Primary challenge to Trump? It could help him in 2020

President TrumpDonald John Trump#IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'Send her back' 'Racism' top search after Trump rally: Merriam Webster Ocasio-Cortez offers encouragement to those 'scared for our future' after Trump rally MORE could face a primary challenger in 2020. And a contested fight for the Republican nomination might be exactly what he wants.

Trump has transformed the Republican Party in his image over the last two years, driving critics out of the party and instilling fear in would-be GOP challengers.

The president is undefeated in the last 14 Republican primaries, a winning streak that suggests opposition, at least within the GOP electorate, is futile.

As a result, the big question isn’t whether Trump would win a primary, but whether being tested would weaken him for the general election. 

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Intraparty challenges to incumbent presidents have traditionally wounded commanders in chief.

In 1976, former President Ford prevailed over Ronald Reagan before losing to Jimmy Carter. 

Four years later, Carter lost to Reagan after a bitter primary with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

And in 1992, then-candidate Pat Buchanan attacked former President George H.W. Bush for breaking his pledge not to raise taxes. Bush triumphed, but subsequently lost to Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMilitary spending has many points of contention: Closing overseas bases isn't one of them More adult Twitter users follow Obama than Trump: survey Pro-impeachment Democrats wary of Al Green's floor vote push MORE that fall. 

All of that suggests Trump would benefit from not having a 2020 Republican challenger.

Yet Trump has repeatedly defied convention in his political career, and there are reasons to think a GOP challenge could actually help him.

Trump’s base has shown that it is invigorated by challenges to the president, whether they come from Democrats or Republicans seen as part of the GOP establishment.

And Trump has generally emerged from intra-GOP conflicts with strength.

Unlike George H.W. Bush or Ford, Trump's standing with the GOP base is strong. His approval rating in the GOP hovers around 90 percent.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said a primary challenge doesn't scare Trump because “nobody energizes the GOP base more than Donald J. Trump.”

Trump would also benefit from having something to do while what is expected to be a rowdy and crowded Democratic presidential primary unfolds.

The president, who loves campaigning and being the center of attention, would be better off vanquishing an insurgent candidate or two in each early primary state than sitting on the sidelines and yielding air time to the Democratic Party.

Republicans who can’t abide Trump haven’t given up on the dream of knocking him out in a primary.

And it’s still early. Much will happen between now and the 2020 primary season, most notably the midterm elections and the findings of the Russia investigation headed by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE

Republican strategist Mike Murphy, a "never Trumper," wrote in a March op-ed in Politico that beating Trump in a primary isn’t mission impossible: “While defeating an incumbent president in a primary is the longest of political long shots, if 2018 goes badly it is a shot worth taking.”

Yet, a formidable challenger has not emerged. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) hasn't ruled out a bid though he only won his home state in the 2016 presidential primaries. Others who have been mentioned include Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers MORE (Ariz.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseAcosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers Some good advice for Democrats to ignore in 2020 Swing-state Democrats see trouble in proposed pay hike MORE (Neb.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (Tenn.), as well as Senate candidate and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump's no racist; he's an equal opportunity offender Lawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm MORE. All five have been publicly lambasted by Trump.

Officials from both parties have fretted about a prolonged and/or crowded primary reducing their chances of winning the general election. But after an intense primary battle with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump thanks 'vicious young Socialist Congresswomen' for his poll numbers Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE in 2008, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Trump blasts minority Democrats, rally crowd chants 'send her back' MORE easily won the presidency against Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Lindsey Graham: 'Graham wants to bring back 1950s McCarthyism' Meghan McCain knocks Lindsey Graham for defending Trump's tweets: 'This is not the person I used to know' MORE (R-Ariz.). Trump, meanwhile, defeated 16 Republican rivals and subsequently beat Clinton in the fall of 2016. 

The noise of a primary season is likely to energize the president, who will have a chance to try to define the slew of expected Democratic candidates as they try to appeal to their liberal base.

“Trump will insert himself in the Democrats' narrative and suck the oxygen from them,” O'Connell stated.

Matthew Dallek, an associate professor at George Washington's Graduate School of Political Management, has made the case that someone in the Republican Party must challenge Trump in 2020. Dallek wrote in The Washington Post in May that the GOP is “doomed in the long run if no Republican stands for the principles that the party has for so long said it defends: governmental restraint and individual liberty.”

Dallek told The Hill that it's “a bit presumptuous at this early date to predict that a primary challenge will aid Trump politically.”

He noted that Trump's trade policies could hurt Iowa's farmers and the economy could slow over the next 18 months. That could weaken his strong support in the GOP: “A primary challenger need only net about 20 to 30 percent of the vote in, say, New Hampshire to deal a blow to Trump's reelection campaign, so while the bar may seem pretty high right now, it may become easier to clear come January 2020, depending on what's happening in the world, Trump's standing with women voters, and the economic mood.”

Alternatively, Dallek added, “it's always conceivable that a challenge by the likes of Kasich or Flake that ends up fizzling in New Hampshire will simply serve to lock up Trump's support in the GOP, aiding his reelection bid.”