Republican officials in multiple states are on the verge of canceling their 2020 presidential primary elections in a show of support for President Donald Trump, even as some GOP candidates plan to challenge him.
Party leaders in South Carolina, Nevada and Arizona have all expressed support for nixing their presidential primaries and are expected to make it official over the coming weeks. Leaders of the South Carolina and Nevada Republican parties will each meet Saturday to reach a decision, while the Arizona GOP Executive Committee will discuss its decision at a September 14 meeting. Kansas Republicans are also considering nixing their primary, according to Politico, which was the first to report on the moves by state Republican parties to cancel their primaries.
“This is nothing new, despite the media’s inauthentic attempt to portray it as such,” Arizona GOP Chairman Kelli Ward said. “Arizona Republicans are fired up to re-elect President Trump to a second term and will continue to work together to keep America – and Arizona – great.”
The move to forgo presidential primaries reflects Trump’s steel grip on the GOP establishment and the party’s voters as he heads into his reelection campaign.
It is not unprecedented for state Republicans or Democrats to decide not to hold a presidential primary when an incumbent is running essentially uncontested. In South Carolina, a key early primary state, Republicans decided to nix their presidential primaries in 1984 and 2004, when Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were up for their second terms; while state Democrats skipped their contests in 1996 and 2012, with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama running for reelection, respectively.
“Whether or not to hold a presidential primary is a decision made by our state executive committee every four years,” South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said. “There is strong precedent on the part of both parties to not hold a primary when they control the White House.”
What is different in this election, however, is that a number of Republicans have expressed interest in challenging Trump. Former Republican Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina has said he is nearing a decision on a possible bid, while two Republicans, former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, are already in the race.
For these challengers, the inability to compete in multiple primaries could all but block an already unlikely path to victory. Meanwhile, it’s unlikely that Trump would agree to primary debates, denying his GOP rivals an important platform.
“The RNC and the Republican Party are firmly behind the president,” said RNC spokeswoman Blair Ellis, “and any effort to challenge him in a primary is bound to go absolutely nowhere.”