Senator Elizabeth Warren made headlines Sunday morning with her repeated assertions that “I am not running for president in 2020.” But is another 2020 storyline unfolding under the radar?
On Wednesday, America’s most prominent #NeverTrumper, Bill Kristol, will be in New Hampshire, home of the “First In the Nation” primary, speaking at a must-show event for potential presidential contenders.
The “Politics and Eggs” forum, hosted by the New England Council and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, has featured nearly every major presidential contender over the past 20 years, including Donald Trump during the 2016 cycle—twice. Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)—a potential GOP challenger to Trump in his own right— is scheduled to appear at the same breakfast event on Friday, March 16th, two days after Kristol.
On Sunday, Sen. Flake told NBC’s Chuck Todd he hopes President Trump faces a GOP challenge in 2020. “It would be a tough go in a Republican primary,” Sen. Flake said. “The Republican Party is the Trump party right now, but that’s not to say it will stay that way.”
So, what about Bill? Kristol’s certainly up for the fight, continuing to advocate Republican resistance to both Trump and “Trumpism”—what he sees as a nationalist-leaning Republican Party. In 2016, he was so determined to see a conservative challenge to Trump he backed the (extremely) short-lived movement to recruit National Review writer and Iraq War veteran David French.
Trump supporters may dismiss the notion of a Kristol candidacy as the “French Connection II,” but Kristol is a different political creature. While 2016 Trump challengers like French and Utah’s Evan McMullin were virtual unknowns, Kristol has spent decades on national TV promoting Republican causes. He co-founded the Weekly Standard, one of the most influential magazines on the Right. Even Breitbart.com (which infamously labelled him a “Renegade Jew” for opposing Trump’s candidacy) calls Kristol the “leader of the Never Trump movement.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s numbers in New Hampshire aren’t great. Among registered voters he’s dropped from 45-44 percent approval when he was sworn in to 17 points underwater (40-57) in the Granite State, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. And a new poll by the NH Institute of Politics found 23 percent of the state’s Republicans and 61 percent of independents—many of whom vote in primaries—have a negative view of the president.
“Put those numbers together and there’s a real possibility of a serious challenge,” says Neil Levesque, executive director of the NH IOP. A smart, well-known Republican commentator who once worked in the White House, vs a Republican president with soft support in New Hampshire? That’s not David French. That’s Pat Buchanan, 1992.
Just a reminder: Pat got 40 percent of the vote in New Hampshire against an incumbent Republican president.
So tell me again—what’s Bill Kristol doing at a political event in New Hampshire this Wednesday morning?
“Bill Kristol is up here for a reason, and he’s going to be very interesting to listen to,” Levesque said.