizing one issue (e.g. abortion) and expose themselves as flunkies for a president with no redeeming features.
When it comes to accountability, we’ll know who was in the latter group. For a post-Trump right, it will be critical to bar elected officials in this category from the halls of power. It will help voters decide whether a post-Trump party has turned over a new leaf.
So, by all means, Republicans who reject Trump and Trumpism should enter the race, even if their chances of success are slim to none. They would help us clarify motives, make distinctions and emphasize that the excuses for supporting Trump are largely insincere.