Carly Fiorina Had Some Interesting Thoughts When Asked If She Would Run for Office This Week

Image result for carly fiorina

I have been a major proponent of Carly Fiorina running a primary campaign against Donald Trump for the 2020 GOP Nomination.  I believe she has the most credibility, has the best chance of uniting Moderates, Mainstream Conservatives, and Anti-Establishment types, and has the most to gain from a Trump challenge.  What has been difficult to gauge has been if she would have interest in a run.  As I wrote last month:

At the same time, some of her recent moves seem to be moves that someone looking to keep the option of a Presidential run alive might make.  Just as many political candidates do when running for President, she has a new book coming out in April on the topic of leadership.  She also has retained staff for her personal ventures and foundation that are veterans of her 2016 Presidential campaign, or who have political experience elsewhere.  Finally, while she hasn’t popped up on Fox News Primetime, she has nonetheless done some cable TV appearances, including on Fox News where one would expect a Republican candidate for President to try and attract eyeballs.  These could simply be the moves of any public figure looking to maintain a brand, but an optimistic observer could also see them as the moves of someone at least interested in a run for office.

This week, in an episode of her podcast, Carly was asked directly what future political aspirations she might have.  It’s important to caveat that the question was general, and didn’t mention the Presidency or 2020, but it still gives us insight into whether Fiorina would consider a 2020 run.  The question starts around the 26:30 mark:

Host: What is your political future, will you run for office again?

Fiorina: Well, the short answer, and then I’ll explain, is I don’t know. And the reason my answer is I don’t know, is because that’s the way I’ve always lived my life. If you think about what I said on how I entered the Presidential race last time around, I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have a plan to become a CEO. The way I’ve lived my life is to be true to those disciplines and behaviors that I think define leadership and problem solving that we talked about.  Courage and character and the humility and empathy to collaborate with others and imagination to see the possibilities in front of us, and particularly the possibilities in other people.  I try to live my life that way every day, and I’ve learned over time that if I will focus on those things, solve the problems in front of me, that opportunities will knock, and then I’ll make the right choice when the opportunity is in front of me.  And so, that’s how I’m going to continue to live my life.  You know, I had a, not to get too heavy here, but when I battled cancer; Most of my young adult life, I was afraid of dying, and you’ll read about that in “Find Your Way”.  I don’t know exactly why, perhaps because both of my parents lost their parents at a young age, but I was always afraid of dying.  And when I was diagnosed with cancer, of course, all of a sudden, now the threat of death is near and present.  And what I learned going through that is that life isn’t measured in time, life isn’t measured in title or wealth or fame, all though those things can be very important.  Life is measured in love, in moments of grace, and in positive contribution.  And so those are the things that I hope I have in my life every single day, and when opportunity knocks along the way, I usually have the courage to walk through the door.

The entire episode is interesting, but it at least shows that (a) there are a number of people who are interested in the question of if Fiorina will run for office again, and (b) that she hasn’t closed the door to the possibility.  Hopefully she will seriously consider the possibility of seeking the Republican Presidential Nomination in 2020.

Justin Amash Opens the Door to a 2020 Presidential Run

When I listed out some potential options for 2020 primary challengers for Trump early last month, I listed Michigan Congressman Justin Amash as a possibility.  Here’s what I had to say about why he should or should not run:

Why – Justin Amash is about as “Anti-Swamp” as anyone in the United States Congress.  He consistently rails against both parties, and is often on the fringe minority of votes.  He is probably the Republican member of Congress most willing to criticize Trump as well, and has made it clear he is not a fan.  Finally, while he’s not the person to want to climb the political ladder for the sake of it, he doesn’t have many other options at this point to advance.  He has slim chances of winning statewide office in Michigan, and his willingness to rail and vote against his party gives him no chance of advancing in House Leadership or Committee Status.  If he wants to make as big a mark as possible on the national dialogue, this might be his best chance.

Why Not – While Name ID isn’t everything, Amash’s may be too low to even attract earned media and give him a chance to grow recognition.  Additionally, his more Libertarian views may place him outside the party mainstream that, if anything, is shifting towards a larger role of government.  While he may attract small-dollar donors from the same people who Ron Paul enthused in his Presidential runs, his ability to fundraise enough to seriously compete is in question.

Today, he became one of the few Republicans to acknowledge a run against Trump is a possibility.  While he was asked specifically about a Libertarian bid, here are his full thoughts, per Politico:

“I would never rule anything out,” the Michigander said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“That’s not on my radar right now, but I think that it is important that we have someone in there who is presenting a vision for America that is different from what these two parties are presenting,” he said. Amash is the chairman of the House Liberty Caucus, which represents libertarian-minded lawmakers.

…..

“Right now, we have a wild amount of partisan rhetoric on both sides and Congress is totally broken,” Amash said Sunday. “We can’t debate things in a clear way anymore. Everything has become, ‘Do you like President Trump or do you not like President Trump?'”

“I think that we need to return to basic American principles, talk about what we have in common as a people because I believe we have a lot in common as Americans,” he added. “And try to move forward together, rather than fighting each other all the time.”

