Much to the chagrin of the globalist, free trade Republicans who still inhabit important positions within the party establishment, President Trump is an enormously popular chief executive among GOP voters. Which means those who would dearly love to return the party to the not-so-halcyon days of the Bush-McCain-Dole era face a delicate balancing act heading into the 2020 elections.
Conceding the Obvious
It has become crystal clear, if not clear to Bill Kristol, that a NeverTrump challenger for the 2020 nomination is a hopeless proposition. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R), whom the Trump-hating Kristol had eyeballed as a potential candidate, has read the writing on the wall. Hogan has declared that he will not run against the president. Even as he backed out, however, he detailed once again the stark division between party apparatchiks and actual grassroots Republicans.
“In a telephone interview, Hogan told the Washington Examiner that he received enthusiastic encouragement from Republican thinkers, donors, and elected officials impressed with his ability to connect with a broad cross-section of voters in deep blue Maryland,” the Examiner’s David M. Drucker wrote on June 4. No doubt there is truth in this statement. But one big thing is missing in that formula: actual support from real voters. “There wasn’t a groundswell among the average Republican primary voter,” Hogan admitted. “They seem to be, at this point, very happy with the president.”
This has been the missing ingredient in the half-baked NeverTrump cake all along, of course. Party professional hangers-on who lack an authentic support base of their own have continued to dream of ejecting a president who strongly appeals to GOP voters. “I think there’s broad consensus that no one is moving toward a run,” Rob Stutzman, an anti-Trump Republican consultant in California glumly related to the Examiner.
Yes, there is the thoroughly phony campaign of former Massachusetts Governor William Weld which is not gaining any traction whatsoever, as he himself admits. And equally moldy former Ohio Governor John Kasich is still leaving his thoroughly withered “options” “on the table.” As with Hogan, however, Kasich knows he is simply not electable. “There’s no path right now for me,” Kasich told CNN on May 31. “I don’t see a way to get there. Ninety percent of the Republican Party supports [Trump] … There is not a path. There’s not the support for that.”
Indeed, a May 15-30 Gallup Poll found a whopping 87% of Republican voters approve of Trump’s performance in office. One might think this would induce party officials and office-holders to unite behind a president so popular with their base as he prepares to campaign for re-election. One would expect a 1984 Reagan-esque surge of enthusiasm. Instead, we see GOP senators threatening Trump for daring to get tough with Mexico over the national emergency on our southern border.
Whose Party Is It?
Trump on May 30 announced that he would impose an escalating series of tariffs on Mexico “until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP.” Instead of publicly backing the president, even if they had concerns that could have been expressed behind closed doors, several prominent Republican senators spoke out harshly against the move. By doing so, they showed that visibly opposing the use of tariffs as a bargaining tool was more important to them than a successful negotiation with Mexico to put an end to the unprecedented flood of human migration into the United States.
“The administration ought to be concerned about another vote of disapproval on another national emergency act, this time trying to implement tariffs. Tariffs are not real popular in the Republican Conference,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) chided. “A lot of Republican members of the Senate are tariff weary. It’s like, anything but tariffs,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) scolded. “The main takeaway would be that there’s not much interest in using a tariff” to help boost border security, Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) reprimanded.
These statements were all made as the administration was using the tariff threat to bring Mexico to the negotiating table. Such a public stance is meant to convey that GOP members of Congress – who did nothing to fund the proposed border Wall, despite having control of the Senate and House for two full years – will continue to oppose Trump’s vision of a Republican Party that puts the interests of the American people ahead of global trade concerns. This despite the fact that a May Gallup Poll found that 84% of Republican voters surveyed disapprove of “the way Congress is handling its job.”
It is perhaps unfortunate that Trump announced on June 7 that an immigration agreement had been reached with Mexico that foregoes the planned tariffs. While this is good news for the country, it would have been interesting to see just how far congressional Republicans who are overwhelmingly unpopular with the party base were willing to go to defy a president enthusiastically backed by those same GOP voters. “There’s a point where tariff fatigue sets in,” Sen. Braun said while deliberately undercutting the president’s negotiating power with Mexico. There is also a point where RINO fatigue sets in, and the American people expressed that sentiment in sweeping fashion in 2016.
Trump is a mortal lock to claim the GOP nomination again in 2020, but Republicans who refuse to go along with his America First agenda have proven that they do not fear publicly thwarting his vision again and again. If Trump is ultimately to fulfill the goals he has set for his presidency, a severe culling of GOP establishment opposition via primary challenges in 2020 and 2022 would seem a necessity.
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