I thought we’d end up with zero given the futility of the endeavor. Instead one has already declared, another is making post-Mueller noises about getting in, and a third — the most formidable, although not very formidable — is out there watching. A four-man field, potentially? The more choices there are, the smaller Trump’s landslide margin will be.
The one who’s already in is William Weld. The one who’s making noise is Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who spoke at the “Politics and Eggs” event this morning in New Hampshire that all presidential candidates eventually make their way to. Hogan has been hinting about running for almost three months now, long enough for us to have published not one but two “Hogan sounds pretty serious about this” posts over that span. His message to his audience this morning: He’s pretty serious about this.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday he is seriously considering a primary challenge to President Trump, adding that the only reason Trump is not facing obstruction charges is that aides thwarted the president…
He said he would do so even if he could not see a way to win, provided he thought the Republican Party would benefit from a contested primary.
He added, though, that he was not “going to launch a suicide mission” and saw no urgency in getting into the race before the fall.
“A shorter field will be better for someone who doesn’t have a lot of money,” he said. “I don’t feel any rush to get in.”
He won’t do it if it amounts to a suicide mission? Here are the new numbers from the University of New Hampshire. Spoiler: Not only is it a suicide mission, it’s more of a suicide mission now than it was in February.
That poll was taken last week in the days leading up to the release of the Mueller report, which was a sweet spot politically for Trump. Bill Barr’s summary of the report, notifying the world that Trump wouldn’t be charged with conspiracy or obstruction, had already been public knowledge for several weeks. The details from the report itself about the various ways in which he had tried to thwart the investigation were still secret. Go figure, then, that UNH would find support for Trump growing among New Hampshire Republicans between February and April, with POTUS gaining eight points over that period. And not only that:
NH GOP are more solidly pro-Trump now than they were two months ago. Clearly there was a small contingent of voters who were waiting for Mueller’s verdict to decide whether they’d consider supporting a primary challenger. “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION,” as Trump likes to put it, seems to have tilted them against the idea — at least as of last week. Whether the publication of the Mueller report has suddenly shaken their faith in Trump is unknown as of now. But if you’re Larry Hogan or Bill Weld or (gulp) John Kasich looking at these numbers, why would you bother?
Writing last week at the Spectator, Daniel McCarthy recalled a chat he had recently with a friend about Hogan:
But the NeverTrumpers pine for more — if not Romney, then maybe Larry Hogan. Last month I had a brief but cordial conversation with a NeverTrumper who hoped Hogan would jump into the race. Why, I asked, when he obviously had no hope of winning? My interlocutor agreed he would lose, but Hogan would stand up for the honor of the party, show that it could still be home to voters who opposed Trump and Trumpism. I asked whether Republicans had ever in their modern history rewarded someone for a primary challenge to a president — wouldn’t most Republicans, who after Trump supporters after all, just blame a primary challenger for weakening him if he lost the general election? My NeverTrump friend, getting a little flustered, said that all the ex-Republicans who had left the party since Trump took over would come flooding back, inspired by a challenger, and maybe new voters would join, too, and so it wouldn’t matter if the Trump supporters who are the party’s present majority were mad a Hogan and his supporters. I was surprised to hear a serious political analyst say this — the right-wing of the Republican party has grown every time it’s lost an election, and if Trump loses in 2020, the immediate post-Trump GOP will be defined not by regret over Trump but by fierce opposition to the Democrat who replaces him.
Undeniably true. I can’t imagine what would need to happen next fall for an appetite to emerge within the GOP for Hogan-style centrist bipartisanship. And of course McCarthy’s right that Hogan or Weld or Kasich or all three would be scapegoated for any Trump defeat in the general election. That’s the entire reason it was so silly for some Nikki Haley fans to speculate about her quitting the administration so that she could primary Trump. That would be a true suicide mission for an ambitious young politician, a 1000-to-one shot which would end either with her losing the primary and then taking the fall for a Democratic victory next November *or* beating the odds and defeating Trump in a primary, only to have the party split beneath her feet when angry Trump loyalists boycotted the general election.
Anyway, it makes me laugh that if Weld, Hogan, and Kasich all jumped in, Trump really would have a claim to being the most “conservative” candidate in the field. He’d be facing three candidates trying to beat him from the center, which never, ever works in a primary. But I think I prefer that scenario to someone like Flake or Sasse or Romney jumping in and trying to beat him from his other flank. It’s painfully clear that the right has been fully absorbed by Trumpism. If the goal is to wound Trump by piling up protest votes, it makes more sense to play to the middle and try to entice the suburbanites who ended up crossing over and voting Democratic last fall.
Here’s Hogan at today’s event discussing the RNC’s efforts to rig the primaries for “dear leader.”