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On Monday, former tea party Congressman Joe Walsh announced his bid to challenge Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020. Walsh said he wants to offer voters an alternative to Trump, who he called “completely unfit to be president.”
Walsh had been a host on conservative radio since shortly after finishing his term in Congress in 2013. He said he lost his show after announcing his run for president.
Walsh had previously been a vocal proponent of Trump but has since apologized for that support. He also said he regrets his history of saying “racist things” about former President Barack Obama, Muslims and black people generally.
Walsh is the second Republican to formally launch a run against Trump for the party nomination. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is politically to the left of Trump and Walsh on a number of issues, announced his candidacy in April. Mark Sanford, a former congressman and governor of South Carolina, has said he’s considering entering the field. There is also speculation that former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and ex-Ohio Gov. John Kasich may run.
Why there’s debate:
Chances are slim that Walsh, Weld or any other challenger could steal the Republican nomination. Though Trump’s overall approval ratings have hovered around 40 percent, the primary will be decided by members of his party, among whom he has extraordinary support.
History shows, however, that primary challengers can harm an incumbent’s reelection chances. In fact, every sitting president in recent American history who has faced a serious primary fight has ultimately lost his reelection bid. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were all defeated in the general election after defeating challengers from within their own party.
Some experts believe that criticism from fellow Republicans might be able to reach voters who tend to get their news from platforms that Democrats don’t typically appear on. Others argue that the cumulative effect of critiques from several different challengers might dampen enthusiasm for the president and suppress Republican turnout in the general election.
Walsh is basing his candidacy on the belief that there is a quiet discontent about Trump among Republicans who, until recently, didn’t “have an alternative.” It will take time to see whether that coalition emerges, if it exists at all. Meanwhile, Republican leadership in some states is reportedly considering steps to insulate the president from challengers, including canceling their statewide primaries altogether. President Trump tweeted Tuesday about his challengers: "Can you believe it? … I should be able to take them!"
Trump is too popular with Republicans for primary challengers to be a problem
“The problem for Walsh — or any other conservative challenger — is that Trump remains extremely popular with GOP voters.” — Benjamin Hart and Chas Danner, New York
Months of criticism from multiple challengers might chip away at Trump’s support
“I think the more Republicans you have that are sort of chipping away at him and hammering him, I think the more problematic it becomes over time. … Having to deal with a primary challenge isn’t going to topple you from the party, but could create poor conditions for you in a general election.” — David Drucker, Fox News
None of the potential challengers is a strong enough candidate to move the needle
“Unfortunately, the alternatives for traditional conservatives are not great, and the odds of another Republican winning the GOP nomination in 2020 are infinitesimal.” — Jim Geraghty, National Review
Primary challengers may be a sign that Trump is vulnerable
“Challengers to an incumbent president run to signal something is terribly wrong, to shake the electorate awake and to stir doubt about the incumbent. It’s a demonstration that party loyalty should not be paramount.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
Criticism of Trump from within the Republican Party may be more potent
“Trump supporters probably will never listen to Democrats, but these [Republican challengers] might be effective at reaching those on the right who have grown increasingly uncomfortable with Trump.” — Dean Obeidallah, CNN
Walsh may be the answer for conservatives who disapprove of Trump’s values
“Imagine if Walsh could get some buzz in Iowa or in New Hampshire, finding some honest-to-goodness conservatives who are looking for a candidate who’d actually represent their views rather than his own whims and business interests. … At the moment, it’s only a dream, but in six months or so, it could be so much more. It could be a conservative’s dream come true.” — Editorial, Mass Live
Trump’s structural advantages may be too much for a challenger to overcome
“Sitting presidents always exert control over the national party to try to quash would-be rivals, but GOP observers say Trump’s reelection campaign already has heavily brought its influence to bear.” — Will Weissert, Associated Press
Trump’s challengers hold antiquated beliefs about what Republican voters want
“The Republican Party these men are dreaming of — of deficit hawks and ‘normal’ conservatism — no longer exists.” — Jane Coaston, Vox
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