WANTED: A Republican with courage willing to undertake a critical, and probably futile, mission next year: Challenge Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' 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) WeldThe Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? Ralph Gants, chief justice of Massachusetts supreme court, dies at 65 The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden visits Kenosha | Trump's double-voting suggestion draws fire | Facebook clamps down on election ads MORE, the smart and successful former Massachusetts Governor. But having been rejected first as Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonRepublican spin on Biden is off the mark Bill Clinton shares video update after release from hospital Biden, Democrats risk everything unless they follow the Clinton pivot (they won't) 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 FlakeFlake donating unused campaign funds to Arizona nonprofit focused on elections: report Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report MORE and South Carolina Congressman Mark SanfordMark SanfordBritain checking gun license applicants' social media, medical records Mark Sanford calls Graham 'a canary in the coalmine' on GOP's relationship with Trump Top cyber Pentagon official overseeing defense contractor project placed on leave 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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE, who's retiring, and Ohio Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Top GOP senators want joint review of Afghan visa process Timken rolls out six-figure ad campaign, hits Fauci 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.