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.