Bill Kristol looking around for a primary challenger for Trump

C’mon. Everyone knows how loyal Republican voters are to Trump. There’s zero demand for a primary opponent.

Or is there?

Overall, a 60 percent majority of voters think Trump should be challenged in the 2020 primaries, compared with 26 percent who don’t think so. Among Republicans, there is some appetite for a Trump primary challenger: 38 percent think someone should run against him, but half do not think so.

Four in 10 Republicans want to see Trump primaried? His approval rating within the party is normally something like 80-85 percent. Who are the GOP voters who give him high marks for his performance but also want another option on the menu two years from now, knowing how badly a serious primary challenge might weaken him in the general?

Anyway, Kristol’s trying:

He wondered hopefully, in the interview, about the availability of Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and James Mattis — three men who were on his 2016 wish list — and of Nikki Haley, who like Mattis ended up taking a job in the Trump administration. Kristol also has kind words for John Kasich, whom he visited recently in Ohio and acknowledged is the Republican most likely to take on Trump, though the governor’s personality and moderate politics have turned off other leaders in Kristol’s neoconservative orbit…

All of this raises the question of what Kristol, or any Republican who buys into his efforts, would consider a win. Say a Kristol candidate doesn’t win the nomination but weakens Trump enough to help tip the election to Democrats. “That’s not the best outcome,” said Kristol. “But I’ll put it this way: When people say, ‘Oh you can’t do it because it might cause that,’ I regard that as less problematic or less damaging than just sitting back and letting Trump have a free ride.”

“If he lost [in the general election], I can still imagine the party having a moment in 2021 where it’s like, ‘OK, well that’s over,’” Kristol said. “But I think if he wins, we really are in a different world. I don’t think it’s just a Republican problem. At that point, our politics in general on both sides are going to be Trumpy. That would be a pretty significant moment, I’m afraid.”

In other words, he thinks a Democrat prevailing over a divided right would be better for the right — or for conservatives, I should probably say — than Trump cruising to reelection. But he has to think that. It’s the only argument for a primary challenge that doesn’t run into a brick wall of futility. Drew McCoy is right: There’s no room within the GOP to run to Trump’s right and there’s no meaningful demand for someone to his left. The best a challenger could hope for would be to lose surprisingly narrowly in early states, claim a moral victory, and then have a divided party fall to the Democrats in November. But even in that scenario, the party’s not likely to divide. After all the “anyone but Hillary” rationales for Trump on the right two years ago to convince Never Trumpers to climb aboard, the new refrain in 2020 will be that Trump’s new Democratic challenger is much, much worse than Hillary. And that’ll probably be true! Kamala Harris, for example, is further left, less hawkish, and less experienced as a federal official than Clinton was. Anyone but Kamala! Vote Trump over Kasich/Flake/Sasse in the primaries!

There’s only one good-ish reason to primary Trump, as Tim Miller told BuzzFeed: “[T]here’s the Trump wild card that always is hanging out there — if something crazy happens and he has to drop out, maybe you are the only one on the field.” If a black-swan event forced Trump out of the race, it’d be worth a lot as pols jockey to replace him on the ballot to already have a campaign up and chugging along in key states. If Trump was being primaried by Kasich and suddenly had to drop out circa June 2020, Kasich would be a much stronger contender for substitute nominee than he would be if he’d chosen not to run.

But even then, does anyone think Kasich would be the nominee? The very fact that he’d dared to primary Trump would make him unacceptable to Trump fans. Pence would be enlisted instead and most of the party would be comfortable with that. (It seems hard to remember now but in his pre-MAGA phase Pence was popular with establishment Republicans.) And let’s be real: Absent health concerns, virtually nothing is going to convince Trump to endure the humiliation of dropping out. This is a guy who had the “Access Hollywood” tape *and* multiple accusations of sexual assault dropped on him less than a month out from the last election and he won anyway. He’s convinced that he can talk his way out of anything. The one true curveball would be Mueller indicting him in the middle of the campaign, but (a) we’ll surely have resolution on Russiagate before 2020 (I think?) and (b) Mueller blowing up a presidential election by indicting the sitting president would be 10 orders of magnitude more disruptive than Comey’s letter in 2016. As a matter of basic stability for the country, he’d show his cards on Trump before the campaign got going.

Here’s Trump’s likeliest challenger going off on him a few days ago at Harvard.