Like Wehner and other Trump critics, Kristol believes the key to redirecting the party is mounting a serious primary challenge against Trump in 2020. For inspiration, Kristol points to a third modern example of party insurrection: the uprising against former President Lyndon B. Johnson by liberal Vietnam War opponents. That movement recruited Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota to challenge Johnson in the 1968 Democratic primaries, and after McCarthy ran unexpectedly well in the first contest in New Hampshire, Johnson abruptly chose not to seek reelection. “What we can do is soften the ground for a primary challenger, who really has to be the person who makes the case,” Kristol says.
Trump, of course, remains favored to beat any primary opponent. But it might still loosen his hold on the party if a challenger consistently ran well in white-collar suburbs—and demonstrated how much Trump’s direction is threatening the GOP’s position with those voters. Between now and 2020, it is precisely those voters that the Defending Democracy group will be targeting with its message that Trump is undermining both the party’s principles and its longterm electoral prospects. “Those are the people we are trying to find, capture, and cultivate,” Longwell says.