A growing number of state Republican committees are cancelling presidential primaries, citing cost-saving and suggesting that it helps President Trump.
They also claim that it’s also been done before.
In my view, such decisions are a mistake and could actually hurt President Trump’s re-election chances in 2020.
State GOP committees serving Kansas, South Carolina, Nevada, and Arizona announced recently that they’re cancelling presidential primaries next year. Other states may follow.
For example, South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick released a statement saying, “With no legitimate primary challenger and President Trump’s record of results, the decision was made to save South Carolina taxpayers over $1.2 million and forgo an unnecessary primary.”
Let me state for the record that I support Donald Trump’s re-election in 2020. Strongly.
I also believe the several announced GOP candidates are gadflies and will be crushed by the President’s popularity in any primary election.
Trump’s record-high approval ratings among Republicans are for good reasons. He’s overseen the strongest economy in decades with historic low unemployment and massive deregulation. He’s passed a slew of reform legislation that has impacted criminal justice, veterans, and our tax code.
Nevertheless, there are many good reasons to keep Republican Party primaries.
First, there is the issue of democracy.
Traditionally, the Republican Party has allowed all sides to air their voices and grievances through primaries.
Such a system has worked well for both parties for a long time.
Had we not had such a vibrant primary system, it is doubtful Ronald Reagan would have become president. His 1976 challenge against President Gerald Ford failed, but put the former California Governor on the national political map.
The very reason primaries developed was to end the backroom dealing of the political bosses and cronyism of insiders. Does the GOP really want to go back to that?
Would Trump himself been nominated in 2016 under such a process being contemplated this election?
Second, the states’ claim that they’re aiding in the president’s re-election is misplaced. I think they actually hurt President Trump’s re-election.
We should think of the primaries as a “dry run” or “war game” exercise for the general presidential election.
In the 2020 election the Trump campaign goes into key battleground states handicapped — most swing states don’t have incumbent Republican Senators running for re-election.
The Trump 2016 campaign benefited greatly from Republican incumbents running for re-election in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida. None of these states have GOP incumbents running in 2020.
Also, Trump won’t have the benefit of the Koch network money. In 2016, the Kochs pushed literally hundreds of millions into these swing states to help GOP Senators build statewide organizations to win.
There is no doubt the Trump campaign was aided by the Koch “lift.”
Without this tailwind in 2020, the President’s election team will need to build their own organizations in many battleground states.
Primary races, against even weak challengers, will force the President’s team to build and test both their national and state organizations early.
A third reason arguing against cancelling primaries is that nature abhors a vacuum.
When a party doesn’t hold a state primary, it creates an opportunity for a third party to come in and offer angry voters a way to opt-out.
Historically, party voters may vent against candidates during a primary but then return to strongly back them in the general.
Take Trump’s very own contentious battle for the GOP nomination in 2016. After defeating 15 rivals, he went on to lead an extremely united party to victory that November.
In 2016 we saw this phenomena in state after state. Take, for example, Ohio. In 2016, candidate Trump lost the state to Republican John Kasich during a heated primary.
Still, Ohio became rock solid for Trump. Despite losing the primary he went on to win Ohio in the November election by almost as big as his margin in Red State Texas.
Finally, there is another good reason to avoid cancelling primaries. President Trump is often — and wrongly accused — of stifling dissent.
Just four months after being inaugurated, Newsweek columnist Robert Reich argued that the president was a “dictator.” Today, others join that chorus on nearly a daily basis. Just tune into CNN and MSNBC.
I don’t believe Donald Trump has dictatorial inclinations. While he views Presidential powers as broad and expansive, he has not violated his Constitutional limitations.
Still, if Republican Party leaders eliminate part of the election process — one that makes our party democratic — it will create a bad impression with not only independent voters but on-the-fence GOP voters.
I believe a very small number of voters will vote against Trump in primaries, but these same voters could very well vote for him in the general election — especially once the Democrats pick their candidate.
If these same voters feel they were disenfranchised by a cancelled primary, they could well be lost as a Trump voter in the general election.
The 2016 election proved that the GOP primary was good for both Trump and the country. Tinkering with a fair election process this time may not be so smart.
Michael Dorstewitz contributed to this report.
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