Question Three: Should We Want a Primary Challenge to Trump in 2020? The third way in which some Never Trump conservatives are pursuing a deluded course of action is the blind willingness to tout 2020 primary challenges to Trump entirely without regard to whether they are serious. Now, there is value at times in casting a futile protest vote to make a point; I voted for Newt Gingrich after Romney had effectively sealed up the 2012 nomination, and if there’s a protest-vote primary challenge in 2020, I probably will cast another such vote. But fundamentally, the two candidates typically bandied about as challengers to Trump — John Kasich and Jeff Flake — are not serious, and promoting them is a primal scream, not a plan.
By “serious,” I mean actually running with the objective of winning and a plausible plan to do so, something far too few of the many 2016 contenders were doing. The best evidence that neither Kasich nor Flake is serious is that both of them passed on chances to run for the Senate in 2018. And in Kasich’s case, there is his 2016 conduct and performance as well.
To Jeff Flake’s credit, his decision not to run for reelection to the Senate is almost certainly in the best interests of the party, as it increases the GOP’s odds of holding his seat and preventing the nomination of a Trumpier fringe candidate such as Kelli Ward or Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The replacement mainstream candidate, Martha McSally, has her work cut out for her, but she seems at least a good candidate to win the nomination and a better bet to hold enough Ward/Arpaio voters in the fall to make the best possible defense of Flake’s seat. But Flake’s retirement from the Senate is an admission that he cannot even win a primary in his own home state running as an incumbent. The idea that he could unseat Trump in a national contest is pure fantasy.