In 2016, the U.S. experienced a contentious presidential election for both the Democrats and the Republicans. However, the rift did not just occur between the two parties, but within them as well. The Republican party in particular is still experiencing this tension within itself in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, and the split between current president Trump’s supporters and those who wish for a different Republican in the Oval Office is one that will surely only deepen when the campaigns for the primaries begin in earnest.
Currently, there is only one Republican candidate for president in 2020: Donald Trump. However, other prominent Republicans like John Kasich have not (yet) ruled out presidential bids. The Republican National Committee, though, seems to be extremely wary of the potential for more division within the party, and The Washington Post reported that in January the RNC ceremonially signed their support for Donald Trump as their candidate in 2020. This does not technically bar others from running against him in the primaries, but it does strongly discourage them, and in fact some state Republican parties are at least considering not holding their primaries so that Donald Trump becomes the de facto candidate. According to the South Carolina newspaper The State, in December 2018, S.C.’s state Republican party chairman Drew McKissick said that in summer 2019, S.C. would make the decision on whether to hold the GOP’s primary—the first of the year held in the Southern states—or whether to show their unequivocal support for Donald Trump and cancel the primary. This is not the first time that cancelling presidential primary elections has been considered by state parties: S.C. Republicans specifically did so for incumbents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush in 1984 and 2004, respectively, and Democrats in S.C. similarly did not hold primaries in 1996 for Bill Clinton and in 2012 for Barack Obama.
Though canceling state primary elections is largely symbolic, it could also have major implications for whoever ends up winning the GOP’s support. Not holding primaries is also considered by some to be unfair to voters in those specific states, who would not have the chance to vote for the candidate they believe would best represent their party in the general election. One could argue that refusing to allow Republican voters to voice their opinions on the current president through their votes in the primaries could end up splitting the party even further. This move has the potential to alienate those who do not support the current figurehead of the GOP by not giving them the chance to dissent. This act of almost forcing Republican voters to support Trump in the general election could arguably end up sending some to the Democratic side, or driving some to not vote at all.
Overall, the Republican party is at a crossroads of sorts, where regular members of the party must decide where they fall in the divisive debate over President Trump’s viability as a candidate in 2020, and officials within the party must decide whether to try to preserve the party’s intactness through force or let their constituents show their will.
By Olivia Slack, Features Editor