There’s no telling if Trump will even make it to the 2020 election. Tony Schwartz — the ghostwriter of Trump’s Art of the Deal — predicts the president will resign by the end of this year. And there’s always the possibility of impeachment depending on the outcome of Robert Mueller’s investigation.
But assuming that Trump is still in office and continuing his assault on American decency, he could be stopped even before the 2020 general election.
No sitting president has received a serious challenge by his own party since Jimmy Carter held off Ted Kennedy in 1980. Four years earlier, incumbent Gerald Ford nearly lost to Ronald Reagan in the primaries.
While Ford and Carter survived inter-party war, they entered the general elections weakened. Both lost re-election and since then the prevailing notion is you don’t challenge a sitting president in a primary.
But if Trump runs again he will almost certainly receive Republican challengers. John Kasich, a leading contender, said on Sunday that Republicans are all rooting for Trump to “get it together.” But Kasich is no fool. He knows that will not happen. Trump is his own worst enemy and he’s only going to continue damaging the American psyche. Expect several mainstream Republicans to enter the race. The primaries might seem like a lifetime away but debates will begin two years from now.
Perhaps Republican voters will come to their senses and choose a candidate who at least seems mentally capable of leading the country. Democrats could ensure that happens if enough of them vote in the Republican primary. In closed or semi-closed primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania that means changing their party registration from Democrat to Republican after the 2018 midterm elections.
If enough Democrats made the one-time switch for the primary — and they were unified behind the least offensive Republican candidate — they could pack enough punch to knock Trump out before the general election. While an inspiring Democrat would be a strong favorite against Trump anyway, Democrats shouldn’t assume that Trump is unelectable if he makes it to the general election.
There are a few caveats to this plan. A slew of Democrats from various wings of the party will likely run in their own primaries. So voters who switch to Republican will have no say in the Democratic nominee. That’s a personal decision many Democrats would have to make: is the likelihood of ending Trump’s campaign before he even hits the general election worth letting others choose the Democratic nominee? The Democratic Party would fight this strategy, fearful that some wouldn’t bother registering back to Democrat after the election.
There’s also the strong possibility that Trump would still run as an independent if he loses the Republican nomination. But that scenario could benefit Democrats. Trump would syphon more votes away from the GOP nominee almost assuring that the Democratic nominee wins the popular vote. But if none of the three candidates were to receive at least 270 electoral votes, the House of Representatives would choose the president. That would still knock Trump out of the running. In that scenario, the next president would come down to which party controls the House after the 2018 midterms. Either way, it wouldn’t be Trump.
The third caveat Democrats will have to ponder is whether their strategy could ultimately end with a non-Trump Republican president — and if that’s the case is it better or worse for the country?
In terms of policy, the Republicans are accomplishing nothing with Trump at the helm. They can’t get on the same page and he’s been an utter disaster. It’s possible that from a policy perspective a Republican “party man” could do more damage than Trump. The flip side to that is Trump is crushing the country’s moral fiber. He’s pandering to white supremacists. For the good of the country, anything is better than Trump.
It’s a lot to digest but at the end of the day Democrats can realistically control Trump’s future.