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Jennifer Horn: The 2020 presidential primary is already off and running

July 10. 2018 8:14PM

The midterm elections are not yet behind us, yet there is already a growing interest in the 2020 primaries. Here in New Hampshire, proud home to the first-in-the-nation primary, we are trained to recognize the early signs of presidential aspirations.

As the party out of power, expect to see a presidential-palooza of potential Democratic candidates helping New Hampshire Dems this year. Their wide-open presidential race is shaping up to be a battle for the heart of the Democrat party. Will they stay the course with another establishment Clinton-type, or will they dance down the progressive path toward the democratic-socialist nirvana promised by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren?

I expect the Democratic field will be crowded, but what is even more interesting is what might be shaping up on the Republican side of the ballot. Incumbents generally run unopposed by any serious challenger from within his party, but Donald Trump is anything but typical.

While expectations may be one thing, historically, a credible primary for an incumbent President is hardly unheard of. Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, noted the difficulty of such an effort. “Sitting Presidents have faced serious primary challenges, including LBJ, Carter, Bush 41, and the results have been the same — both the President and the challenger watch the other party win the election.”

History is not necessarily destined to be repeated, and the President himself, both by his words and his actions, has invited a primary.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse has been a clear and consistent voice of conservative morality, has spoken out against the folly of the President’s policies on tariffs, and called his trade wars “dumb.” When the President announced tariffs on steel imports, Sasse called them a “massive tax increase on American families” and suggested it was a “leftist” policy, not one you would expect from a Republican administration. He is releasing a book later this year about healing a divided nation, and has launched a political non-profit. While hardly an announcement that he’s running for President, (Sasse’s staff insist such talk is just “D.C. chatter”) they are signs that he might be thinking about it.

Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake is even more overt in his considerations. He has acknowledged that there are circumstances under which he would run for President. This spring, Flake spoke at the NHIOP’s “Politics & Eggs” series, a distinguished must-do for all presidential candidates. According to those in attendance, he was extremely well-received, including a rousing standing ovation.

Flake is taking an enormous risk as he attempts to use his place on the Senate Judiciary Committee to stand up to the President. Flake wants to place a “hold” on Trump’s appellate court nominees as leverage against the President’s trade policy.

It could get dicey for Flake. The one issue on which there is near-unanimous agreement among the GOP is that appointing conservative judges is the greatest value to having a Republican in the White House. It is hard to see how creating roadblocks to those judicial appointments is a smart 2020 strategy.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran in 2016, has also been vocal in holding President Trump accountable. Kasich recently accepted an invitation to headline the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications First Amendment program in November. This will put Kasich in the first-in-the-nation spotlight just after the midterms.

For the next four months, the attention of the political press will be firmly on the midterm elections and their potential impact on the second half of President Trump’s term. But those of us here in New Hampshire know that the 2020 presidential primary is already underway.

Nashua’s Jennifer Horn is the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party and is active in political and civic affairs.

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