House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) last week told his troops on Capitol Hill that he’d hold his nose and vote for Donald Trump but they could just follow their “conscience.”
Ryan is just one more Republican ready to write off the 2016 election and look ahead to challenging President Hillary Clinton four years from now.
A few days ago Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), 45, announced he’s running for reelection to a job he often didn’t bother showing up for and told friends he hated. Party leaders convinced the reluctant Rubio he’s the best bet for keeping the seat in the GOP column, especially if Trump goes down in flames, as many believe is likely.
More important to Rubio, though, is his desire to stay in the national spotlight as he prepares to run for president again in 2020 even though he was trounced in his home state primary by Trump. Rubio’s big risk is losing the Senate race, effectively ending his presidential hopes.
His absence would give more time in the public eye to Ryan and another 2016 rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Ryan has been traveling the country raising money and campaigning for other Republicans, making friends and collecting IOUs at every stop.
Cruz, 45, has more money in his campaign war chest than Trump, whom he’s avoided endorsing. He is already preparing for the next election, burnishing his image as an outsider and arch-conservative.
Rubio and Cruz will look to some wealthy Jewish Republicans to finance their campaigns.
Florida auto dealer Norman Braman has been a close and longtime supporter of Rubio, who also is said to have been a favorite of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Cruz, who spent a lot of time courting the Orthodox Jewish community and even baking matzos, was reportedly the preference of Dr. Miriam Adelson. Neither Adelson put much money into either candidate and although they’ve pledged $100 million – roughly the amount they spent on the losing campaigns of Gingrich and Mitt Romney four years ago – to Trump there’s no sign that they’ve delivered more than pledges.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, 64, is nominally the host of the GOP convention in Cleveland, but Trump has threatened to prevent him from speaking unless he endorses the presumptive nominee.
That won’t disappoint Kasich much since it will only burnish his credentials for 2020, when the theme of Republican wannabes, assuming Trump loses, will be “I told you so.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, 48, the first to drop out of the 2016 race, is believed still interested in the job. So is another dropout, Sen. Rand Paul, 53, of Kentucky.
Among this year’s candidates who aren’t expected to make another run for the nomination are Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich.
The latter two are running hard to be Trump’s running mate and that alone would put the kibosh on their 2020 viability.
Several women may try to replace the first female president. Carley Fiorina, Cruz’s brief running mate, may still have the desire but she’s lost too many races to be viable. Instead look for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. Haley said she’s not interested in being Trump’s running mate and Martinez was trashed by the candidate because she didn’t show up at his rally.
Another woman to keep an eye on is Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, 45, an Iraq combat veteran who has been mentioned as a possible Trump running mate. Being on the ticket and defending Trump is not “the best way to advance whatever political ambitions” she may have, St. Louis University School of Law professor and vice presidential expert Joel Goldstein told The Des Moines Register.
Others to watch on are hard-right Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Mike Lee of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and John Thune of South Dakota, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence plus the more pragmatic Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee.
Cotton, 39, the youngest member of the Senate and considered a rising star, is a Harvard- educated combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. A friend in his state’s senate is already pushing legislation to allow Cotton to run for reelection to the Senate in 2020 and for president at the same time.
Senator Ben Sasse, 44, of Nebraska, a leader of the “Never Trump” movement, said he would not vote for him because Trump “thinks he’s running for king” and lacks a clear “commitment to the US Constitution.”
Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been an early Trump supporter, foreign policy tutor and potential running mate. Corker is well thought of among Senate colleagues and, unlike many mentioned above, is not considered a fiery ideologue.
Of course it seems premature to speculate on the 2020 election, but with so many Republicans from the old line establishment right down to newcomers at the bottom of the ticket so worried that Trump is going to lead their party to disaster in November, it is worth recalling that the same thing was said about Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964.
The conservative Arizona senator lost in an historic landslide that had pundits writing the party’s obituary, but like the mythic bird for which his home town was named, it rose out of the ashes and elected a president who, like the party, had the aura of a loser: Richard Nixon.