Let Republican Voters Choose

Then-President Donald Trump greets supporters in Manchester, N.H., on August 15, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

Mark Sanford, the former congressman and governor from South Carolina, is the latest Republican to challenge President Trump for the 2020 nomination. Sanford intends to make the rising national debt his main issue, as it was during his congressional career. He favors reforming entitlements to reduce their projected costs. Sanford is right about entitlements and debt, and right as well to criticize Trump’s record on them. During the last campaign, Trump took entitlement reforms off the table. And although as president he supported a legislative effort to rein in Medicaid, he has done more to raise spending, while also cutting taxes. But a campaign focused on this issue is likely to be too narrow to capture voters’ imaginations.

Trump responded to the campaign announcement by bringing up the episode for which Sanford is best known: the press conference in which the then-governor declared his love for a woman other than his then-wife. Republicans seem heavily inclined to back the incumbent adulterer.

If, that is, they get the chance. Four states so far have canceled their Republican primaries: Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, and South Carolina (which means Sanford won’t be able to vote for himself). The president says he has nothing to do with these decisions, but also that holding primaries he is sure to win would be a waste of money. The susceptibility of this argument to abuse by a ruler ought to preclude its being made.

The vast majority of Republicans approve of what Trump has done on taxes, judges, regulation, and most other issues, though they also support electoral competition. Trump would be likely to win the primaries handily, demonstrating his strength among Republicans while the Democrats tussle. His allies should want to see that, rather than make it seem as though he is too weak to face competition. But regardless of how it works out for him, Republican primary voters are capable of making the decision among Trump and the others — who so far include William Weld and Joe Walsh as well as Sanford. They deserve to be able to do so.


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