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Meet the Republicans Likely to Challenge Trump in the 2020 Primary

Renae Reints

The Democratic 2020 primary is a crowded field, but regardless of who takes the nomination, President Donald Trump will face a battle before election day. Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld announced his candidacy for the Republican primary last week, and both Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and former Ohio Governor John Kasich are mulling runs as well.

Those running a primary campaign against a sitting president have little chance of success—the only elected president to lose his bid for a second term in the following primary was Franklin Pierce in 1857, according to NPR—but that doesn’t mean their campaign won’t have an impact.

Presidents who face a reputable challenge in the primary frequently lose reelection, even after winning their party’s nomination; a divided party is less likely to turn out the votes needed. The last time this happened was in 1992, when President George H. W. Bush lost reelection to Bill Clinton after facing a far-right candidate in the primary.

The Republicans considering facing Trump in the 2020 primary are aware of their odds, but not without hope: “I don’t see any path to winning a Republican primary against this president, or anybody doing it,” Hogan told Politico in February. “But things have a way of changing.”

Weld and any other potential contenders have a tough race ahead. Trump’s 2020 campaign has merged with the Republican National Committee to become a joint fundraising committee called Trump Victory. While the president’s party normally aids with the campaign, it doesn’t usually become one entity.

Hogan criticized the move as excessive protection against a primary challenger, prompting a RNC spokesperson to tell Politico that Trump “doesn’t need any assistance to protect him” from challengers, and “any effort to challenge President Trump in a primary is bound to go absolutely nowhere.”

These are the Republicans who are likely hoping against the odds to go somewhere in the 2020 primary.

Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld asks a question of Martha Raddatz who received the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism at Harvard University' Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy on March 6, 2018 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. | Paul Marotta Getty Images

William Weld

Weld announced his candidacy for president on April 15. His campaign launch video touts his successes after becoming the first Republican governor of Massachusetts in nearly 20 years in 1991, a win that rebooted a conservative trend in the majority blue state (since he left office in 1997, only one Democrat has sat beneath Boston state house’s golden dome). As governor, Weld says he cut taxes 21 times, balanced the state budget, and instituted work requirements in the welfare system.

While he’s economically conservative, Weld supports abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and climate change action—all traditionally liberal positions that could distance him from Trump’s base. On healthcare, Weld opts to reform the Affordable Care Act to provide a free market with more choices.

He may also face criticism for a lack of party loyalty. While Weld maintains that his beliefs never changed, he ran on the 2016 Libertarian ticket as Gary Johnson’s vice president. In 2008, he endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama for president over his party’s John McCain. Four years later, he reversed again to endorse Mitt Romney over Obama.

Moreover, Weld has long been a critic of Trump. During the 2016 election, he likened Trump’s immigration policy to Nazi Germany. He also told CNN at the time that he didn’t believe Trump has “the temperament or the stability” to be president. More recently, he told Rolling Stone that the president is a “malignant narcissist” that’s “kind of like that crazy clown in A Clockwork Orange.”

This sentiment has carried into Weld’s campaign: his launch video, more than three minutes long, dedicates a sizable portion to clips of Trump’s most controversial moments. He shows Trump’s support of “both sides” after the deadly Charlottesville protests, his friendliness towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, the infamous Access Hollywood tape where Trump admits to sexually assaulting a woman, and more.

With his bid for presidency, Weld is offering “a better America.” Even if he can’t win the primary, Weld told Rolling Stone he’d “be flattered to be Kennedy to [Trump’s] Carter,” referring to the 1980 election where Sen. Ted Kennedy ran a primary campaign against President Jimmy Carter, leading the incumbent to lose the White House to Ronald Reagan.

Former Ohio Governor John Kasich, a 2016 Republican presidential contender, speaking at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, New York on April 10, 2019, about

John Kasich

After running a failed presidential primary campaign in 2016, former Ohio governor Kasich is considering another bid. He has yet to officially announce his candidacy, but hasn’t ruled it out either.

Kasich’s record is traditionally Republican in many ways: he defunded Planned Parenthood in Ohio, advocates for lower taxes, and supports the Keystone pipeline (although he says climate change is a real threat, a reversal from his 2016 stance). He also wants to revise the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicaid. In terms of same-sex marriage, Kasich says he accepts the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Like Weld, Kasich also has a few beliefs that lean moderate. He supports Dreamers (those who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children) and the issues surrounding Black Lives Matter. While he wants to protect the Second Amendment, Kasich has also advocated for background checks and increased attention to mental illness.

Kasich told the Associated Press that he supports Trump’s moves towards increased border control, lower taxes, and greater financial contributions from European allies, but in many other ways he disagrees with the sitting president.

“Tariffs are a bad idea. Debt is a bad idea. Family separation is a bad idea. Demonizing immigrants is a bad idea. And breaking down our alliances is bad too,” Kasich told the AP in December.

Maryland Gov., Larry Hogan speaks to the media following the lifting of the city-wide curfew that had been instituted following the outbreak of rioting and protest in response to the death of Freddie Gray May 3, 2015 in Baltimore City. | J. Countess Getty Images

Larry Hogan

Currently in his second term as governor of Maryland, Hogan is another potential contender for the 2020 Republican primary. While he has not officially announced his candidacy, Hogan’s former gubernatorial campaign page hints at what his national platform could be.

As governor of Maryland, Hogan cut taxes, tolls, and fees by $1.2 billion for families and small businesses, eventually raising wages and creating a hundred thousand new jobs. He also has a successful record of investing in education and transportation, and was the first governor in the country to declare a state of emergency to address the opioid crisis.

Hogan acknowledges that climate change is a serious threat, and in 2016 enacted the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act to cut Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030. Another law he implemented tackles government corruption by expanding public disclosure requirements, tightening conflict of interest rules, and founding a citizen advisory board to aid with future ethics laws. A year later, his transportation secretary was criticized for lacking transparency in an attempt to sign a city contract with a former employer.

In an interview with the New York Times, Hogan said he believes Roe v. Wade was correctly decided. He also said that he agrees with Trump on some economic policies, but the two “might differ on trade” and “many other things.”

Last month, Hogan told CNBC he’s considering a 2020 run because he’s concerned about the Republican party and the “broken politics of today.” His family has a history of enacting change as well: Hogan’s father was the first Republican of the House Judiciary Committee to come out in support of impeaching Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal.

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