Thomas Knapp: New Hampshire: Once More Unto the Breach

With nearly two years to go before the 2020 presidential primaries kick off, the vultures are already circling New Hampshire.

The Washington Post’s John Wagner reports on recent or coming visits to the state by U.S. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, 2016 also-ran John Kasich, and former U.S. senator/anti-Trump gadfly Jeff Flake (R-Arizona).

Republicans considering a 2020 primary challenge to Trump’s re-election have a tough row to hoe. A February poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire gives Trump 60 percent support among GOP primary voters. But, as Flake points out, “things can unravel pretty fast” if the party suffers big losses in this November’s midterm congressional elections and the perceived blame for that falls squarely on Trump himself.

Democrats didn’t wait nearly as long to start hammering the Granite state. Nearly a year ago, former vice-president Joe Biden visited the state for a party fundraiser, announced “guys, I’m not running,” then launched into his first 2020 stump speech, an hour of “the vision thing.”

If he does run, Biden’s a good bet for the Democratic nomination. But can he beat Trump? His party, like the anti-Trump wing of the Republicans, faces a big problem there.

It’s not just the power of incumbency, although that’s always a major factor. It’s that so far the only strong message the anti-Trumpists have really been able to coalesce around is “we don’t like Donald Trump.”

The Republican establishment is horrified that Trump whipped 16 Republican establishment opponents in the 2016 primaries, more horrified that he went on to win the general election, and downright mortified by the possibility of a second term.

The Republican base, not so much. Yes, he’s a policy train wreck as regards almost any of the party’s proclaimed values over the last half century or so, but he’s both more entertaining and more convincing than the establishment types when he slams the elites that base loves to loathe. If he knows nothing else, he knows that having the right enemies is half the ball game.

The Democratic establishment has a different problem. Their thoroughly establishment nominee lost to Trump too, and the base wants to know why their party doesn’t seem to stand for anything anymore. Instead of answers, all the party’s establishment has to offer is assignment of blame for the loss — naturally, to everyone but themselves and their candidate.

So far, it looks like those who oppose Trump for the reasons he ought to be opposed — his tariff war on American workers and consumers, his continuation and escalation of his predecessors’ foreign military adventurism, his complete insanity on budget versus debt, his anti-American immigration policies, etc. — won’t have a major party horse worth backing in 2020.

Note to Libertarian Party: Opportunity knocks.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north-central Florida.

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