Dennis Myers: Trump’s GOP rivals are still in the field

As the undiminished activism of the women’s marches last week showed, Donald Trump is unable or unwilling to unite the country behind him.

What is equally clear is that he has been unable or unwilling to heal the Republican Party, which remains split on the notion of Trump as the party’s leader to such an extent that it is all but certain that he faces a primary challenge in 2020.

I spoke with a number of Republicans who marched against him, and they said their hostility has not diminished in 365 days. If anything, they are more embarrassed than ever and more opposed to GOP leaders who have made their peace with Trump.

The Republicans most often mentioned as challengers to Trump are Ted Cruz, Jeff Flake, John Kasich, Ben Sasse, and Scott Walker:

Cruz: If there is a candidate who is Trump’s equal, it would be Cruz, whose unpopularity in opinion surveys is equally low. In the 2016 Nevada caucuses Cruz came in third with 21.30 percent, but his image has suffered since then.

Flake: There is a theory that it has become difficult in this century to run for president while also holding public office. Flake, in his Oct. 24 remarks denouncing Trump, also announced he would retire from the Senate.

Kasich: Kasich has never really stopped running against Trump. I still get his news releases. They kept coming after he ended his 2016 presidential campaign, after Trump was appointed president, after Trump was sworn in. In 2016, Kasich came in fifth in the Nevada caucuses with 3.59 percent of the vote.

Sasse: The Nebraska Republican is little known, but he commands respect for being a conservative who nevertheless believes principle comes first: “Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation.”

Walker: His scathing rhetoric and practice of pitting people against each other makes him so similar to Trump that it’s hard to see how he could carve out distinctive appeal.

Trump himself came in first in the 2016 Nevada caucuses with 45.75 percent and won 14 delegates. It will be interesting to see what the advantages of incumbency on one hand and the wear and tear of incumbency will do to his appeal.

In 1960 when Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller reached an accommodation on the policy differences they had and wanted them written into the GOP platform, Barry Goldwater made a ringing speech about Republicans should not “tailor our entire platform and adjust our historic principles” just because it makes life easier for party leaders. The speech inspired Republicans for decades afterward.

In 2018, GOP leaders have adjusted themselves to Trump, but there is a substantial vein of the Republican Party that has not.

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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