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.