I don’t know whether he would have a better chance as a Libertarian or a Republican, but he would be a strong addition to the field either way.  He is one of the few Republicans to stand for Refugees and Asylum seekers, fight back against the surveillance state, and to work to get us out of questionable wars.  While I’m definitely not as Libertarian as he is, I would certainly choose him over Trump.  I’m hopeful a more mainstream Conservative enters the race, but Amash would certainly be an improvement over the President, any of the Democrats, or a pro-choice Republican such as Larry Hogan or Bill Weld.

Larry Hogan Came Out as Pro-Choice. That’s a Non-Starter for a Republican Primary.

Larry Hogan

As discussion continues concerning a potential Republican Primary challenge to Donald Trump, the name that continues to be mentioned is Larry Hogan.  It isn’t without reason: He’s one of the most popular Governors in the country and doesn’t have anywhere else on the political ladder to land.  His largest issue, as David Byler recently examined in the Washington Post, is whether he would appeal to Conservative Republican voters nationwide after governing as a Centrist in Maryland.

A smart candidate in this situation would begin to examine how best to appeal to the Right. As Byler’s data analysis clearly shows, a candidate will not be competitive with Trump simply running from the Center without winning over some Conservatives in the process.  Hogan evidently ignored this memo.  In a sit-down with the New York Times this weekend, he was asked his views on Abortion.  This is how the Times describes it:

And asked whether he believed Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal nationwide, had been correctly decided by the court, Mr. Hogan replied in the affirmative: “I think so.”

Running as a pro-Roe candidate in a Republican Presidential primary is a quick path to irrelevancy.  Rudy Giuliani was the last candidate to attempt this, and he was never able to gain traction while dropping out very early in the race.  Past candidates without strong convictions on the issue, such as Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, John McCain were nonetheless prudent enough to move Right on the issue before running for President.

Besides Trump, the most successful candidates in recent memory to do well in Republican Presidential Primaries while often challenging the anointed front-runner (as Hogan would be doing) did so from a strong pro-life base of support.  This would include Ted Cruz in 2016, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Mike Huckabee in 2008.  Even Ronald Reagan, who Hogan would be seeking to follow the example of in challenging a sitting President, was pro-life by the 1976 election and used the issue to distinguish himself from the pro-choice Gerald Ford.  Nobody is going to mistake Hogan for Reagan, Cruz, Huckabee, or Santorum, but he at a minimum needed to start making inroads with the Conservative portion of the party.

What is more baffling about Hogan’s statement is that as the Times mentions, he has previously said he is personally pro-life.  He very easily could have decided to tell the Times that he is personally pro-life, has been forced to work with a Democratic majority in the Maryland legislature, and that on the National level would appoint Constitutionalist judges while working to defund Planned Parenthood and reduce Abortions.  That would have been a first step towards appealing to Republican primary voters without outright flip-flopping.

Hogan, for whatever reason, actually decided to move left on the issue by affirming Roe v. Wade.  This position is no different from that of Democrats, most notably 2016 Vice Presidential Nominee Tim Kaine, who claim to be personally pro-life and yet continue to defend Abortion-on-demand.  Who Hogan received this advice from is unknown, but it is a colossal misstep that will be revisited frequently if the Governor decides to enter the race.

Making the decision to shift left on Abortion even worse is that pro-life Republican voters who view overturning Roe as a high priority are not inevitable Donald Trump voters in a contested primary.  Looking at the numbers, these are voters broke for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson at rates higher than the Republican primary electorate at large during the 2016 primary.  While Evangelicals may have supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, that doesn’t mean all Evangelicals have forgotten about Trump’s decidedly immoral lifestyle, or that some wouldn’t consider voting against him in a primary again under the right circumstances.

Furthermore, since getting elected, Trump has done little to push the Republican congress towards defunding Planned Parenthood or passing a pain-capable Abortion ban.  Both of these issues are pro-life priorities that went nowhere during a 2-year period in which Republicans controlled the White House and Congress.  There is room to attack Donald Trump from the pro-life position that virtually all Republican primary voters hold, and it is completely illogical that the current most-likely challenger to Trump has no desire to take this opportunity.

There is a very narrow path towards competing with Donald Trump in a Republican Primary.  It involves winning over many different groups of voters, and is a delicate balancing act.  Pro-choice Republican voters are nowhere near the forefront of these groups.  If pro-choice Republican primary voters are a major portion of a candidate’s base, then like it or not, that candidate will not receive enough of the vote to be remotely competitive.

By coming out in favor of Roe v. Wade, Larry Hogan has predestined that he will immediately be met by fire from Social Conservative groups and pro-life figures who may have been willing to hold back, listen, or work with him otherwise.  If that happens and he finds himself unable to get traction if he enters the race, he will have no one to blame but himself for needlessly and haphazardly running against one of the Republican Party’s most important constituencies.

