2020 Republican Nominees: The Top 10 Rated

If you thought Donald Trump was certain to be the 2020 Republican Nominee, it may be time to think again.

Last week, Bill Weld became the first to throw down a challenge, slamming the president as ‘too unstable to carry out the duties of the highest executive office’.

Few regard Weld himself as a serious threat but it may open the floodgates. Plenty have called for a challenger and several have flirted with the idea.

Here are my ratings:


1: Donald Trump

Naturally, the incumbent is hot favourite at 1.37. His campaign is underway already, donations are coming in and the party machine has been subordinated. The RNC immediately affirmed their support for the president and rubbished Weld’s bid.

No surprise there. On the other side of a bitter divide, prominent neoconservative Bill Kristol is prepared to put his money where his mouth is.

Kristol, in truth, has lost touch with the party faithful. He was a leading ‘NeverTrump’ proponent in 2016 and has relentlessly criticised him in office. Trump’s approval among Republican voters remains in the high eighties – as one would expect – but polls also show anywhere between a fifth and a third want him to face a primary challenge.

As 2020 nears, that figure may rise in fear of defeat. At $3.15, Trump’s re-election odds are much bigger than any predecessor was at this stage – at least since Betfair was created. His negative approvals remain entrenched and, during the shutdown chaos, dipped to new lows. 57% say they will definitely vote against him in 2020.

More pertinently, the Republicans upon whom Trump depends are slowly distancing themselves – whether over the wall, tariffs, trade wars, Russia or Saudi Arabia. Donors are walking away. I remain confident of longstanding predictions that, even if surviving Mueller and deep congressional investigations, Trump won’t be the candidate.


2: Nikki Haley

Second favourite, and rightly so, is the former UN Ambassador and Governor of South Carolina. She will surely run for the White House one day but, when resigning from the former post, she had no interest in 2020.

If anything happens to Trump, expect an instant clamor for Haley to run. She will be the star guest at an important dinner of key donors this month – ostensibly with a view to help 2020 congressional candidates. Suburban women are abandoning the Republicans en masse during the Trump era. Haley might win them back.

Would she challenge Trump? Despite serving him at the UN, Haley was a critic during 2016 when her endorsement was keenly sought. Indeed, she backed the NeverTrump plan and two alternatives. However, picking a fight with Trump has no upsides for a 47 year-old already perfectly positioned for 2024.


3: Ben Sasse

At a big price for the nomination and an even bigger price for the presidency, Sasse is the best bet. At 46, he has little or no political baggage and is more independent than most Republicans. He has every incentive to run, if only to raise his profile ahead of 2024, and has spurned opportunities to rule it out.

Running would of course involve criticising his president and party leader, but that hasn’t stopped him previously. Sasse vehemently slated Trump over Russia and his relationship with Vladimir Putin. As Senator for Nebraska, he enjoys free reign to criticise the tariffs hurting farmers.

Inevitably, this will alienate Trump’s hardcore base but evangelicals, who make up a large proportion of the GOP primary audience, will love the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act that Sasse is currently sponsoring.


4; John Kasich

Kasich is the name most commonly mentioned as a primary challenger. He has never supported Trump and refused to endorse him after losing the 2016 primary. He remains critical and an enemy of the White House.

Since standing down as Governor of Ohio – the essential swing state for Republicans – he has admitted running again for the White House is a possibility. Considering how far Kasich was beaten in 2016 and trails Trump in early primary polls, winning would be a huge ask. His relatively liberal positions are anathema to the base.


5: Mitt Romney

The losing presidential candidate from 2012 is back in the Senate and bound to be a prominent figure over the coming months. Whenever Republicans are under pressure to oppose Trump, Romney is the first Senator to ask.

In 2016, he tried in vain to build a tactical alliance against Trump. Nobody from the GOP was more scathing of the then candidate’s character and suitability for office. Such is his popularity in Utah, Romney is freer than colleagues to resist the party hierarchy and wealthy enough to finance his own campaign. Speculation is inevitable.


6: Bill Weld

So who is this challenger? He ran for VP on Gary Johnson’s Libertarian ticket in 2016 but, either side of that, was a registered Republican. He served as Governor of Massachusetts and worked for George W Bush.

Weld won’t win or even get close. The GOP is a different party now and this relative liberal committed the unforgivable sin of endorsing Hillary Clinton over Trump. His purpose is to make a statement of principles and draw others into the race.


7: Larry Hogan

Hogan is one of a small number of overt Trump critics to openly flirt with a run. The Governor of Maryland has an extraordinary backstory which could make him highly electable. After being elected in that liberal state – an achievement in its own right – he twice beat cancer, whilst carrying on serving in office.

That helped him defy November’s ‘Blue Wave’ and become the first Republican Governor to be re-elected in Maryland for over fifty years. The problem is that, in order to win there, Hogan has adopted numerous liberal positions that would be ruinous in a nationwide Republican campaign.


8: Marco Rubio

The GOP’s great young hope took a beating – both verbally and electorally – by crossing Trump in the 2016 primaries and has since become a loyalist. Nevertheless he is young enough to come back and were Trump to not run for whatever reason, speculation would inevitably involve the Florida Senator. He has been prepared to criticise Trump over foreign policy so that might offer an angle in.


9: Bob Corker

Corker is another whose name often features in primary speculation, due to him ridiculing Trump and their Twitter exchanges. Again, foreign policy is his expertise and principle cause of complaint. Many congressional colleagues always agreed and are increasingly prepared to speak out. The former Tennessee Senator is now a free agent and has swerved opportunities to rule out a run.


10: Ted Cruz

Finally, what of Trump’s bitter rival from 2016? ‘Lyin Ted’ is now an ally, whom the president campaigned for in Texas. Still only 48, Cruz has plenty of time to launch a comeback and he evidently believes that is best served as a loyalist to the administration. I would be amazed if he directly challenged Trump but, were he not on the ticket, I suspect he would throw his hat in again.


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