I want to see a primary challenge in 2020…

6 minute read

February 18, 2019, 2:20 PM

So with the 2018 midterm elections behind us, that means that it’s presidential season again.  This one is already shaping up to be an interesting one, with a large field of Democratic candidates, and a few possible primary challengers for Donald Trump.

As of this writing, there are eleven declared candidates on the Democratic side of things.  A big field like that should produce a good nominee.  By comparison, in 1992, the last time that the Democrats (or anyone) unseated a sitting president, there was a field of nine candidates.  At this point, I am taking a watch-and-see attitude, because I consider it to be too early to really judge it all yet.  I expect that we will see even more candidates emerge on the Democratic side before it’s over, and there is still much to happen before I really dive in and pay attention to them like I mean it.  I’m more hopeful about certain candidates than others, but again, it’s still too early.

In the meantime, I am more interested in what the Republicans are doing at this stage in the process.  As I indicated in the title, I want to see Trump fend off a primary challenge from within his own party.  I have seen lots of discussion and speculation on possible Republican candidates to primary the president, and they all seem like they have potential.  I’ve heard Utah senator Mitt Romney‘s name get thrown around as a potential primary challenger, along with former Ohio governor John Kasich, former Senator Bob Corker, and Maryland governor Larry Hogan.  In addition, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld has formed an exploratory committee, though hasn’t formally declared.  All of them seem like decent enough politicians.  They should run.

I told my mother and several friends about how I’m rooting for several Republicans to join the race, and they were all somewhat shocked to hear me say that, considering how much of a leftist I tend to be.  But fear not – my idea is far more nuanced than the statement might initially let on at face value.  I don’t want to see any of them actually become president.  In Hogan’s case, I voted for his Democratic opponent in both 2014 and 2018, and would be quite content to never hear from him again after his term as Maryland governor is up.

But I do want you to pay attention to how much damage a primary challenge can inflict on a sitting president.  Looking at presidential races following the ratification of the 22nd Amendment, which instituted term limits for the presidency and also forms a convenient demarcation for where the modern presidency starts, history shows us that sitting presidents who get a primary challenge typically don’t get reelectedLyndon Johnson got several primary challengers in 1968, which led him to drop out of the race fairly early on.  Gerald Ford got a primary challenge in 1976 by Ronald Reagan.  Ford survived the challenge, and then lost in November.  In 1976, Jimmy Carter got primaried by Ted Kennedy in 1980.  Carter survived the primary challenge, and then lost to Ronald Reagan in November.  Then in 1992, Pat Buchanan launched a primary challenge against George Bush.  Buchanan didn’t prevail, but Bush then went on to lose to Bill Clinton in the general election.  The common thread here is that if a sitting president gets a primary challenge, it’s a clear sign that he’s not going to be president beyond the end of the current term.

That’s why I’m hoping that these Republicans run.  Trump needs some dissension in the Republican ranks.  I want to see him go through a bruising primary fight.  I hope that they leave him very damaged.  History has demonstrated on multiple occasions that presidents who get primaried don’t get second terms.

However, this does not excuse the Democrats from nominating the best candidate possible.  After all, history also shows us that when you nominate a warm body whose only selling point is that they aren’t the opposition candidate, as happened in 2004 with John Kerry, and in 2016 with Hillary Clinton, the opponent wins.  Kerry was a rather boring, forgettable candidate who later went on to be a rather boring, forgettable Secretary of State.  Hillary Clinton was a “my turn” candidate who already had lots of political baggage coming into the race, which the Republicans quickly weaponized against her.  Then add to Hillary’s list of problems the way that it looked like her nomination was rammed through, plus she completely alienated the progressive wing of her party after receiving the nomination through her choice of Virginia senator Tim Kaine as running mate.  Russian interference or not, the Democrats fouled things up big time.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have another problem that they need to overcome, and that’s the way that they tend to turn on and devour their own whenever any impropriety from someone’s past is revealed.  This most recently came to light with the scandal surrounding Virginia governor Ralph Northam.

