It has finally happened! President Trump has drawn a primary challenger — a former governor no less — and is going to have to fight for the Republican nomination. William Weld of Massachusetts is going to give him a run for his money and make this competitive!
Except… he’s not. Yes, Governor Weld is indeed challenging Trump for the Republican Party’s 2020 presidential nomination, but let’s be honest: He doesn’t stand a chance.
Sure, polls have repeatedly shown that Republicans theoretically want to see a primary challenger to President Trump. In February, a Monmouth University poll found that 43 percent of Republican voters would like Trump to face a primary challenge in the 2020 race and, last month, a Des Moines Register poll saw 40 percent of Iowa Republicans favor Trump facing a challenger. However, this does not mean that any of those Republicans would actually vote for a challenger; those polls show Trump trouncing any and all comers, including his 2016 rivals Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former governor John Kasich, R-Ohio. And when it comes to Bill Weld? Just four percent of Iowa Republicans have a favorable view of him.
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Simply put, there is not a constituency for Weld — in the Republican Party at least.
Sure, the former Massachusetts governor will get some fawning attention from a cable news network or two and be rewarded with a live town hall, as well as countless interview opportunities. And he will receive millions of dollars worth of free media coverage because a primary challenge to a sitting president of the United States makes for an entertaining storyline (even more so when that incumbent president is Donald Trump). Of course, as his name recognition increases and Weld becomes more of a public presence, Democrats will likely hold a favorable view toward him. But not so Republicans.
And forget about the so-called Never Trump contingent of the GOP, supposedly a force with which to be reckoned. Never Trump fractured after Trump’s election, when its lead figures went in separate directions. Some ended up deciding to support Trump’s reelection bid, while others saw their opposition transform them into Democrats (although some are unaware of their switch).
The Republican Party today is wholly the party of Donald Trump, full stop. This has been firmly established in the aftermath of the 2016 election, as the party’s base had repeatedly made clear that they will punish members who dare to defy the president; just ask now-former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and now-former Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.
For me and other Republicans who held reservations about a Trump presidency, we chose to approach Trump and his presidency on an issue-by-issue basis — i.e. applaud him when he does things we like, and voice disagreement when appropriate. After all, in 2016, Donald Trump won the nomination and the presidency without us and, if he is reelected in 2020, it won’t be because of us either, but rather a combination of his ability to attract voters in swing states and Democrats' choice to nominate someone so unpalatable that he or she will drive those swing voters to Trump or choose stay home on Election Day.
Those opposed to Trump often note that, within and only within the Republican Party itself, Donald Trump remains an incredibly popular figure: His approval numbers among Republicans have consistently been at 80 percent or higher in poll after poll. These are good numbers for an incumbent president, but are also simultaneously deceptive, as they don't effectively capture the post-Trump shrinkage of the party. According to a Pew Research Center study, between December 2015 and March 2017, 23 percent of young Republicans (18-29) left the party. Further, according to Gallup, 31 percent of Americans identified as Republican right after Trump was inaugurated but, in March of 2019, just 26 percent say that they are members of the GOP — an exodus of a few million members.
Had those people stayed in the Republican Party, then they would have made for an ideal target for Weld and his primary campaign — but they did not.
Furthermore, Weld’s campaign is constrained by some political realities. The Republican National Committee has made moves to shield Trump from any serious primary challenge in 2020 and all but ensured the president’s renomination. Even if this had not happened, Weld and his campaign face the challenge of raising enough money (at least some of which would have to come from Republicans) to build an organization that could make a competitive bid for the party’s nomination.
William Weld’s candidacy, while well-intentioned, is nothing more than tilting at windmills. All that it will achieve is to provide a new storyline for the media while attracting the support of dozens of GOP primary voters. Republicans may say they want to see a primary challenger to Trump, but it isn't likely that they want one because they want the president to be unseated; it's hard not to suspect that some of those who backed him in 2016 are interested in watching him emasculate and decimate a challenger for the sheer enjoyment of it. Consciously or not, William Weld has volunteered for humiliation — which seems somewhat disqualifying in a man who wants to be president.