South Carolina GOP considers canceling presidential primary rather than risk letting someone run against Trump
On Wednesday, the Washington Examiner reported that Republicans in South Carolina are toying with the idea of simply canceling their 2020 presidential primary altogether, effectively slamming the door on anyone thinking of challenging President Donald Trump from the GOP side:
Drew McKissick, chairman of the South Carolina GOP, said he doesn't anticipate Trump would face a primary challenge and emphasized that the state party executive committee hasn't held any formal discussions about the contest, dubbed "first in the South" and usually third on the presidential nominating calendar. But McKissick would pointedly not rule out canceling the primary, indicating that that would be his preference.
"We have complete autonomy and flexibility in either direction," McKissick told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday. "Considering the fact that the entire party supports the president, we'll end up doing what's in the president's best interest."
Rumors of a primary challenge to Trump from another Republican have circulated for months. Two frequently mentioned names are Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), who are both leaving office at the end of the year and who have never had great relationships with the president. Neither, however, have actually said they plan to do any such thing.
Any candidate trying to oust Trump in the presidential primaries would almost certainly be doomed to fail, as Trump maintains high ratings among Republicans. On the other hand, when an incumbent president attracts a significant primary challenger, that is itself a danger sign for the general election.
President George H. W. Bush faced a challenge from the right in 1992 from Pat Buchanan. Iowa Republicans responded by refusing to hold a straw ballot during their caucus, thus preventing Buchanan from having any numbers tabulated on how much of the vote he had pulled from Bush. The president went on to lose the three-way general election to Bill Clinton in a landslide.
Republicans also canceled several presidential primaries in 2004, including in Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, New York, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah. However, in that case, incumbent President George W. Bush went on to win reelection.
Trump is unlikely to have to worry about being dumped by in his party. He should, however, be worried that after two more years of this presidency, and a potential economic slowdown, GOP voters could be losing their enthusiasm. A primary challenge is one of many things that could result from that.
But should that scenario arise, canceling the primary would not solve the problem for Trump. It would just sweep it under the rug until November 2020.