Carly Fiorina is the Right Answer to the Trump Primary Question

Fiorina

Late last week, Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld announced the formation of an exploratory committee to consider challenging Donald Trump in a Republican Primary.  There is some evidence that there is a block of Republican primary voters who might be interested in a Trump alternative.  There is no evidence Bill Weld is the alternative they are looking for.

Nationally, a recent ABC News poll says 32% of Republicans nationally want a nominee other than Trump.  In Iowa, per a CNN/Des Moines Register poll in December, 29% of Republicans would either definitely vote for or consider a Trump alternative, while 63% say they would welcome a contested primary.  Additionally, in New Hampshire, an NHJournal poll has Mitt Romney already pulling 24% against Trump if they went head-to-head.  While it would be difficult, it is plausible that the right candidate could be competitive in a primary and, at a minimum, chart a course for what the GOP should be post-Trump.

There are several candidates who have shown interest in a run, and Weld has officially announced, but it’s unlikely any of them will be able to compete with President Trump.  Bill Weld, Larry Hogan, and John Kasich among others are to the left of the Republican Party as a whole, and are unlikely to unite all of its disparate elements.  Carly Fiorina is one of the few people who would be able to launch a credible challenge to President Trump from the Right and for whom it would make sense to launch a campaign.

First, Fiorina has a positive message she can run on to balance concerns she has about Trump.  In her 2016 campaign and her outside speeches and foundation, she consistently advocated for good leadership focused on creating opportunities for people and unlocking their potential.  That’s a compelling vision of governance that rivals anything seen from any Presidential candidate of either party since President Obama’s 2008 campaign.  Bill Weld doesn’t have a compelling message he can run on.  At the same time, Fiorina has shown a willingness to criticize Trump on issues she finds important and has unique authority to speak on, including Trump’s “horseface” comments and his attacks on the Federal Reserve.  She is in a better position than any potential 2020 candidate to balance a positive vision and platform with criticism of President Trump.

One problem that results from many potential challengers not having a compelling positive message is that when they have to provide a platform, they are tacking from the left.  For example, John Kasich’s main identity as a political figure at this point is being anti-Trump.  Because of this, he has taken up a number of positions, from opposing pro-life legislation to speaking out for gun control, that not only oppose Trump, but oppose the Republican Party platform that predates Trump.  John Kasich, Larry Hogan, and Bill Weld would all be presenting primary challenges from the left, which the Republican Party has no appetite for.

Carly Fiorina would be able to present a credible challenge to President Trump from the right.  She is pro-life, against Common Core, and anti-ACA.  Additionally, she is a political outsider who negates the President’s argument that we need a businessperson and not a politician as President.  Fiorina’s ability to credibly run against the President while running alongside the Republican Party as a whole gives her more plausible paths to victory, while opening up the ability to attack the President for failing to implement Conservative reforms such as defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing Obamacare.

While Fiorina is a Conservative outsider, though, she is capable of appealing to different elements of the Party that few others can.  As David Byler mentions in his recent, excellent Washington Post article, President Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016 with a minority.  A candidate who can unite Rubio, Cruz, Carson, and Kasich voters can present a serious challenge to Trump.  Throughout the 2016 campaign, Fiorina was generally well-liked within all elements of the Republican Party.  She is a Conservative who has credibility with the Right and yet is viewed as a serious person by the more Centrist, Suburban parts of the Party as well.  Bill Weld or any other challenger from the left is not going to win over voters who, in 2016, voted for Cruz, Carson, or Rubio.  Fiorina possesses Name ID and starts with credibility among all groups that would be harder to deflate than a candidate without national Name ID or who ran against the Right.

Because of all of these factors, I believe that Carly Fiorina is the candidate with the highest probability of success if she ran against Trump in a primary.  Furthermore, Carly Fiorina’s best option if she wants to be involved in politics going forward would be to run against Trump.  Being President is a difficult job, and not all political figures want the responsibility.  Because Fiorina has run for the office before and has a compelling message she would like to draw attention for, though, we can presume she would desire to be President.  For many Republican figures who are interested in the Presidency, such as Nicki Haley, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz, the best path may be to wait until 2024 or 2028.

Unlike them, this is probably not true for Fiorina.  When she was running in a primary against more conventional Republicans in 2016, she faded into the background and tended to be a 2nd or 3rd choice for a significant number of voters who nonetheless preferred her over Trump.  She would be at risk of this same problem occurring in a future election if she chose to run.  If Fiorina ran in 2020, she would have a chance to win among these voters who are more inclined towards conventional Republicans, while also negating Trump’s strengths and competing in the “outsider” lane.  This makes her unique among Republicans with national ambitions in that electorally, her time to run may be now.

Compared to figures such as John Kasich and Larry Hogan, there is little buzz that Fiorina is looking to run for President.  At the same time, some of her recent moves seem to be moves that someone looking to keep the option of a Presidential run alive might make.  Just as many political candidates do when running for President, she has a new book coming out in April on the topic of leadership.  She also has retained staff for her personal ventures and foundation that are veterans of her 2016 Presidential campaign, or who have political experience elsewhere.  Finally, while she hasn’t popped up on Fox News Primetime, she has nonetheless done some cable TV appearances, including on Fox News where one would expect a Republican candidate for President to try and attract eyeballs.  These could simply be the moves of any public figure looking to maintain a brand, but an optimistic observer could also see them as the moves of someone at least interested in a run for office.

