Advertisement
  1. Opinion

David Jolly: A primary challenge to Trump could save the Republican Party

President Donald Trump walks from Marine One across the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, as he returns from Reno, Nev. [Carolyn Kaster | Associated Press]
Published Aug. 24, 2017

I sat with an old friend recently, a politically interested but rather apolitical businessman, as he lamented the state of politics today and the state of the Republican Party.

"If this is the Republican Party, then I'm not a Republican," he said. "I don't know what I am now, but it's not Republican."

Still other Republican friends lay out a passionate defense of the president and make the case that he is exactly the type of disruptive leader the party and the country need to break through the entrenched, intractable gridlock in Washington.

It is clear that seven months into his presidency, Donald Trump — to be generous — has divided the nation and the Republican Party.

Count me in the camp of those who believe the president is an ill-tempered, unqualified and at times dangerous leader of the free world. He is a very poor reflection of the Republican Party that I call my political home.

In December 2015, I stood in the well of Congress and called on Trump to drop out of the presidential race following his Muslim ban pronouncement. I didn't support him in the 2016 primary, nor did I support him in the general election. Today I see a failed president, not a national leader. Though I once eschewed the "Never Trump" label, in practice it's a fair description.

Without a dramatic change of course by the president, I plan on being very active in organizing a primary challenge to Trump in 2020 if he seeks re-election.

Many may view a primary challenge as harmful to the Republican Party, but I anticipate a primary challenge to this president just might save the party from its demise. It's not because we could defeat an incumbent president through a primary challenge from within his own party. The lessons of history prove that is a highly unlikely endeavor.

It's because a healthy, robust, competitive primary challenge to this president in 2020 might just prevent the Republican Party from splitting in two — prevent it from diluting constituencies into three main political parties as we saw most recently in 1992 with the emergence of Ross Perot and his Reform Party. That split allowed President Bill Clinton to emerge with only 43 percent of the national vote.

I'm a modern-day Bull Moose Republican who along with millions of other center-right voters struggle to find a home in the small tent of today's Republican Party. I believe in conservative principles rationally applied to governing a relatively purple nation. And I believe the GOP should be a leader, not a laggard, on commonsense solutions to critical issues of the environment, equality, campaign finance reform, the Second Amendment and other issues that will define our era.

But just I struggle at times to find a place in the GOP, it is equally clear there is no room in the Democratic Party for anyone with center-right solutions.

An effort to mobilize a center-right voting bloc as an independent party would be herculean effort and history has proven it won't work, from the Progressive Party that splintered from Republicans in 1912 to the Perot movement of 1992. And most importantly for those of us loyal to the Republican Party, it would forever betray the Grand Old Party we still firmly believe in.

But a credible, competitive and constructive primary challenge to Trump would give safe harbor to millions of GOPers who still believe in the party, just perhaps not this president. It would keep the feud within the family, and it would keep the family together.

The worst thing Republicans can allow to happen as a party is to let the fractures this president has created lead to a legitimate breaking off of a center-right third party. Instead, by organizing a primary challenge to the president now, we can restore a place within the party for mainstream Republicans to call home and provide renewed leadership within the party for the Teddy Roosevelts, Dwight Eisenhowers and Abraham Lincolns among us who once made our party great.

On Jan. 21, 2021, whether Donald Trump is a former president or reinaugurated, the GOP will begin anew the search for its next leader. If sensible, patriotic and, yes, loyal Republicans organize a challenge to the president now, the answer to the GOP's post-Trump dilemma will be just within reach.

David Jolly is a former Republican member of Congress from Pinellas County, current instructor at the University of South Florida and frequent political commentator on MSNBC, CNN and other news outlets.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Howard Frankland Bridge, which connects St. Petersburg and Tampa, is a leading symbol of regional unity.
    Organizations that rebrand themselves should have a regional mission that reflects the name.
  2. The White House says it has chosen President Donald Trump's golf resort in Miami as the site for next year's Group of Seven summit.  (AP Photo/Alex Sanz, File) ALEX SANZ  |  AP
    Monday’s letters to the editor
  3. Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o has written a children's book called Sulwe, about a girl who "was born the color of midnight."[Photo (2014) by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP] File photo
    Most white people have never heard of skin lightening cream or the “paper bag test,” where your fiance can be no darker than a paper sack. | Leonard Pitts Jr.
  4. Ayana Lage, 26, and Vagner Lage, 27, pose with a sonogram of their unborn child. Ayana writes openly about going through a miscarriage due to the baby having a rare genetic defect. She wonders why more women don't discuss their miscarriages. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Sunday’s letters to the editor
  5. Kreshae Humphrey, 26, applies ointments to the skin of her 3-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Soto De Jesus, after bathing her in bottled water. The parents bathe all three of their girls with bottled water because they believe the children were sickened by the tap water at the Southern Comfort mobile home park off U.S. 19 in Clearwater. The family is suing the park's owner over the issue, but the owner and the state say there are no problems with the drinking water there. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The story of a Clearwater mobile home park and its water issues reflects a systemic breakdown.
  6. A long stretch of US 98 remains closed for repairs in Mexico Beach on Friday, September 27, 2019, almost one year after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the small coastal town. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Time is running out, so let’s get practical, says Craig Fugate
  7. FROM PRINT: Adam Goodman, national Republican media consultant
    Sure, fix capitalism’s flaws, but a wealth tax is not the way. | Adam Goodman
  8. 
 CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
  9. A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay.
    The news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation wants to change its name to include “Tampa Bay” has been met with resistance.
  10. Catherine Rampell, Washington Post columnist.
    Allegations of political cowardice can seem rich coming from candidates unwilling to acknowledge the obvious truths about things such as higher taxes. | Catherine Rampell
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement