Arizona Senator Jeff Flake faces a tough re-election fight in 2018, as we have previously covered here at The Jack News. Beyond next year, however, one question looms over the Republican Party: Will anti-Trump Republicans mount a primary challenge in 2020?
And, if Flake wins his re-election contest, will he be that candidate?
Normally, an incumbent president sails through his party’s primary unopposed, or not effectively opposed. The last serious primary challenge was when Sen. Ted Kennedy challenged President Jimmy Carter for the 1980 nomination. Kennedy came close but nonetheless fell short, and Carter ended up losing the general election in a landslide to Ronald Reagan.
Donald Trump is no normal incumbent. But few Republicans have been more outspoken about their dismay at the president than Jeff Flake.
Flake is the antithesis of Trumpism
Unlike most members of his party, Flake refused to vote for or endorse Trump in last year’s election, even after he had secured the GOP nomination. He recently released a book, Conscience of a Conservative, which summons the spirit of fellow Arizonan Senator Barry Goldwater to harshly condemn Trump and the broader turn towards protectionism, nativism, and populism that he represents.
Flake’s striving to distance himself from Trump could be just intended to help him win re-election in a state generally averse to Trumpism. But taking on his own party’s president is still an unusual move – unless there is a good political reason to do so. Hence it is natural to speculate that Flake himself has his eyes on a Republican primary challenge in 2020.
Of course, this might be a moot point if Trump has either resigned or been impeached by 2020. Even if not, might Trump eventually decide not to run for reelection? If Trump does seek a second term, he’ll have to contend with approval ratings that have been falling. They average in the mid-30s percent range, part of a consistent and gradual decline. If that continues to drop and stay at a low point, it’s possible that Trump will no longer enjoy the support of enough Republicans to be renominated.
Flake is well-situation to oppose all things Trumpish.
While the president talks of building a wall, Flake has been a long-time advocate of comprehensive immigration reform. While the administration pushes protectionism and trade wars, Flake is an unapologetic free-trader.
As Trump leads the charge on behalf of know-nothing populism, Flake warns against the dangers of embracing anti-intellectualism as a governing philosophy. Trump is notoriously incapable of absorbing policy details, while Flake has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of such matters.
And there could be other primary challengers to Trump. Other Republican names being discussed include Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Possibly, the anti-Trump wing of the party will unite behind a single candidate? If successful, they will have denied an incumbent of a renomination. Which is historically unlikely and has not happened in more than a century.
(Photo of Jeff Flake as he walks to a Senate joint caucus meeting in July 2013, by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)