A Republican campaign against Donald Trump will be an uphill battle.  Someone with the right background, though, could run to seriously threaten or defeat the President while also charting a course for the Republican Party into the future.  Bill Weld is not up to the task, and neither are any candidates who would have little to offer other than a token challenge to Trump from the left.  It is Carly Fiorina’s time if she wants to run.  Fiorina only has to decide if it is a challenge she has interest in pursuing.  Her career arc from Secretary to CEO shows she is up for a challenge, and Republicans with reservations concerning the President should hope she is up for one more.

Bill Weld is the Wrong Answer to the Trump Primary Question

I’ve written before on why there should be a Republican Primary opponent to Trump in 2020.  He is unstable, the most likely candidate to lose, and morally unfit for office.  That said, we need a serious person to challenge him.  In my 4-part series on a 2020 Republican Primary earlier this year, I talked some about the selfish incentives a candidate might have to challenge Trump that go against the ultimate cause:

On the individual level, though, there are a number of other definitions of success that may not have anything to do with electoral success.  For example, a candidate may run in order to try and push a particular issue or issue-set into the conversation (Example: Ron Paul 2008 and 2012).  More perversely, a candidate may run in order to generate attention that can monetized as a book deal, a TV contract, or through some other means.  Finally, there are some candidacies that are just completely inexplicable (Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, etc).  All of these are individual definitions of success that often directly contradict with the broader voter group’s definition of success.

Bill Weld, who is reportedly fixing to announce an exploratory committee to look at a Trump challenge, is the case of someone who has no good reason to run other than being an attention-seeker.  He was a mediocre Governor for 6 forgettable years in the 90s who hasn’t been heard from since other than being Gary Johnson’s running mate in 2016.  How is that someone who can defeat Trump or who has any business being President?

I doubt Weld will scare a serious person out of the field.  My biggest worry is that he will make the concept of a Trump challenge look like a joke, thus leading people to dismiss the idea of a challenge out of hand.  We need a serious person with competent experience and an actual vision beyond self-promotion to get in.  Hopefully that will be someone off this list.  The best choice, though, is someone who will run from the Right, unite Rubio/Cruz/Carson voters, and be able to fundraise.  The best possible answer who would also have other incentives to run?

Carly Fiorina

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Analyzing a 2020 Republican Primary, Part 4

This is the last part of my series on the 2020 Republican Primary.  In Part 1, I looked at where things stand right now as far as prospects for a contested primary are concerned.  In Part 2, I looked at what an ideal candidate would look like to have the best chance of success.  In Part 3, I examined which individuals would have the incentives to make a run against Trump.  Here, I am going to look at 15 individuals, in alphabetical order, who may due to some combination of the points I made prior may warrant a look.

Let me go ahead and make one broad statement about this list: With very few exceptions (and noted where made), these candidates all fit three of the criteria I mentioned in my last post about incentives to run.  Basically all of them have expressed displeasure with the President at some point on some issue. Almost all of them have no pending reelections, no higher offices they are likely to seek, and would not be better served by waiting for another election cycle if they decide they are interested in the Presidency.  Because of that, some of these names are not stars, but they are the candidates who it would actually make sense for right now to consider running.  If Trump’s numbers fall further for one reason or another, the incentives may shift for higher-caliber candidates to consider a run.

Congressman Justin Amash (MI)

Why – Justin Amash is about as “Anti-Swamp” as anyone in the United States Congress.  He consistently rails against both parties, and is often on the fringe minority of votes.  He is probably the Republican member of Congress most willing to criticize Trump as well, and has made it clear he is not a fan.  Finally, while he’s not the person to want to climb the political ladder for the sake of it, he doesn’t have many other options at this point to advance.  He has slim chances of winning statewide office in Michigan, and his willingness to rail and vote against his party gives him no chance of advancing in House Leadership or Committee Status.  If he wants to make as big a mark as possible on the national dialogue, this might be his best chance.

Why Not – While Name ID isn’t everything, Amash’s may be too low to even attract earned media and give him a chance to grow recognition.  Additionally, his more Libertarian views may place him outside the party mainstream that, if anything, is shifting towards a larger role of government.  While he may attract small-dollar donors from the same people who Ron Paul enthused in his Presidential runs, his ability to fundraise enough to seriously compete is in question.

Former US Senator Kelly Ayotte (NH)

Why – Ayotte was your fairly typical Republican US Senator during her six years in office, and she has good relationships with mainstream Republicans as well as the infrastructure on the Right.  She is from New Hampshire, and would have an excellent chance of beating Trump there and possible generating early momentum.  She opposed Trump following the Access Hollywood tapes, and has spoken out against him before and after the Election.  She probably would have won reelection with Rubio or another candidate on the top of the ballot, so this would be the ultimate revenge.  Finally, while she could run for US Senate again or possible Governor in the future, this could very well be her best chance of going further.

