East primary season gives Trump an edge

Staff Columnist

Capitol Journal, By Gerald F. Seib “As election season approaches, the president has no strong GOP rivals.”

“Heading into re-election season President Trump holds one particularly powerful political advantage. It isn’t exactly hidden, but it isn’t discussed much either.

It is simply this: He is an incumbent president who apparently won’t face  a significant challenge from within his own party.

How important is that?  History tells the tale.  Simply being the incumbent in a presidential campaign is in itself an enormous advantage. Since 1990, a sitting president has run 20 times.  Fifteen times the incumbent has won.

Being an incumbent with no serious intra-party rival vastly improves that incumbency advantage.  Four of the five incumbent presidents who lost their races in that time span had to beat back a big internal challenge.  The last three incumbents who failed in their re-election efforts each faced significant primary opponents.  Gerald Ford was challenged by Ronald Reagan in 1976.  Jimmy Carter by Ted Kennedy in 1980 and George H.W. Bush by Pat Buchanan in 1992.  Each of those challenges diverted precious re-election resources and undermined party unity.  There is no sign that Mr. Trump will face such a problem.

There are Republicans who could make a serious run, but they apparently won’t do so.  Two in particular — Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and former Ohio Governor  John Kasich — both considered the possibility, but are taking a pass.  Other Trump critics from within  the GOP who could be serious opponents — former Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona Bob Corker of Tennessee, for example — have made no moves in that direction. The door isn’t closed just yet.

But with Mr. Trump’s job approval among Republicans running in the 90% range, the incentive for others to jump in simply isn’t very great.

Considering how divisive Mr. Trump was within his own party just four years ago, this situation represents a remarkable turnaround.  It’s not an accident though.  The Trump political machine began preparing for re-election virtually from the moment the president was inaugurated, so it has left no open paths for other Republicans.  In addition,  Mr. Trump himself has been brutal in attacking  Republicans who criticize him, making it clear that taking him on would be a painful exercise.

Meantime, on the other side of the political battlefield stands a crowded field of Democrats, who spent a lot more time beating up on each other than going after the president in their first two rounds of debates.

The president may enjoy another tactical advantage.  There’s a good chance that a significant independent or third-party presidential candidate will emerge, a development that would likely only split the anti-Trump vote and siphon support away from the president’s eventual Democratic challenger.

Third-party candidates Gary Johnson, a libertarian, and Jill Stein, of the Green Party, siphoned off almost six million votes and wounded Democrat Hillary Clinton far more in the 2016 election than is commonly recognized. A repeat of that exercise would only add to the tactical advantage Mr. Trump already enjoys.“


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