What does it mean to be conservative? This is a question that many in the Republican Party have been trying to decipher for decades. Since the end of the Reagan Era, many conservative voices have tried to refine and redefine what it means to be conservative. This can be seen through the constant Obama Era clashes between Tea Party conservative figures like Ted Cruz and more moderate party members like Mitt Romney. In recent years, however, this clash has shifted into an inner-party turmoil between anti-Trump and pro-Trump Republicans. Unfortunately, rather than allowing this fight to insue democratically, many in the Republican National Committee, lead by Ronna McDaniel, have attempted and succeeded in canceling early state primary elections. The Republican Party has successfully canceled their primary elections in South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, Kansas, and Alaska. This is not the first time that states have canceled primary elections. One such example was in 1996, when both the states of Arizona and Kansas canceled their respective Democratic Primary elections, and in 2012 when the state of Arizona canceled its Democratic Primary. The big difference between the 2020 Republican Primary election and the 1996 and 2012 Democratic Primary elections, however, is the fact that in 1996 and 2012 no major party candidates challenged either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for their respective election years. In the 2020 Republican Primary Election, however, President Donald Trump is facing unprecedented opposition from major political players, including former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh.
This leads to the major question of why state Republican Party leadership would decide to cancel five of their in-state primaries. The most likely answer to this question seems to be fear. Not particular fear of any of these politicians actually beating Trump in their Primary Challenges -he last time a sitting President was defeated in a Primary challenge was in 1856 when insurgent candidate Franklin Pierce defeated sitting Democratic President James Buchannan -the major fear seems to be that if President Trump’s Primary Challengers gain enough traction in the Republican Primary, they could end up draining a lot of President Trump’s currently existing support, thus weakening his candidacy right before the 2020 general election.
Anytime a sitting President faces major primary challengers from their own party, it almost never signals a positive outcome for that President and their prospects for achieving a general election victory. In 1992, major political commentator Pat Buchanaan made a significant and highly publicized primary challenge to sitting President George H.W. Bush, and ended up winning a shocking 23% of support from Republican Primary voters. After this brutal Primary contest, George H.W. Bush swiftly lost re-election to the fresh-faced “comeback kid”: Bill Clinton. However, the pattern of big-name primary challenges leading to major election losses goes back further. Before that, sitting President Jimmy Carter faced a massively funded primary challenge by extremely popular Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, brother to the infamous President John F. Kennedy. In a shocking turn of events, Senator Ted Kennedy earned a total of 37.58% of the votes cast in the 1980 Democratic Primary Election. After this grueling Primary Election, President Jimmy Carter then went on to lose the 1980 Presidential Elections to the extremely popular and charismatic Republican Governor Ronald Reagan.
The point here is that the Republican Party establishment isn’t particularly afraid of having Donald Trump lose the 2020 Republican Primary Election, they are instead afraid of the divides that such a grueling primary election could have on the general election in 2020. After the 2020 Republican Primary Debate hosted by Business Insider, it is clear that neither former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld nor former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh intend to go easy on the former President in their Primary Challenges. “We simply can’t sit still for this guy, who’s a disgrace to this office.” (Bill Weld) As one of the biggest critics of then candidate Trump in 2016, Bill Weld used the debate to masterfully craft his own vision of conservatism that stresses limited government, reducing the national debt, and maintaining common decency in the oval office. Meanwhile, Joe Walsh managed to center his own campaign on the basis of a return to normalcy. “The president of the United States will be impeached very, very soon. The president of the United States will deserve to be impeached very, very soon.” (Joe Walsh) While agreeing with President Trump from an ideological standpoint, Joe Walsh instead stressed President Donald Trump’s repeated lies and disrespect as a focal point for his own candidacy.
While it remains to be seen how well Bill Weld, Joe Walsh, and Mark Sanford all perform in their respective Primary Challenges to President Trump, it does seem to hint at a possible fallout for President Trump’s re-election prospects. It is very rare for such big-name politicians to challenge sitting Presidents within their own political parties. What is even more rare however, are five states closing their primary elections off and declaring the sitting president the winner of their states’ primaries without ever holding a vote of any kind to make the peoples’ voices heard. The impact of the cancellation of these major state primary elections remains to be seen, as does the result of the 2020 Presidential Election.