Why Not – Much like Amash, her Name ID is very low nationally, and it would take a lot of earned media and dollars to fix that.  Additionally, it’s unknown if she has any desire to be President or to slog through a Presidential campaign with unknown odds of success.

Former Governor Jeb Bush (FL)

Why – He has ran before, so he’s obviously interested in being President.  He very clearly dislikes Trump, brings instant Name ID, and can raise serious dough.  Finally, as long a shot as it would be, it’s doubtful he would do any better in a crowded Republican field in 2024 or 2028 than he would 1:1 with Trump.

Why Not – While his stock is probably higher than it was in 2016, the Republican base is still very anti-Establishment.  Perception is reality, and the perception is he is moderate and too insider.  While boring competency might get him some more votes, it’s probably not enough to be competitive.

Former Governor Chris Christie (NJ)

Why – He wants to be President, he’s mad at Trump, and he won’t do any better another year.

Why Not – He’s probably more moderate than anyone on this list not named Kasich.  Additionally, it would be difficult for him to lay out a vision for running beyond “I want to be President”, and that doesn’t sale.

Former US Senator Bob Corker (TN)

Why – He has expressed openness to running and has serious Foreign Policy credentials.  He has shown willingness to clash with Trump, and he’s probably never going to get a better opportunity.

Why Not – He’s viewed as too DC/Establishment from his 12 years in the Senate, and it’s hard to say if he would be able to separate himself from that perception.

Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina (VA)

Why – Carly Fiorina, in my opinion, is currently the most complete candidate on this list to challenge Trump.  She is a strong Conservative who isn’t going to be able to be labeled a RINO.  She is an anti-politician like Trump and can run on a drain the swamp message.  She has ran for President before and has Name ID from it.  Finally, she has high favorables among Rubio/Cruz/Carson voters, but would probably still struggle to stand out in a crowded field in the future.

Why Not – The main reason she should not run would be if she just no longer desires to be President or to go through another campaign. Other than that, she should run.

Former UN Ambassador Nicki Haley (SC)

Why – I mostly put Haley here because people keep bringing her name up.  She is a Conservative who is not the Establishment.  She does seem to have national ambitions, and is probably connected enough to be a serious fundraiser.  She also starts with substantive Name ID and might attract almost Trump-like Earned Media.  Finally, she has credibility with Trump’s base and could possibly peel off support there.

Why Not – I just don’t see how her individual incentives line up to make a 2020 run prudent.  She’s shown minor concerns with Trump decisions, but she doesn’t appear to be nearly as concerned with another Trump term as the other people on this list.  Perhaps most importantly, she’s one of a very select group of people who you could easily see being a serious contender in a future Election if she holds her fire.  Running in 2020 puts all of that at risk.

Former Governor Bill Haslam (TN)

Why – He’s from outside DC and could define himself as a problem-solver who got things done as Governor and left office with very strong favorables.  He’s not going to stand out in a future election cycle.  He probably has the most money to play with of anyone in this list, possibly including Mitt Romney.  He chaired RGA two different election cycles as well, and could probably fundraise off that too.

Why Not – His Name ID is very low nationally, and it’s doubtful he has a desire for the job or campaign that comes with it.  Most importantly, with Lamar Alexander’s retirement, he has a US Senate seat he could very well clear the field for if he wants it.  It would be tough to justify a low-probability Presidential bid with that option on the table.

Governor Gary Herbert (UT)

Why – His profile is similar to Haslam’s.  He has a track record of getting things done outside DC, and has one of the highest approval ratings in the County.  He has contrasted with Trump on some issues, and if he has any interest in the idea of being President, this is his best chance.

Why Not – Also like Haslam, his Name ID is very low, and he’s not known to be interested in the job.  While he doesn’t have an immediate Senate race on the table, he could be a potential US Senate candidate or Republican cabinet pick in the future if he sits out.

Governor Larry Hogan (MD)

Why – Hogan has shown the most interest of anyone recently in the idea of challenging Trump.  He could run as a DC outsider, and he has already started contrasting his record with the partisanship in Washington.  He’s term-limited out of office in 2022, and he’s never going to get a better chance to run than now.

Why Not – His Name ID is very low.  Most importantly, though, he has an extremely Moderate record on Abortion, Gun Rights, and other issues important to the Republican base.  He might be to the left of John Kasich, which is saying something.  He might be one of the most willing candidates to run, but I think he has one of the worst chances of success of anyone on this list.

Former Governor John Kasich (OH)

Why – He wants to be President and doesn’t like Trump.

Why Not – He has antagonized the Republican base at every opportunity, and there is no appetite among voters for what he is offering.  He is disliked by almost every segment of the party for one reason or another.

Former Congresswoman Mia Love (UT)

Why – Conservatives like her for her willingness to speak out as one of the few African-American elected officials who are GOP.  She’s spoken out against Trump as well, though.  Additionally, Trump probably cost her election (that seat is probably a lot less competitive under President Rubio).  Like Ayotte, there’s something of a revenge factor.

