Futile Dreams of Primarying Trump out of Office

A recent column by Matt Lewis in the Daily Beast takes (almost) seriously the chances of a successful primary challenge to President Trump. Lewis, the author of a book on the dumbing down of the Republican Party during 2016, is no fan of the President. He’s an admitted Never Trumper, who, like his fellow partisans of the Never-Trump stripe, still envisions himself as part of Nock’s “remnant,” holding true to Republican Party platform of 1983.

“Once considered a preposterous idea (‘It’s Trump’s party!’ ‘The takeover is complete!!’), it looks like Donald Trump will face a primary challenge,” Lewis begins his exposition. Just as wishful thinking usually has some element of truth to it, the dreamy Lewis is right about one thing: Trump does have a primary challenge. Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld has launched a Republican challenge to the President. Political talk shows may be taking Weld’s bid semi-seriously, but let’s just put it to bed right now: a former blue-state governor who endorsed both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is campaigning for publicity, not caucus wins.

Weld is not the hero Lewis is looking for. And he knows that. He’s not looking for a “savior to rise from these streets” but rather a constellation of factors that would somehow tilt the field just enough to provide an opening for a Reaganite insurgent to seriously challenge Trump.

But first, what evidence does Lewis cite to back up his claim that an intraparty Trump challenge is no longer “preposterous”? In all-too-typical Washington fashion, Lewis calls on a potpourri of failed prognosticators. Alumni of the defunct Weekly Standard like Bill Kristol and Jonathan Last believe a GOP challenge is already baked into the primary crust. Jonah Goldberg thinks there’s “ample demand” for an upstart Republican to challenge the President for the Party’s mantle.

Oh, pray tell, Mr. Goldberg! Within which fish or flesh does this enjoining dwell? It’s hard to say, other than in the imaginations of Loudoun and Fairfax County denizens. Or, in the invidious pages The Bulwark.

Outside of those sparsely populated areas of right-wing dissent, the President is doing just fine. Trump commands a near 90% approval rating from Republicans writ large. Even his emergency declaration over the border wall -- an unprecedented move according to anyone who skipped their middle-school lesson on the Louisiana Purchase   -- is backed by 85% of the GOP voters. The only conservatives wringing their hands over the decree are Evan McMullin supporters.

If Lewis thinks the laid-off high-school grad who finally got another manufacturing job gives a toss about the dubious constitutionality of the U.S. President using powers delegated to him by Congress securing the border, he may need to trade in his Buckley Legacy Conservative Cruise tickets for bus fare to Grand Rapids.

Despite the dearth of evidence that Trump faces any kind of resistance within his own party, Lewis sketches out his moonshot scenario where the President is knocked from his horse and a new conservative champion takes the reins. It may be best to wear a heaume and chainmail while envisioning this “larping” fantasy.

“First, and this is key, somebody actually has to get in,” Lewis says, stating the painfully obvious. His choice is respectable Republican governor Larry Hogan of Maryland. Popular in a deep-blue state, Hogan can, as Lewis muddily reasons, “soften” up Trump by picking off Mid-Atlantic suburbanites who voted for the guy on the “Access Hollywood” tape but who think his tariffs on soybeans are a bridge too far.

Larry Hogan (photo credit: Maryland GovPics)

Then, Lewis writes, “something magical happens.” No, seriously, Lewis counts on a deus ex machina, either in the form of a big Mueller nab or a severe “economic downturn” to really turn the heat up on Trump. But cataclysm alone does not defeat him; no, even more is required. Trump needs not one primary challenger but two: a real immigration hardliner. Lewis names Ann Coulter, who, to be fair, has been vocal about the President’s failings at making a dent in illegal immigration.

With two primary challengers flanking him, and a recession to boot, only then can Lewis’s true white knight appear. And he chooses -- predictable paradiddle please -- Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina Governor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Why Nikki Haley? Lewis neglects to explain why she, or anyone else, could be the baster to stitch together the rent fabric of the GOP coalition. Then again, he doesn’t have to: his fantasy appeals to the kind of sniffy Republicans who sneer at Trump’s social media habits at dinner parties.

In the inner ring of establishment Republicans, deeper explanation of why President Trump should face a primary opponent is unnecessary. He simply should, for no other reason than he isn’t a respected member of the Acela-corridor class. For a certain sect of media-friendly Republicans, preferred candidates need nothing other than to command respectability in the Georgetown cocktail circuit; better yet if they check a few boxes on the affirmative-action checklist, if only to ward off charges of racism.

Lewis exemplifies this cherished tradition, with his long-time, relentless backing of Marco Rubio. The Florida senator, Lewis averred in 2015, was a shoo-in to be president for no other reason than he spoke Spanish well. “I think Rubio has the charisma, sort of freshness...he’s Hispanic, he speaks fluent Spanish. That’s not nothing,” he told TV host Bill Maher, trying to explain why Rubio was set to wipe the floor with Hillary, coming off as the C-level pitch man at a cheap consultant agency.

Oh, surely, the fine people of Lordstown, Ohio, can be comforted by the thought of having bilingual chief executive as General Motors cuts their jobs. Perhaps these put-upon toilers can feel a warm sense of irony knowing their livelihoods will now be transferred to people who speak the same language as their president!

Trump took the Republican establishment by surprise because the latter wades only in the shallow pools of politics. It never addresses the deep-seated issues that actually animate voters. Trump tapped into the vast reservoir of angry alienation felt in many neglected pockets of America.

Lewis and his ilk would be happy to toss Trump in the Potomac and return the GOP to the party of elite cloying Bushism. So, they do what other captives do in their situation: think up alternatives to the current reality.

But they know as well as anyone else their schemes will never be instantiated. All of Trump’s potential primary challengers won’t amount to a hill of beans.

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