Donald Trump’s unpopularity has been well documented throughout his first term as president. His low approval rating, currently around 40%, would seemingly warrant a Republican challenger in the 2020 primary election; such a challenger could be successful considering the backlash Trump has faced from his fellow Republicans. However, as I explained in an article last week, President Trump may not face a serious primary challenge in 2020 because of the risks associated with running against him. However, Trump could still face a Republican challenger in 2020. Below are five potential Republican challengers who could frustrate Trump’s reelection campaign. I will provide a brief background on each, followed by an evaluation of their strengths as candidates.
The former Governor of Massachusetts, runner-up in the 2012 presidential election, and current Utah senator is a moderate critic of Trump. He is a strong candidate because of his political experience; his rhetoric and ideology are also more moderate than Trump’s, which could give him broader appeal in a general election. His reputation has remained intact despite his loss in 2012. While Romney would certainly be a strong challenger to Trump in 2020, the fact that he was just elected to the Senate in 2018 could discourage a 2020 presidential campaign.
Cruz has been an active senator since 2013 and was second to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Tensions between Trump and Cruz were palpable and even became personal during that primary when Trump tweeted a picture mocking Cruz’s wife. Cruz presents an interesting dilemma for Republican voters. He is a traditional conservative and could beat Trump in another Republican primary, but he may be too conservative to earn the votes of Trump’s primary base—which consists of many people who are not truly conservative or do not usually vote—in a general election. Losing this crowd could mean that, even if Cruz beats Trump, he could lose in a general election. Cruz was also reelected this year to the Senate, but his history with Trump indicates that he may be more likely to challenge the president than Romney.
This former Ohio governor was unable to run for reelection in 2018 after reaching his term limit. He is another high-profile candidate who placed fourth in the 2016 Republican primary. Like Cruz, he is a traditional conservative who has criticized the president. He has not ruled out a 2020 presidential run but has said, “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.” Unfortunately for his supporters, this does not sound like a politician who is eager to challenge Trump (especially knowing what that would entail).
Of all the people on this list, Flake has been the most continuously outspoken critic of the president. He chose not to seek reelection in Arizona because of his unpopularity in the state, mostly because of his reluctance to work with the president. A republican senator who was so unpopular that he did not even seek reelection in a key Republican state appears to be a poor candidate. However, since it was largely speculated that his strong opposition of the president was done to establish himself as a candidate in 2020, it will be interesting to see if he decides to challenge Trump.
Bill Weld’s name appeared in the news this week after he said that a second term for Trump “would be bad for the country.” The former governor of Massachusetts more importantly announced that he was considering running against Trump. He claimed to have formed an exploratory committee to decide whether he will challenge the president. This is the first action made by a Republican politician indicating that Trump could face a serious primary challenge. Weld is a very moderate candidate, running as a libertarian in 2016 and only recently changing his party affiliation to Republican. Weld is a wildcard candidate because he is unknown to most Americans, but his moderate ideology could favor him in a general election if he is first able to defeat Trump. His decision to announce a potential run before any other noteworthy Republicans could be advantageous and help him gain popularity, assisting his run for the presidency.
While no high-profile Republicans have formally announced their decisions to run against the president in 2020, the five politicians on this list could each provide decent challenges for Trump and the 2020 Democratic nominee. The next nine months will be very telling, as Republican politicians will reveal their intentions and the political stage for 2020 will become clearer.