Why Not – Even though she lost, she may still have a future in elected office.  Would she really want to put that on the line with a long-shot Presidential run?

Former Governor Susana Martinez (NM)

Why – She’s one of the original, 2010 Tea Party class and has credibility with the Right.  She’s now out of office and probably wouldn’t get a better chance if this is something she’s interested in.  Additionally, New Mexico is about as far from DC as you can get, so it’s hard to peg her as “The Swamp.”

Why Not – Low Name ID and no known desire to run.

US Senator Mitt Romney (UT)

Why – He has as much Name ID as anyone on this list, and clearly (at least at one point) has a desire to be President.  He can probably fundraise more money than anyone on this list, as well as self-fund.  He doesn’t care for Trump, and at his age, there’s probably no better time to run than now.

Why Not – Conservatives are still suspicious of him and whether he is too moderate.  Additionally, two presidential campaigns takes a toll, and he may very well have no interest in a third.

US Senator Ben Sasse (NE)

Why – Last on this last, Sasse is well-liked by a lot of the higher-up Conservative institutions.  His Name ID is decent due to his frequent Trump criticism.  While he contrasts with Trump, it’s hard to see him standing out among a crowded field of “normal” Republicans in the near future, but …

Why Not – That being said, he’s young and I’m not as confident he wouldn’t get another chance several cycles down the road.  His desire to run is suspect, and he’s perceived by some as Establishment (even though nothing could be further from the truth).  Finally, his Senate seat is up in 2020, and if he wants to keep it (which is uncertain at this point), a Presidential run would very much imperial that.

Analyzing a 2020 Republican Primary, Part 3

Last time, we looked at what a 2020 Republican challenger to Donald Trump should look like in order to experience the best chance of success.  Today, I’m going to take a quick rundown of what a challenger would look like who would have the incentives to run in this race.  There may be some potential candidates who meet all the criteria I went over in Part 1 who may nonetheless pass because the Individual Incentives of running don’t make sense for the candidate.  Running for President is a grueling, often thankless task.  For voters who would prefer an alternative to President Trump to get a chance to vote for such a candidate, it’s important to consider who has the incentives to take on this task.  This is a topic I’m sure I will revisit frequently over the next year, so feel free to chime in if you think of any I missed.

Briefly though, I’m going to revisit the “success” definition I touched on last time.  On the broader level of analysis, there are really two ways one can “succeed” in a challenge to Trump: Outright winning the nomination, or performing competitively enough to preserve a value system apart from Trump for the party post-Trump (much like Reagan did running against Ford in 1976).  On the individual level, though, there are a number of other definitions of success that may not have anything to do with electoral success.  For example, a candidate may run in order to try and push a particular issue or issue-set into the conversation (Example: Ron Paul 2008 and 2012).  More perversely, a candidate may run in order to generate attention that can monetized as a book deal, a TV contract, or through some other means.  Finally, there are some candidacies that are just completely inexplicable (Jim Gilmore, George Pataki, etc).  All of these are individual definitions of success that often directly contradict with the broader voter group’s definition of success.  Here are some of the incentives, though, that a potential Trump challenger who would want to take on this significant task might have that doesn’t impede the Trump-skeptical’s electorate desire for a candidate who can win/compete with Trump:

  1. The potential challenger wants to be President.

This may sound obvious, but it’s worth considering.  In our current environment, if you become President, a significant number of people will dedicate themselves to tearing you and your family, friends, and colleagues down every possible opportunity.  Your lifestyle will change entirely, and privacy will basically be non-existent.  You will be tasked with making some of the most consequential decisions of any person on Earth.  Many good people have passed on running for office, including the Presidency, for some combination of these and more reasons.  Even if a candidate would be good for the job, he or she has to decide there is a significant desire to take on the job.

  1. The potential challenger with incentive to run would not benefit from waiting until a different election cycle.

There are a number of good Republicans who have interest in being President someday.  For many of them, running in 2020 against a sitting Republican president carries significant risk that, if they lost, may very well impede those chances.  For all his faults, there are a number of Republicans who would not support anyone who primaried Trump if they lost and ran again in, say, 2024.  If you’re, for example, Nicki Haley, would you rather run in 2020 and alienate a large number of Trump’s core supporters, or would you rather wait until 2024 or 2028 and run as a candidate who still has the potential of appealing to all factions of the Republican Party?  That exact same calculation applies to Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, Mike Pence, Tom Cotton, and a number of other Republicans with national ambitions.  That said, there will be some candidate who will have a better chance of success by running against Trump one-on-one in 2020 than they will in a crowded field of Republicans in 2024 or 2028.  They might be a hair to the middle of the GOP base, or they may just not stand out in a crowded race like happened to many candidates in 2016. Those candidates are the ones to keep an eye on.

