From the moment Donald Trump stepped onto the escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for president of the United States, there have been people in the Republican party who have sought to bring him down.
During the 2016 GOP primary, Republican national security officials wrote scathing and embarrassing open letters against him. Conventional Republican strategists and commentators like Karl Rove, Bill Kristol and Spectator USA’s own Rick Wilson blasted him as an incompetent, indecent, moron who shouldn’t be ten miles from the Oval Office. Trump’s primary opponents even tried to scuttle his nomination at the convention, an attempt that fizzled out before it really began.
Three years later, these Never Trumpers are at it again. Bill Kristol, the former editor of the now shuttered Weekly Standard, has been texting with ex-Trump communications adviser-turned-Trump-foe Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci in an early plot to dump Trump at the top of the ticket.
Committed anti-Trump conservatives like Wilson and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough are using their status as talking heads to pound the president every day on the airwaves. Ex-GOP office holders, from David Jolly and John Kasich to Carlos Curbelo, have been sniping at him as “childish” and unfit for the office. Joe Walsh, a former congressman from Illinois, all but begged in the New York Times for someone in the GOP to challenge Trump for the 2020 nomination: “We need someone who could stand up, look the president in the eye and say: “Enough, sir.”
Pushing for a primary challenge to an incumbent president is not as crazy as you might think. It has been done before. Gerald Ford had to fend off Ronald Reagan in the 1976 GOP primary. Unpopular president Jimmy Carter faced off against Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy in 1980. Pat Buchanan gave George H.W. Bush a run for his money in 1992. The fact that none of these challenges succeeded doesn’t mean they weren’t tried.
A challenge to Trump, however, would be downright stupid. It’s not that a primary fight would be illegitimate on the merits (there are many reasons for a Republican to take issue with this president). It’s not even because it’s necessarily unhealthy for the Republican party; if conducted right, internal debates can force a party to wrestle with its inner demons in preparation for the general election. But in the case of Trump, the entire endeavour would be wasted energy all but preprogrammed to fail.
Whether his dissenters acknowledge or not, the GOP is Trump’s party. He has turned the Republican National Committee into his personal plaything. People who were once raging against him, like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and yes, Mike Pompeo, are now bowing at the altar of Trump and defending his every move. Many in the GOP have issues with his love for tariffs and his lack of morality, but they shut their mouths for fear of being challenged by a Trump loyalist. Just ask Mark Sanford, who tried to stand up to the president only to be punished with a primary loss to a Trump surrogate.
The GOP, the party that once stood for free trade, comprehensive immigration reform, fiscal conservatism, neoconservativism and individualism is now a party supporting extreme immigration restrictions and nonchalantly dismissing trillion-dollar deficits.
Dedication to Donald Trump professionally and personally is now the barometer of what it means to be a good Republican in today’s GOP. And if you happen to be one of those lawmakers who aren’t sufficiently devoted, you are at risk of getting fired by the base in the next election cycle.
There are some who don’t want to accept this. Bill Kristol is one of them, a man who out of firm conviction believes Trumpism is the death of the Republican party he used to love. But from the outside, it all looks a bit sad and desperate, like a 45-year old man trying to relive his youth.