By Natalie Sherman
At a morning session, Michael Steele – the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and MSNBC political analyst – spoke about the state of the Republican Party. When asked about the 2020 election season, Steele asked, “What kind of country do you want? And what kind of people do you want to run that country?” This introspective question holds not only what we want our country to become, but also who we think can best do it. It is important to recognize that he did not ask, “Which party do you want to run this country?” because a singular party can hold such a wide variety of candidates. It is not the political party that matters; it is the candidate.
Aside from Steele, we have heard from many Republicans over the past week. And while each speaker may identify themselves with the Republican Party, their viewpoints were far more diverse. This morning we also heard from Sean Spicer – the White House Press Secretary in 2017 for the Trump administration. Spicer was a different kind of Republican than Steele. Steele even went on to say that he was a Constitutionalist, a different facet of the Republican Party. But it isn’t just Spicer – we heard from Bill Kristol, who considers himself to be a Never-Trump Republican. The point is, our two-party system often overshadows the large ideological diversity of opinion within each party. This can range from conservative to moderate to liberal, and everywhere in between. Political opinion should be viewed as a spectrum that is not merely red or blue. So, when we look toward 2020, the focus should not merely be which party voters want or which party you support, but which individual candidate.
A reading assignment from FiveThirtyEight, titled “The Republican Party has Changed Dramatically Since George H.W. Bush Ran It,” explains that the GOP used to be a more moderate party. The article references a General Social Survey that visualizes that self-identified Republicans are moving much more toward the “extremely conservative” end of the scale, as opposed to the “extremely liberal” side. George H.W. Bush even signed a tax increase as a way to reduce the federal budget deficit, a move that angered the party’s conservative base and has not been replicated by the two Republican presidents to follow (W. Bush and Trump). The article goes on to explain that the GOP has become more out of touch, growing disproportionately old – according to the Pew Research Center, in 2016 approximately 58% of registered voters identifying as Republicans were 50 years or older. Point being, the Republican Party is changing – so shouldn’t those elected change, too? Typically speaking, a candidate with no prior political background or experience would not likely go on to win the presidential election – but President Trump did. However, the president is one prong to a large party.
A new faction of the Republican Party has formed – the “Never-Trump” faction. According to an article from FiveThirtyEight, “The End of a Republican Party,” the Never-Trump supporters are conservative purists who do not consider Trump to be a real conservative. On the other hand, there are Republicans who feel as though Trump is damaging the brand of the Republican Party by not appealing to minority voters due to his offensive rhetoric. The Democratic Party is not the only coalition of voters who don’t support Trump – a sizeable number of identified Republicans do not either.
So if not Trump, then who? And what qualities would they need to have to differentiate themselves as the better candidate? Several Republican candidates have been reported to have expressed an interest in running against Donald Trump in the primaries, including John Kasich, Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney, and several others. Here is a list of potential Republican candidates in 2020, the difference between them and Trump, and the likelihood of them running or winning:
John Kasich is a two-term governor of Ohio, a former congressman, and 2016 GOP presidential candidate. Kasich was the last to concede the Republican nomination to Trump and refused to endorse his party’s nominee. Kasich has a reputation as a socially conservative moderate and is one of few GOP governors who embraced Obama’s expansion of Medicaid. This standing differentiates him from Trump, both in his support of Obama’s Medicaid plan and in his political ideology. But, according to Kasich, he does not believe that he could beat Trump in the current political climate, saying, “I don’t get into things that I don’t think I can win.”
Jeff Flake is a former senator and representative from Arizona and a traditional conservative. He is one of the most critical Republicans of Trump. But – like Kasich – Flake has said that he does not think he is the conservative candidate to challenge Trump in 2020. However, he did say, “I’ve said along that somebody needs to run on the Republican side, if nothing else, to remind Republicans what it means to be conservative.…”
Although other big names such as Mitt Romney, Bill Kristol, Ted Cruz, or Bob Corker (among others) should not be ruled out yet, either, although no Republican candidate has officially announced a 2020 campaign. Michael Steele has even gone on-record proposing the idea that Trump may not even run in 2020 since he does not seem to enjoy holding the office of the President. Running opposite these Republican candidates will surely be many Democratic candidates, with multiple Democrats already announcing their campaign – and the number is growing every day. But parties aside, we must ask ourselves, “What kind of country do you want? And what kind of people do you want to run that country?” Not which party, not even conservative or moderate or liberal. We must always ask ourselves what the best version of our country could look like, and who can get us there.