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Bill Scher Opinion: Fear of Trump Paralyzes GOP’s Potential Candidates

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A lot of Republicans are reportedly interested in running for president, yet no one besides Donald Trump has been brave enough to start running. According to Politico, the hesitation is mainly because everyone wants “someone else” to be the “early Trump foil.” An adviser to a potential candidate has even shopped the idea of “multiple candidates announcing around the same time.” One anonymous Republican told Politico, “I think they think a group launch … provides them protection from Trump.”

Every one of these candidates should be embarrassed. At the risk of being cliché, if these wannabe presidents can’t stand up to Donald Trump, how can you expect them to stand up to – well, insert your preferred boogeyman here.

By the first day of February 2019, Democrats Cory Booker, Julian Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Marriane Williamson, and Andrew Yang had either formally announced their 2020 bids or formed exploratory committees. In January 2015, Republicans Jeb Bush and Scott Walker established political action committees that were precursors to their campaign launches, and Mike Huckabee quit his Fox News show in preparation for his bid.

Granted, none of those people won their primaries; after all, most presidential candidates lose. But if someone starts with minimal national support and mostly regional name recognition – and that describes most of the potential Republican presidential field – every day not in the race is a lost day. Precisely because the battle is decidedly uphill, second-tier candidates should be eager to get in the race and create opportunities for themselves so they can climb into the first tier (which in the 2020 Democratic primary, Warren was able to do, even though she was unable to stay there for long.)

I’ll cut some slack for the sitting governors who might run – including Greg Abbott, Brian Kemp, Kristi Noem, Chris Sununu, and Glenn Youngkin – and even Ron DeSantis, who may be in a position to choose his timing. They may want to notch some wins in their 2023 legislative sessions and avoid any humiliating defeats before hitting the campaign trail later in the spring or summer.

Members of Congress believed considering a run are Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of whom have run before, and probably Tim Scott. So what are they waiting for? With House and Senate control divided between the two parties, little legislation of significance is expected to pass. In other words, they are not bogged down with heavy responsibilities at the moment.

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Everyone else supposedly in the mix – John Bolton, Liz Cheney, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Larry Hogan, Asa Hutchinson, Mike Pence, and Mike Pompeo – is a “former” officeholder with plenty of free time, and no time to lose.

Scattered throughout the Politico story are weird rationalizations for the proto-candidates’ collective fear. “Trump’s best when he’s got an opponent, so don’t give him one,” said one anonymous operative. How does this plan work? Trump doesn’t do his best without an opponent, so he withdraws, and then all the other candidates announce? “As soon as someone pops their head up,” said Abbott adviser Dave Carney, “Trump will be whacking on them.” So? That’s a great way for second-tier candidates to get into the first-tier, by getting into a public scrap with the frontrunner and proving their mettle.

No Republican seems to have learned any lessons from the 2016 primary. You can’t beat Trump unless you take the fight to Trump, forcefully and consistently – and early. The 2016 field can at least plead they were caught off-guard by Trump’s willingness to savage fellow Republicans, and his ability to do so without being penalized by Republican voters. Today, there are no excuses. Everyone knows who they are up against, and they have had years to formulate a strategy to deal with him. Will it be hard? Of course. But so is being president of the United States.

At a November address to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Christie said, “It is time to stop being afraid of any one person. It is time to stand up for the principles and the beliefs that we have founded this party on and this country on.” He’s right. Let’s see if he, or anyone else, can live up to those words.

Bill Scher is a contributing editor to Politico Magazine, co-host of the show “The DMZ,” and host of the podcast “New Books in Politics.” He can be reached at or follow him on Twitter @BillScher. This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.


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