Just this week, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld threw his hat in the ring to challenge Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination for president, while calling out Trump’s Attorney General William Barr for pandering to the pro-Trump conspiracy theorists. During his testimony before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee last week, Barr stated, “I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was adequately predicated, and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”
While most sane people quickly called out Barr for his inappropriate use of debunked conspiracy theories, Barr’s antics were sure to make Trump happy. Bill Weld made the case that the investigation into Trump’s campaign, given the vast evidence of wrongdoing, was appropriate. Weld said that “When an agency opens an investigation, it may be a lot of things, it may be bad news for the target. But it’s not spying. It’s just opening an investigation.”
Despite Weld being a relatively little known political figure on the national stage, his decision to primary Trump is rather substantial. Given the history of incumbent presidents being primaried during their reelection campaign, this does not bode well for Trump. Going back to just after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, no incumbent president has ever won reelection following a legitimate primary challenge.
When Gerald Ford took over after Nixon’s resignation, he was later primaried by Ronald Reagan. While Ford would succeed in winning the Republican nomination, he would go on to lose in the general election to Jimmy Carter. Just four years later, Ted Kennedy attempted to win the Democratic nomination in a challenge to Carter. Just like the previous election, the sitting president won the primary but lost the presidential election. The same can be said about the 1992 election when George H.W. Bush won the primary against Pat Buchanan but lost to Bill Clinton.
While an incumbent president has not faced a real primary challenge in decades, the history appears to be straightforward. It would seem that presidents are only challenged by their own party when there are reasons to doubt their ability to be reelected. Weld’s decision to go up against Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination only benefits the Democratic candidates going into the most important presidential election of our lifetime.
I’m a ceramic engineer living in Central New York, avid sports fan but find myself more interested in politics lately.