With the announcement this week from a former South Carolina governor and representative, Donald Trump now has three credible challengers in 2020 within his party. Chances are you have no idea who they are. That’s a shame, because if the GOP has any chance of offering a viable alternative to the increasingly socialist Democrats, it will come from Republicans like these.
The first challenger is Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who left the Republican party last year in disgust with its capitulation to a man whom he believes in unprincipled, arrogant and unfit for office.
The second is the former governor of Massachusetts, William Weld. One of the most popular governors in that state’s history, and one of the few Republican ones, he is running because he believes the nation’s chief executive would “rather be a king than a president who had to work to earn and preserve the trust of the American people.”
This week, the latest challenger threw his hat in the ring. Mark Sanford wants to “spark a needed conversation as Republicans on what it means to be a Republican, and a larger national debate on why spending and debt, our American institutions — and civility and humility should still matter in politics.”
What do all these men have in common? Quite a lot. They have all been elected and reelected to public office as Republicans. They are true fiscal conservatives who have constantly spoken out on the dangers of runaway federal spending. They are not afraid to talk about entitlement reform, they are openly skeptical of military force as a means to shape the world, and they walk their talk when it’s voting time.
But while they are ardently anti-socialist and pro-capitalism, they are also liberal, if you want to call it that, on social issues. They support more immigration. They are pro-gay marriage, opposed to the war on drugs, and are enthusiastic defenders of free speech. They take a dim view of religion in politics.In other words, they are all “small-l” libertarians.
The word “libertarian”, in its most generic sense, describes voters who are fiscally conservative and supportive of capitalism, but are more tolerant on social issues than those on the right. They might be termed “Eisenhower Republicans,” or “economically conservative but socially liberal.” Depending on the polls you look at and what questions are asked, the data suggest that between 10-20% of voters fit into this category. That’s only slightly less than voters who describe themselves as strictly liberal or conservative.
Why does this matter? Because Donald Trump is a big-government, populist of the right who is enthusiastically spending America into oblivion. His Democratic opponent, regardless of who gets the nomination, will be a big-government populist of the left who will enthusiastically spend America into oblivion. Neither of them, I submit, will make America a better, more prosperous country.
That’s why the 2020 election isn’t as important as 2024. If the Democrats win, their incumbent in 2024 will be the most socialist, redistributionist, and power-hungry president their party will have seen in years. If Trump wins, he’ll be done by then. The Republican party will have to find someone who can articulate a truly different vision. Someone other than a candidate who barely squeaked by in 2016, despite running against one of the least popular presidential candidates in history.
Fortunately, younger Republican voters are more tolerant on social issues than their parents. Voters of all ages are more pro-free trade and immigration than they have been in decades, thanks to the unpopularity of Trump’s policies.
If Amash, Sanford and Weld are the tip of the iceberg, as I believe they are, they represent a clear, principled alternative for Republicans to the current misogynistic, authoritarian and xenophobic ideology that has turned the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower into something completely unrecognizable.
They could be the future of the GOP.
For those of us who embrace the vision of a healthy, prosperous and peaceful America, 2020 is a lost cause. A plague on both their houses. But 2024 could offer voters a real choice. I just hope we can make it till then.
Barry Fagin is senior fellow in technology policy at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can contact Dr. Fagin at email@example.com.