  1. The potential challenger has at least somewhat serious concerns about Trump.

Because of the two reasons above and more, an individual who doesn’t have a significant problem with the President isn’t going to run.  I’ll use Ben Carson as an example here: He checks some of the boxes you would want to see in a Trump challenger, he’s ran for President before, and he would probably have a hard time standing out in another GOP primary that looked like 2016.  That said, he seems to have no serious issues with the President.  Not every potential challenger may have been as vocal about their issues with the President to this point as John Kasich, Jeff Flake, or someone else, but they at least need to have a “fire in their belly” to give their candidacy a sense of purpose.  If a candidate felt particularly strongly about this point, and viewed their candidacy as a “calling” or public service, it might be enough to override any concerns the candidate had about ruining any future election prospects.

  1. The potential challenger doesn’t have a reelection to worry about.

Any candidate who ran against Trump who would stand for reelection if they lost would instantly have a target on their back in a primary.  Look no further than what happened to Jeff Flake in Arizona (though to be fair, he wasn’t particularly popular before Trump).  Let’s say you’re Tim Scott, and you actually have some issues with the President, national ambitions, and a sterling profile among many different parts of the Party.  If you run against President Trump and lose, and then immediately stand for reelection in South Carolina in 2022, you all of a sudden have created a difficult race for yourself.  On the other hand, if you’re Larry Hogan, you’re term-limited as Governor, have limited prospects in Maryland, and may not have another step up on the political ladder (aside from Vice President or Cabinet Member).  That is a large reason why Hogan has expressed so much interest recently in the idea of a potential Primary.

Analyzing a 2020 Republican Primary, Part 2

Last time, I looked at the lay of the land concerning the possibility of a 2020 Republican primary.  The idea has started to pick up a lot of traction in the media.  It’s not without merit, as polling is starting to show that even before an actual campaign, a strong number of Republicans are open to the idea of a challenger.

One of the most important questions to start with in assessing this topic is “What qualities/traits is the ideal challenger going to have in order to have the best chance of success?”  While the ultimate success would be defeating Trump, that may or may not be possible depending on the environment, so you can also reasonably say that winning some primaries and taking a significant proportion of the votes in order to lay a marker for what the National GOP should be post-2020 would be a success (See: Reagan ’76).  There are a number of different ideas I could mention here, and a candidate may not need to meet all these characteristics to succeed by either definition.  Nonetheless, here are 4 key ideas to consider in what a Republican challenger to Trump should look like to have the best chance of success:

  1. The successful challenger should come from (or at least run from) the Right, not the Center

Like it or not, Republican Primary voters are not looking for John Kasich.  They want someone who will govern as a Conservative.  Tim Miller, who worked for Jeb Bush in 2016, makes this point on a recent Bulwark podcast, saying that, for example, a “Where is the Wall” type approach is probably going to be what has the best chance of gaining traction.  You could supplement this with a wide variety of issue points, from “Why is Planned Parenthood still funded” to “Why do we still have Obamacare” to “Why is the deficit ballooning” to “Why do we have an administration full of war hawks arguing we need to go into Venezuela after Trump said he wouldn’t get us into conflicts”.  Depending on how the candidate and his or her team wants to run, there is lots of material to attack Trump from the Right with that doesn’t even require going full Ted Cruz/Tea Party to do it, much less Stephen Miller/Ann Coulter.  You can’t abandon all Conservative orthodoxy either though, like John Kasich.  This ties very closely to point 2, which is ….

  1. The successful challenger appeals to your 2016 Rubio/Cruz/Carson voters

A lot of people forget Donald Trump won the 2016 nomination with a plurality of the votes ( ~ 45%).  If a candidate can unite the coalition of non-Trump voters from 2016, and then maybe activate some number of new voters who oppose Trump, the math works.  We can talk about what the ideal combination looks like (Rubio’s Charisma and Optimism, Cruz’s animosity to DC and appeal to Evangelicals, Carson’s background and outsider status, etc.), but a successful campaign needs to start with the question “How do I hold together Trump-skeptical Republicans?” and go from there.

  1. The successful challenger should be from outside DC (Businessman, Governor, etc) or should have a record in DC of standing up for Conservative values and against “the Swamp”.

The overall distaste for “The Establishment” or “The Swamp” by your typical Republican Primary voter has not changed since 2016.  That said, there is still a base of people who aren’t happy with DC but who aren’t happy with Trump either because of his character and haphazard approach to governing, or because they feel he has sold out his base and become “The Establishment.”  The successful Candidate is going to be able to appeal to these voters by railing against corruption in DC.  The very savvy campaign will be able to show why Trump is “The Swamp” due to all his self-dealing with the Trump Organization, Trump Hotel, etc.  The average voter may not care about Roger Stone and Russia, but they may be made to care about Trump telling them he was going to drain the swamp, and then getting rich off it himself.

