WANTED: A Republican with courage

WANTED: A Republican with courage
© Getty Images

WANTED: A Republican with courage willing to undertake a critical, and probably futile, mission next year: Challenge Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE in the Republican presidential primaries.

It's close to impossible to deny him the nomination, though I suspect there's a one in five chance he doesn't run, due to his physical condition (obese), emotional erraticism, continuing legal woes, or — despite his lazy work habits — he decides it's too damn hard.

More likely he runs and while not in good shape with the general public, Trump dominates the Republican party more than anyone since Ronald Reagan.

The overarching purpose of a challenge, however, would be as policy placeholder, or agenda-setter for a post Trump Republican party, to try and develop the case that his brand should not be the GOP's future.


There are primary challenges that mattered. Sen. Gene McCarthy's opposition to a sitting president demonstrably changed the party's standing on the  Vietnam War. Ronald Reagan's unsuccessful challenge of President Ford in 1976 created an enduring conservative legacy.

There is a Trump challenger, William WeldWilliam (Bill) WeldRepublicans more interested in a primary challenge to Trump than Democrats were for Obama in 2012 Trump challenger Weld renews calls for his resignation after comments on political opponent Pollster: Trump has 'a lot of work to do' for 2020 reelection campaign MORE, the smart and successful former Massachusetts Governor. But having been rejected first as Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden, Eastland and rejecting the cult of civility Democrats not keen to reignite Jerusalem embassy fight The bottom dollar on recession, Trump's base, and his reelection prospects MORE's envoy to Mexico and then as a Republican aspirant for Governor of New York and a quixotic run as the Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate in 2016, it's hard to see how the patrician New Englander will gain any traction against Trump.

There are other Republicans who'd have more credibility: former Ohio Governor John Kasich and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. Both, especially Kasich, appear to by shying away, seeing no real path to winning.

The pivotal point for any challenger would be the first primary, New Hampshire, where around 40 percent of the voters are independents. They can vote in either party; further discouraging the Kasichs or Hogans is the large Democratic field which gives Granite State independents lots of choices in what may seem a more realistic option. Still the very unpredictability of New Hampshire voters should encourage a Trump challenge.

There are important conservatives who have taken on Trump, like columnists and policy intellectuals, Michael Gerson, George Will and Max Boot and former prominent office holders, such as Mitch Daniels, once the Governor of Indiana. There were two stalwart conservatives in the last Congress, Arizona Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeJeff Flake becoming Harvard fellow Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE and South Carolina Congressman Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordThe Memo: Can Trump run as an outsider? Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE who stood up to the White House bully; they paid with their careers.

That resonates with Republicans on Capitol Hill where supposedly principled veterans like Tennessee Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Horse abuse for ribbons and prizes has to stop Overnight Health Care: Trump officials defend changes to family planning program | Senators unveil bipartisan package on health costs | Democrats pass T spending bill with HHS funds MORE, who's retiring, and Ohio Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats House passes bill to establish DHS cyber 'first responder' teams Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump MORE, who's politically safe, have taken a dive on Trump, telling associates it would negate their effectiveness. Their grandchildren will read that some day.


A Republican challenger should embrace consensus party policies of tax cuts, deregulation and conservative judges — but emphasize repeatedly Republicans should not be about race baiting, economic isolationism, a foreign policy that cozies up to thugs and stiffs longtime allies, and that coarsens the public dialogue.

There was a conservative Republican divide a generation ago between the apostles of hope, personified by Jack Kemp and those of hate, represented by Jesse Helms. A Trump challenger should seek to revive the Kemp mantra.

Some Republicans will protest all a contested primary would do is soften Trump for the Democrats. Perhaps, but the stakes are larger.

There is another historical precedent: the Joe McCarthy enablers in the early 1950s. Even Dwight Eisenhower ducked taking on the Wisconsin bully in the 1952 election. Later, behind the scenes, he helped orchestrate McCarthy's downfall when finally he was censured by the Senate at end the of 1954.

One of the exceptions was Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, with the support of only six colleagues, in 1950 delivered her famous "Declaration of Conscience" speech.

"Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our owns words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism," the freshman Republican Senator and only woman in the body declared. "I don't want to see the Republican party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear."

That reminds you of someone today.

Another parallel: McCarthy, in response, assailed, "Snow White and the six dwarfs."

And, though decades apart, both McCarthy and Trump revered and relied upon Roy Cohn, the brilliant, sleazy, unethical lawyer.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for the Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.