On Whether the President Will Face a Nomination Contest

The Story:

It is rare that an incumbent President running for reelection faces any substantial opposition within his own Party. In the cycle now getting started, though, people around President Donald Trump are said to be concerned that there will be a serious challenger for the Republican nomination.

Political Lieutenants:

The New York Times reported this weekend that the President and some of his “political lieutenants” are concerned that discontent within the Republican Party is at such a level that Trump may not receive an uncontested renomination.

Polling indicates that there are many rank-and-file Republicans who would welcome a challenge. The percentage of respondents in an NPR-PBS-Marist poll who said that they would “like to see” a challenger was 44%.

Of course this doesn’t mean there is any single challenger who would get the support of that 44%. The respondents are unlikely to agree among themselves who the best challenger would be, and some of them might simply mean that they would “like to see” a challenge so that Trump could defeat it, possibly becoming better prepared for the inter-party context in the fall of 2020 as a result.

The Thing to Know:

The only time in US history that an incumbent challenger actually defeated a sitting President for nomination was 1856, when James Buchanan pushed aside President Franklin Pierce for the Democratic Party’s nod. That was largely a result of the sectional bitterness that would lead to a wave of secessions from the union four years later, and nobody really expects a repeat.

Somewhat more recently (during the Vietnam War era) an intra-party challenge persuaded President Lyndon Baines Johnson to close down his own re-election effort. But even in that case, Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, managed to secure the party’s nomination, with the President’s assistance.

In short, whoever might be the intra-party challenger to Trump (if indeed there is one): history does not suggest that his or her odds of success will be high.

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