“Anyone But Trump in 2020”–Republicans in Secret?

Donald Trump. Photo Credit: The Hot Zone USA Library/Malik LeGare

From the moment Hillary Clinton officially conceded the 2016 Presidential Election people were trying to remove Donald Trump from the presidency. It started with crowd-funded recalls and a campaign to convince the all-powerful and mysterious Electors to cast votes for anyone other than Trump so that he would not officially be elected to the United States’ highest office.

Since taking office, Trump has been plagued by the “cloud” of the Russia investigation, continual calls from The Resistance, as well as some pundits, Op-Ed contributors and elected officials for him to be impeached. Every day, it seems, a story breaks that gives Trump’s opposition hope that it is one step closer to removing what they see as an illegitimate and detrimental president. #NotMyPresident still finds its way into the Twitter-sphere and his election, which surprised many idealistic liberals and conservatives alike, has spawned what many call an unprecedented activism and engagement in government and politics.

It’s been a national lesson in civics, activism and patience for many.

There were many moments throughout his scandal-driven campaign that seemed certain to douse his chances of actually winning. The infamous hot-mic moment even had strong supporters calling for him to drop out of the race; this was reportedly the “original sin” that Reince Priebus, Trump’s recently terminated Chief of Staff. It seemed that rumors about Priebus being on his way to termination began even before his White House position officially did.

Republicans currently lead the Congress with a small but powerful majority and, for the first time since Obama’s election, they have a so-called Republican President that they hoped would elevate them from obstructionist party to one that successfully legislates and leads.

This is, by some explanations, the reason many have kept mum in reference to Trump’s also scandal-ridden Presidency. They need him to sign what they pass—if they ever do get anything passed.

They have been accused by The Resistance and others of putting party before country in not calling him out for statements, actions and behavior that have left the White House in perpetual chaos, threatened alliances with other world leaders, and gone against long-standing precedents and traditions. They have even brushed off the growing implication that some of the people closest to Trump worked with the Russian government in its efforts to prevent Hillary Clinton’s victory and destabilize US democracy.

Rumors have trickled out for the last six months, however, that there are a decent number of Republican officials who would support a Trump impeachment, or otherwise wish he was not the party’s highest representative. Two members of congress just recently got caught on their very own hot mic while questioning Trump’s mental capacity and admitting they were “worried,” ostensibly about the fate of their party and their country.

Now, the rumors have gotten even stronger that it is not just Democrats and Independents who are opposed to any more President Trump than necessary.

The New York Times this week is reporting that there may be a “shadow campaign” in the works to find a non-Trump nominee for the 2020 race. While there are denials that there is any collaborative efforts by the greater Republican Party to prevent a Trump nomination, The Times reports that several big-named Republicans have been acting conspicuously like future nominees.

Those big-names include one of the biggest currently in the Republican Party, and one that happens to be in Trump’s White House as well: Vice President Mike Pence.

The Times article by Johnathan Martin and Alexander Burns opens: “Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.

President Trump’s first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 — as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren’t involved.”

Their efforts include courting donors and boosting their public profiles.

The White House denounced the rumors, stating that President Trump remains popular in Iowa, which sees the first primaries and often has a strong influence on both official party nominations and elections. “But in interviews with more than 75 Republicans at every level of the party, elected officials, donors and strategists expressed widespread uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump would be on the ballot in 2020 and little doubt that others in the party are engaged in barely veiled contingency planning.”

Recently diagnosed with cancer and having cast one of the deciding votes to kill the Republican’s healthcare repeal effort, John McCain has been a fairly vocal opponent of Trump from the beginning of his run. As an Independent who turned Republican to make his own presidential bid, McCain has often voted Republican, but will every once in awhile cast a controversial, party-shirking vote that has given him a maverick’s reputation. McCain was quoted in The Times as saying that his fellow Republicans see “weakness” in Trump as President.

Most of the official statements from these “shadow candidates” have insisted that their efforts are only in case Trump does not end up running in 2020, whatever the reason may be.

John Kasich, who lost out on the nomination in 2016 to Trump, has at least not denied that he would consider running in 2020 and has allegedly told people close to him that he would run regardless of whether or not Trump did as well.

Some big name donors also indicated that the so-called shadow campaigns would likely get stronger, and more visible, if Republicans do badly in 2018.

Though Vice President Pence denied that his goal is a 2020 run, calling the Times’ article “ridiculous,” he has been the “pacesetter” as far as these unofficial campaign moves go. He has, according to The Times, gone further than normal Vice Presidents in building himself up as a potential candidate, including becoming “the main conduit between the Republican donor class and the administration.” This, of course, could simply be due to Trump’s unpopularity with the “swamp” of DC politicians and influencers. Pence was brought in, after all, to provide some sort of temperance to a temperamental candidate.

Pence has created his own fundraising committee despite warnings from fellow Republicans as to how that would come off, and that committee has already raised more than Trump’s own fundraising group. Pence also hired a new Chief of Staff in July, shirking the precedent of promoting an experienced Washingtonian and bringing in Nick Ayers who is primarily known for running various successful campaigns.

Pence continues to publicly support his President activel; but, whether he’s playing a long game in the style of House of Cards or he’s merely being extra prepared in case there is no Trump option for 2020 we’ll just have to wait to see.

With many Republicans exhausted and frustrated by the chaoticness of the current White House and with Congress unable to pass its pet legislation, it’s no wonder that Trump’s intra-party support is slipping more than ever. He shook up the political establishment to begin with by cinching the nomination and presidency with now government experience to speak of.

Some of the biggest names in Republican politics openly renounced Trump when he won the nomination, including the Bush family and the infamous Conservative donors The Koch brothers. The Times article reports that representatives of the Koch’s attended Pence’s Naval Observatory residence, where he has reportedly been “relationship building” with Republican influencers.

Senators Cotton and Sasse have apparently taken notice of Pence’s activities. Cotton is scheduled for a two-day fundraising event in New York in September, though it is officially for Senate Republicans and his own 2018 reelection bid. Sasse has been one of the more outspoken Republicans against Trump and has reportedly “introduced himself to political donors in language that several Republicans have found highly suggestive, describing himself as an independent-minded conservative.” His advisors are also reportedly deliberating over starting a committee that would promote his agenda on a national scale. Sasse is reportedly embraced in New Hampshire which, like Iowa, can have strong influence on nominations and elections nationally.

There are even rumors that UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, formerly the Governor of South Carolina, is setting herself up for a potential bid, hiring pollsters, meeting with donors and perfecting her foreign policy agenda in a way that would strongly compete with Trump’s.

After Congress’ failure to follow through on their years-long promise to get rid of Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act and the news that Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is continuing to heat up, it seems highly likely that this is just the beginning of the efforts to find a successful Trump replacement for the 2020 election.

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