The notorious politician Edwin Edwards, of Louisiana infamy, once said the only way he could be defeated would be if he was found "in bed with a dead girl or a live boy." Edwards was truly entertaining to watch, the last of a dying breed, as he careened from one scandal to another in Pelican State politics. Watching Edwards was a fulltime and fun-filled tour of duty for the ink stained wretches of Louisiana.
During one of the many, many grand jury investigations into his ongoing shenanigans, he said of the unlawful contributions, "It was illegal for them to give, not for me to receive."
He once won election over the racist David Duke with the slogan, “Vote for the Crook. It’s important.” Of running against the KKK member Duke, Edwards quipped, “I’m something of a wizard under the sheets myself.”
Edwards was a human cracking wise machine, once dismissing an opponent as being so slow, “It takes him an hour and a half just to watch 60 Minutes.” No one in our blow-dried, consultant-drenched political environment comes close to Edwards’ rapier-like and often devastating wit.
Of Edwards' invulnerability in Democratic primaries in Louisiana, the same can be said of Donald Trump and any GOP primary challenger for 2020, the pleadings of Jeb Bush notwithstanding.
The last primary challenge to a sitting incumbent Republican president; George H.W. Bush, was polemicist Pat Buchanan, who during his brief, middling campaign called for the imprisonment of the homeless. Bush, as weak as he was in 1992, easily waxed Buchanan. However, Buchanan may have weakened Bush for the fall run against Arkansas governor Bill Clinton although 1992 was an anomaly in campaign history, especially with the presence of Ross Perot running as an independent.
A better example is the revolutionary challenge by former California governor Ronald Reagan of the incumbent (though unelected) Gerald Ford in 1976. Reagan came astonishing close, losing by just a handful of delegates to Ford at the Kansas City convention.
However, both Reagan and Ford gained from the rough and tumble primaries. Reagan became a better candidate, more ready for the presidency in 1980. As for Ford, Dick Cheney, then-Ford's chief of staff once told me, Reagan's challenge got Ford into fighting trim for the general election against former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter. The election was astonishing close. Had Ford won Ohio, Hawaii, and Mississippi (which were all very, very close) he would have won a term of office in his own right.
Having said all this, Trump should welcome a 2020 primary challenge. His aides should not be trying to tamp down a challenger. All that telegraphs is weakness. He needs a good sparring partner to sharpen his message.
All things being equal, Trump will win re-nomination while chalking up new primary victories (good for momentum) while getting himself and his campaign into fighting shape, which they will need for a presumably bruising fall campaign against a well-organized Democratic nominee.
Also, there is no Ronald Reagan on the horizon. In 1976, Reagan had been on the national scene for years and was the most popular conservative in America. He had a signature issue (the Panama Canal Treaties) on which to make his case against Ford, who had astonishing turned left while in the presidency while also pursuing the disastrous policies of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, including keeping the bete noir of conservatives, Henry Kissinger, as Secretary of State.
Still, this should not dissuade those GOP operatives from finding a challenger to Trump. Things happen in politics. Things can change. Lightning can strike. (Just as Donald Trump.) Robert Mueller's investigation can irreparably damage Trump — though I doubt it just as I doubt Trump will be found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.
Whether Trump wins or loses in the fall of 2020, the GOP primary challenger they run will be better for having done so, getting them in better shape for 2024.
They may not praise Trump, but neither will they bury him.
Politics is not always a zero-sum game.
Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer. His Books include, "Reagan Rising: the Decisvie Years," and "Reagan's Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan." He is the founder of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, and has been named the first Reagan scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater. He appears regularly on Newsmax TV, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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