By Jennifer Rubin
The Concord Monitor in New Hampshire reported last week:
Even if Kasich were certain to run, however, there’d be considerable question as to whether he’d run as a Republican. His future in the Republican Party and the future of the party itself are now very much in doubt.
If President Donald Trump actually completes his term and runs again in 2020, it will be because the GOP rallied around him, kicked to the curb any sliver of doubt about supporting a racist and misogynist, and gave up the pretense it is the vanguard of constitutional conservatism and Abraham Lincoln. In the fully and permanently Trumpized GOP, it would be impossible for Kasich, a fiscal conservative, an advocate of immigration reform and a traditional internationalist in foreign policy, to find a majority or even plurality to support him. Kasich has taken on Trump again and again, whether on health care, on foreign policy or on immigration, but the vast majority of Republicans have stuck with Trump and his agenda.
If Trump runs again in 2020, Kasich would seem far better suited for an independent run. Yes, we know, independents historically have fared poorly. Yes, we know, the difficulties involved in gaining ballot access are significant. However, the completed metamorphosis of the GOP into an ethno-nationalist party would leave a political vacuum. The desire for a new political grouping – especially if the Democratic Party goes far left – could be palpable.
I am for strong borders and immigration, but we cannot project an image that we don’t love our friends and our neighbors who are part of our culture. It’s just not right. pic.twitter.com/IOR7eVOFoy
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) January 17, 2018
Former New Hampshire Republican senator Gordon Humphrey tells me, “2020 offers an opportunity for someone in the Reagan/Kemp mold to run as an independent, promising to unite the country on the basis of civility and decency in public discourse and respect for the Constitution and to pursue traditional conservative policies of limited government, strong defense, and assertive promotion of freedom and free trade in foreign policy.”
In Humphrey’s view, “the Republican 2020 nomination will not be worth fighting for. Trump and his unprincipled Republican enablers have so soiled the brand that it will not recover for a very long time.”
In the meantime, Humphrey argues, “there is now a broad avenue between the parties that would collect the votes of traditional conservatives from both parties and from the ranks of independents, constituting a plurality, if not a majority, in the general election.”
As he points out, New Hampshire has more independent voters than it does either Democrats or Republicans. (Humphrey himself re-registered as an independent the day after the presidential election.) It is noteworthy that Humphrey strongly supported Kasich in 2016. New Hampshire, then, would be a natural place to start a third-party or independent run.
Humphrey’s view is gaining currency among NeverTrump Republicans as they watch their party capitulate again and again to Trump. Bill Kristol, a leading NeverTrumper and editor at large of the Weekly Standard, has shifted over time from a determined dissident fighting for the GOP to an outside insurgent.
“A hostility to American government institutions, a disdain for traditional norms, the embrace of conspiracy theories – all are astonishingly pervasive among the conservative commentariat and Republican politicians,” he tweeted recently. He has wondered, “With 2018 featuring a shutdown followed by further partisan squabbling and a nasty election campaign; and 2019 likely to see total war between a Democratic House and the Trump Administration – could conditions be better in 2020 for a possible independent, national unity candidacy?”
Bannon is gone and the alt-right has receded. But they’re winning. A hostility to American government institutions, a disdain for traditional norms, the embrace of conspiracy theories–all are astonishingly pervasive among the conservative commentariat and Republican politicians.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) January 25, 2018
Two years is forever in our political environment. By 2020, the GOP majority in one or both houses of Congress could have been lost; Trump might have been removed from office or forced to resign. The Republican Party could be in shambles, with Vice President Mike Pence the crippled heir to Trump, facing significant doubts about his own judgment and knowledge of events leading to Trump’s downfall.
In such a case, there could be a robust race between two camps. On one hand, the Trump wing (e.g., Pence, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton), wackier than ever and egged on by Fox News, would posit that Trump was flawed but that his message was not. In the other camp, an array of more traditional Republicans who never drank the Trump Kool-Aid (e.g., Kasich, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker) would declare the Trump era — a bout of temporary political insanity — to be over. They could set forth different visions for a post-Trump GOP.
And yet, even in that situation, with Trump gone and disgraced, it’s not clear there would be enough NeverTrump or ex-Trump-supporting Republicans around to rally around a representative of the Kasich-Corker-Flake-Baker group. By then, the opponents of Trump may have packed up and left the party — either like Humphrey to the status of independent or to support the most moderate Democratic candidate they can find. In other words, if Trump destroys the GOP, his Republican critics might have no interest in picking up the pieces to fight for the nomination of a party soaked in conspiracy theories, xenophobia and contempt for democratic norms.
Therefore, Kasich would be wise to keep his options open. A couple of years from now, he may be one of several NeverTrump Republicans fighting over the GOP’s carcass — or, alternatively, the first nominee of a new party or even an independent candidate with a historically unique opening. In any event, it’s smart for him to start visiting New Hampshire.
Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist, writing from a conservative perspective.