President Trump hasn't even been in office for a full year and there is already chatter of possible primary challenges to the president in 2020 as his approval ratings decline and he continues to show an inability to get his agenda passed through Congress. Would any Republican have a legitimate shot at dethroning Trump in 2020?
Here are seven people who might challenge Trump in a 2020 primary.
1. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R). Kasich has shifted his answers in interviews about challenging Trump, from an unequivocal denial to this in an interview with HBO's Bill Maher: (H/T: Washington Post)
That's so — it's so speculative. And look, I'm going to finish my term in 18 months as governor of our state, pull the state together and get it to do better and better and better. That's what I'm all about — and giving everybody a shot. And then I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm going to keep a voice, but I can't predict to you — I never thought I would be governor, I never thought I'd go back into politics. So, what I look for is, "What is it I'm supposed to do? What is it I'm supposed to do in my lifetime to build a better world or build a better community or whatever?" And so I can't tell you what that's going to be, and I'm not plotting and scheming. I'm rooting for him to do well, Bill, for the same reason I root for a pilot on my airplane to do well. Okay? He's the president.
According to The Hill, Republicans think that Kasich is "up to something" with his 2020 plans, which could potentially involve running as an independent with his running mate being a Democrat like Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. A recent poll shows that Kasich would beat Trump in a New Hampshire GOP primary.
2. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Flake has certainly grabbed headlines with his new book that criticizes the direction Trump is taking the Republican Party, even though Flake hasn't exactly advanced the cause of conservatism in Congress. Nevertheless, Flake is clearly trying to gain some attention that could potentially set himself up for a 2020 primary challenge of the president, although Flake will have to win re-election in Arizona first, where he now has an 18% approval rating.
3. Vice President Mike Pence. A New York Times report whipped up controversy about the possibility of Pence preparing himself for taking on Trump in 2020:
The vice president created his own political fund-raising committee, Great America Committee, shrugging off warnings from some high-profile Republicans that it would create speculation about his intentions. The group, set up with help from Jack Oliver, a former fund-raiser for George W. Bush, has overshadowed Mr. Trump’s own primary outside political group, America First Action, even raising more in disclosed donations.
Mr. Pence also installed Nick Ayers, a sharp-elbowed political operative, as his new chief of staff last month — a striking departure from vice presidents’ long history of elevating a government veteran to be their top staff member. Mr. Ayers had worked on many campaigns but never in the federal government.
The report also notes that Pence has been actively working the donor scene. Pence himself has vehemently denied the report that he's looking to unseat his boss, but these actions do indicate that he's readying himself for a 2020 run just in case.
4. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). Sasse has been a frequent critic of Trump on the Right; per the Times report, Sasse recently visited Iowa GOP leaders and has touted himself to donors as "an independent-minded conservative who happens to caucus with Republicans in the Senate."
However, Sasse's spokesman has denied that the senator is looking to challenge Trump in 2020, telling The Hill: "It's 2017 and Ben has the only callings he wants: raising his three kids and serving Nebraskans."
5. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). The Times report also noted that Cotton has generated some buzz with some recent appearances in Iowa; The Hill pointed out that Cotton has been a favorite among conservatives and foreign policy hawks while still maintaining his status as a Trump ally. It seems unlikely that Cotton would run in 2020 because, per The Hill, Cotton is only 40 years old and would likely be better off waiting until after Trump's presidency is over to run.
6. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). Amash is a favorite among libertarians and is a frequent Trump critic himself: (H/T: The Hill)
The Michigan Republican, a co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and one of the nation’s most well-known libertarians, has mocked Trump’s understanding of the Constitution, questioned whether the president’s global investments and projects pose conflicts of interest and signed on to legislation calling for an independent probe into Russian election meddling.
Amash, who backed Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in last year’s GOP primary, also was the first Republican in Congress to raise the possibility of impeaching Trump. If it’s determined that Trump pressured his then-FBI director, James Comey, to end the bureau's Russia-related investigation into Trump campaign associates, Amash said in May, then that would be grounds for impeachment.
Amash could certainly be positioning himself as the libertarian alternative to Trump, although it's hard to see his appeal beyond that.
7. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). CNN's Chris Cillizza has thrown out Cruz's name as a potential Trump challenger in 2020, citing Trump's personal smears against the Texas senator's wife and father during the primary as motiviation for Cruz to launch a primary challenge against Trump. While Cruz likely wants another shot at the presidency, it would be difficult for him to launch a primary challenge against Trump after his non-endorsement of Trump at the Republican National Convention, only to endorse him two months later. But if Trump's presidency falters, then maybe Cruz will see a potential opening there.