For those not familiar, right-wing media site Big League Politics published a page from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook, which included a photo on Northam’s page depicting a person wearing blackface, standing next to someone wearing Ku Klux Klan regalia.  Northam has waffled on whether or not he was actually in the photo, but by then, the damage had already been done.  Various prominent Democrats started falling all over themselves to join the crowd calling for Northam to resign his office.  Northam has thus far refused to do so, and I suspect that he will serve out the remainder of his term.  The same website then also released information about Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax regarding an alleged sexual assault.  Democrats started falling all over themselves all over again calling for Fairfax’s resignation.

For the record, I find the yearbook photos associated with Northam to be inexcusable.  They were just as wrong when they were made as they are considered today.  They’re incredibly racist and insensitive, and should never have been taken, let alone be published anywhere.  Take an example from my elementary school days.  In November 1988, the teachers in my school put on a program called “Turkey Theater” for a PTA fundraiser.  The teachers from each grade level put on their own act.  The sixth grade teachers performed “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes.  They did it in character as The Supremes, including wearing blackface in order to complete the look.  A photo of them in costume made it into the yearbook.  The use of blackface was inexcusable, and didn’t add anything to what was otherwise a very good performance.  I’ll bet that all three of those teachers would express regret for this act nowadays.

But in any case, I don’t think that Northam should resign his office for the incident.  To resign from office sends some very strong messages that I don’t believe are justified.

First, it says that people are completely defined by their past.  It says that people are incapable of growing and changing with the passage of time.  It also says that only people with a completely perfect past are allowed to run for public office.  I challenge you to find someone – anyone – that is exactly the same person that they were twenty years ago.  We all grow and change with the introduction of new ideas and experiences, after all.  Look at some of the really old stuff on Schumin Web compared to today, and you will find that I’m not the same person now that I was back then.  If nothing else, the difference in the quality of the writing should tip you off.  I also challenge you to find someone – anyone – who doesn’t have something in their past that they would rather not have to answer for in the present time.  It doesn’t even have to be something terrible.  But everyone has an “old shame” that they would rather leave in the past, which doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) define them today.  In Northam’s case, his actions since then have demonstrated that he is no longer the person who may or may not be in the photo, though I believe that his political career will still be over following the expiration of his term in 2022, as I suspect that he couldn’t even get elected dogcatcher following this recent scandal.

It also hands a big advantage to the Republicans and others who wish to see the Democrats lose.  All that they have to do in order to destroy a Democrat is to bring something unflattering to light, and then the Democrats will turn on the targeted individual and destroy them from within.  It can be easily weaponized by the right wing, and considering that the same people who outed Northam immediately then went after Fairfax, they knew exactly what they were doing.  And the Democrats play right into their hands, enabling the tactic, and also shooting themselves in the foot, because that sort of stuff weakens the party as a whole.  We saw how differently the Republicans handled things when it came to Donald Trump and his remarks about grabbing women in their nether regions.  The GOP winced for a minute, but then they moved on.  And they came out with majorities in both houses and the presidency following that election.  The Democrats might want to take note of that.  I hate suggesting that the Democrats emulate the tactics used by the Republican Party, because they’re an absolutely despicable party, but those tactics unfortunately work, so fight fire with fire.

Stuff like this is why Democrats always seem to lose.  Being the party of integrity doesn’t win elections when the other side will utilize whatever it can to get what it wants.  The Democrats play nice, and nice guys often finish last.  Though I admit that I have been quite pleased with Nancy Pelosi this time around, as she seems to have grown a spine since her last time as speaker, and is more than happy to be a thorn in Trump’s side.  We could have used this Pelosi during the Obamacare debate, but better late than never, I suppose.

So all in all, get your popcorn, because the 2020 race is shaping up to be a very interesting one.  Ultimately, I hope that it knocks Donald Trump out of the White House, but there’s a lot that still needs to happen before we get there.