A same-party primary challenge against a sitting president is not unheard of. Five members of a sitting president’s party would be extraordinary.
Currently, only former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld has officially declared he is running for the Republican nomination for president.
But as The Washington Post just reported, there are four more Republicans in the wings, “inching” closer to declaring their candidacies.
Former Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh, whose journey over the past year has found him moving from disturbing support for Trump to joining the anti-Trump camp (while occasionally offering up some common sense takes on current issues,) is among the four. He “is preparing a Republican primary challenge to President Trump that he previewed as a daily ‘bar fight’ with the incumbent over his morality and competency.”
Former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford, who lost his seat after he criticized Trump and the president’s machine went into action against him, “said he is inching closer to a bid of his own by sounding out activists in New Hampshire and other early-voting states about an insurgency focused on the ballooning deficit.”
Former Arizona senator Jeff Flake, who was also the target of the Trump machine, “said he has taken a flurry of recruitment calls in recent days from GOP donors rattled by signs of an economic slowdown and hungry for an alternative to Trump.”
Former Ohio governor John Kasich, who ran for president in the 2016 primaries and earned The New York Times’ endorsement for the GOP nomination, “will head to New Hampshire next month to ‘take a look at things’ after experiencing ‘an increase’ in overtures this summer.”
While the chances of any Republican winning the Republican nomination over Trump are slim, primary challengers take up a campaign’s time, money, energy, and focus, and that can help the opposing party unseat an incumbent.
For example, in 1992 Pat Buchanan’s primary challenge against sitting President George H.W. Bush led to the 41st president losing the White House to then-governor Bill Clinton. In 1980 Senator Ted Kennedy challenged sitting Democratic President Jimmy Carter, helping put Ronald Reagan into the Oval Office.
As Business Insider noted in May, “Throughout the 20th century, sitting presidents who faced challenges from within their own party went on to lose in the general election after being severely weakened.”