Bob Corker: I haven't ruled out running for president, you know

Last night in this time slot we did a little handicapping of the 2020 Democratic primary field.

Is it time to start handicapping the Republican primary field?

Especially since you-know-who seems less than enthused about his job lately.

Meh, that’s an awfully thin reed to rest a “primary challenge” scenario on. This one is a little sturdier:

“I’ve not ruled it out. I’ve not ruled it in. Just, somebody needs to run on the Republican side,” [Jeff] Flake said on Friday in a lengthy conversation with POLITICO and The Hill. Flake said both outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse could give Trump a credible challenge…

“I hope somebody does [run], just to remind Republicans what it means to be conservative and what it means to be decent. We’ve got to bring that back,” Flake said. “You can whip up the base for a cycle or two but it wears thin. Anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.”

No on Flake? All right, how about the guy who wrote this:

The Republican Party that so many of us care deeply about continues to be held hostage these days, and what I saw last week in a district I grew up in and know well is that there is a half-life to insults, bullying and an embrace of a post-truth world.

I heard it from young soccer moms and longtime Republican voters alike. They don’t want to condone behavior that is counter to what they’ve taught their children…

Republicans got a wake-up call last week. But will we wake up?

That’s Mark Sanford, who was upset in his primary by Trumpified challenger Katie Arrington and then watched as Arrington was upset by Democrat Joe Cunningham. The last time a Democrat held that seat in South Carolina Ronald Reagan was preparing to be sworn into his first term in office.

Sanford, Flake, Corker, and Kasich all have something in common that Ben Sasse doesn’t share — they’ll all be unemployed in January, with nothing better to do in the near term than stew about Trump. I don’t think Kasich would bother with a primary challenge for the simple reason that he’d run to the center, not to the right, and seems like the kind of guy who might convince himself that he has a real path to the presidency between Trump and a far-left Democratic nominee as an independent. If he runs, he’ll run third-party, I think. As for the others, I wonder if the midterm results plus the prospect of House Democrats hassling Trump over the next two years plus POTUS’s seeming disinterest in his duties over the last few days will lead some Republicans to quietly make plans for a run just in case Trump decides “to hell with it” and chooses not to bother with a second term. (Joe Scarborough has been pushing that theory for months.) If, hypothetically, he did announce next summer that he’d had enough aggravation and was headed back to Manhattan in 2021, satisfied that he’d accomplished more than any president in history including Washington and Lincoln, who’s the frontrunner on the right?

Would it be Pence or Haley? Obviously the party’s not nominating a Trump critic like any of the aforementioned. Trump’s base wouldn’t stand for it. The nominee will have a MAGA pedigree but both Pence and Haley are, well, MAGA-INO, for lack of a better term. Pence’s chief attribute as VP has been unflagging loyalty but no one’s excited about him and Trumpers are well aware that he’s a movement conservative who let himself be drafted into populist-nationalism for reasons of ambition. Conservatives are excited about Haley but Trumpers will remember how she basically went rogue at the UN and ran her own foreign policy, and the whispers that she was somehow behind that mysterious anti-Trump op-ed in the NYT a few months back will follow her around. Pence might see Trump fans rally behind him, though, for no larger reason than that he’s not Haley and can be expected to pander to them more. Steve Bannon knows who the true ideological threat to nationalism is between the two of them. If that means sticking with Pence as the lesser “evil” then that’s what it means.

That’d be a fun race, though. Exit question: Would there be room for an outsider with some populist credibility, like Tom Cotton, to jump in? The only way for a lesser-known pol to make his mark on the Trump base quickly would be to out-hawk the top-tier people on immigration. Cotton co-authored the RAISE Act so he has some cred. If he were to land an administration job in the near term he’d instantly become top-tier himself. Maybe even the favorite.

David Strom 10:01 PM on September 26, 2022