President Donald Trump is being primaried from within his own party. That’s rare – but not unheard of. “The assumption normally going into a reelection year is that the president owns the party and they have the right to be be its nominee, without much question, said UW-Madison political scientist Barry Burden. “That said, there are definitely instances in the not so distant past where an incumbent president has been seriously challenged, in some cases maybe to a degree where it actually harmed their chances in the general election.”
Burden noted that conservative columnist Pat Buchannon challenged Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992. “Buchannon actually triumphed in the New Hampshire primary, and Bush had to fight his way through the rest of the primaries and caucuses, to make sure that he had the nomination.”
And in 1980, Democrat Jimmy Carter had to fend off a challenge from Senator Ted Kennedy. “That battle ran right to the end of the primaries and caucuses, with Kennedy accumulating some delegates, and actually having some momentum near the end of the process.”
Radio talk show host and former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh announced Sunday that he’ll challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 primary. Former Massachusetts GOP governor Bill Weld has also said he is also running against Trump.
Bush and Carter both won their respective nominations but – perhaps weakened by those primary campaigns – went on to lose their bids for second terms. But Burden noted that things have changed a lot since then. “The parties have just become stronger and more top down over time. Trump has really made an effort to have control over the Republican National Committee, and over state parties and over the delegate selection process in a bunch of states. And that makes it really difficult for any of these potential challengers to get a toehold.”