  1. The successful challenger will be able to fundraise very successfully.

Going up against a prepared Trump-RNC apparatus is not going to be a task for the faint of heart.  Running a serious challenge to any serious incumbent is a difficult manner.  A very savvy campaign may be able to run an effective challenge in a cost-effective manner.  In a 24/7 news environment, doing more Earned Media as opposed to massive TV ad buys should be doable, as long as the dollars saved are going to building field staff, top-notch digital, competent data operations, etc.  That said, it’s a Presidential campaign, and a top-notch operation will require serious dollars.  There’s multiple ways you can do this.  Maybe the candidate is charismatic and a good debater, so that there may be room for a strong small-dollar donor apparatus.  If the candidate is well-connected, or perhaps comes from a business background, you could possibly run a more Super PAC driven campaign.  Regardless, though, it’s going to take someone who is serious about fundraising one way or another to build the groundwork to launch a serious challenge against an incumbent.

 

Call this 4b or 5, but I’m going to throw out one more quality that may not be essential, but could be helpful.  Name ID would help a candidate get a fast start out of the gate and have instant credibility.  I put it as non-essential because most Republicans with some type of notable experience will immediately receive significant earned media and exposure.

Analyzing a 2020 Republican Primary, Part 1

Today, I’m kicking off a 4-part series offering a broad analysis of the 2020 Republican Presidential Primary.  I am a Republican who is a strong supporter of the idea, but I will try to analyze it from a somewhat detached perspective for this series.  I’m sure this is a topic I will return to over the coming year, but I’m going to go ahead and kick off a quick series looking at this in broad strokes.

In this first part, I’m just going to go over the lay of the land as far as a primary challenge to Trump goes.  I think that there is a hard but low floor of around 10-15% virtually any challenger could pull against Trump.  I also think there are some candidates for whom the ceiling is not much more than that.  The good news, though, is that the number of Republicans interested in a primary is going up.  I suspect this is a result of massive Democratic gains in November, the government shutdown and negative reactions associated with it, and the Democratic primary gaining steam and igniting reflection on Trump’s electability and a Republican primary.  That said, Trump is still broadly popular among Republicans, and would win in a landslide over virtually candidate were the election today.

That said, recent polls have started to show interest in the idea of a Primary challenge.  Nationally, the most recent ABC News poll says 32% of Republicans nationally want a nominee other than Trump.  To my knowledge, that is the best National number to date.  In Iowa, per a CNN/Des Moines Register poll in December, 29% of Republicans would either definitely vote for or consider a Trump alternative, while 63% say they would welcome a contested primary.  Additionally, in New Hampshire, an NHJournal poll has Romney already pulling 24% against Trump if they went head-to-head.  It’s not a majority by any stretch, but if a generic candidate without a campaign is already polling in the 20s and 30s, then it is very possible to compete with Trump in a primary.

Finally, the media is beginning to take the idea of a primary more seriously at this point.  While some Trump-skeptical outlets have been pushing the idea before these last couple of months (I specifically remember Charlie Sykes in the Weekly Standard), it has spread since then.  The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, National Review, the Bulwark, and other outlets have either reported concerns in the Trump camp over a primary, ran opinion/analysis pieces on the prospects of a primary, or covered Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s recent moves that led some to believe he may run.  Media isn’t everything, but it is a sign of weakness that we didn’t see for most of the past two years.

So what are the prospects for someone running against Trump?  As an optimist, I think things are improving and shaping up so that someone will step into the ring.  What the end result is, I don’t know.  That said, the fact that it may even be worthwhile from an electoral perspective to have a primary challenge, based on poll results and momentum, is an encouraging development, and I expect that at least someone will decide at some point this year that it’s time to take the plunge.

Larry Hogan on Abortion

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has been getting some buzz as a possible Trump primary challenger the past few days.  It does make some sense: He represents the suburbans the GOP needs to win to hold the White House in 2020, and his incentives line up so that he would be more likely to succeed in 2020 and 2024.  There’s been some talk as well though that he may be too moderate to have a chance of even being competitive.

The necessary context here is that Maryland is a blue state on the National level with Democrat, veto-proof majorities in the State Legislature.  Nonetheless, you would think any Republican with any National ambitions would want to at least signal to hold Conservative viewpoints on key issues.  Hogan’s record on Abortion is complicated.  He says he is “personally opposed” to Abortion, but ran on a promise to not do anything to alter Maryland’s laws.  That’s really not too far removed from Democrats like Tim Kaine who claim to be personally pro-life and then are functionally pro-choice as Politicians.  He also said he supports a statewide referendum on a Maryland Constitutional Amendment to codify a “right to choose.”

Let’s be clear here: Donald Trump needs a GOP primary challenger.  Let’s go ahead and add on that Donald Trump is an enemy of an ethos of valuing life, has done practically nothing to advance the pro-life agenda at the Federal level, and has more likely than not paid for an abortion.  That said, as much of a mess as the Republican Party is at the national level, the best thing about it is that it at least espouses to be a driver for ending abortion.  Is it too much to ask to have a Presidential candidate who can at least match that?  That’s even before considering the practicality that any candidate who is going to compete with Trump in a primary is going to have to win over Rubio/Cruz/Carson voters, who are almost certainly not going for a functionally pro-choice candidate.  Trump should get a challenger, but Social Conservatives cannot be ignored in the process of assessing who that should be.