All three Republican primary challengers lambasted state GOP leaders – and President Donald Trump – for opting to cancel their 2020 presidential primary elections in a show of support for the President.
“In the United States, citizens choose their leaders,” former Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld said in a Washington Post op-ed on Friday.
“The primary nomination process is the only opportunity for Republicans to have a voice in deciding who will represent our party,” they added. “Let those voices be heard.”
Their pushback comes after party leaders in Kansas, South Carolina and Nevada canceled their Republican primaries, with Arizona expected to make it official over the weekend. The scrapped primaries pose a further obstacle for the long-shot challengers, already fighting the incumbent President, who, according to a CNN/SSRS Poll, has an 88% approval rating among Republicans.
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.
“Each of us believes we can best lead the party. So does the incumbent. Let us each take our case to the public,” the three GOP candidates wrote on Friday. “The saying ‘may the best man win’ is a quintessential value that the Republican Party must honor if we are to command the respect of the American people.”
“Cowards run from fights,” they added, in a thinly veiled jab at Trump. “Warriors stand and fight for what they believe. The United States respects warriors. Only the weak fear competition.”
The trio pointed to the roiling Democratic primary underway in arguing that ideological challenges are a focal point of not only American government, but also the Republican Party.
“Do Republicans really want to be the party with a nominating process that more resembles Russia or China than our American tradition?” the group writes. “Under this President, the meaning of truth has been challenged as never before. … Do we as Republicans accept all this as inevitable? Are we to leave it to the Democrats to make the case for principles and values that, a few years ago, every Republican would have agreed formed the foundations of our party?”
The three candidates also cited the risk of costly legal challenges to the states, predicting that they would likely exceed the costs of hosting the primaries. Walsh told CNN after South Carolina’s decision on Saturday that he would “fight legally and all other options” to challenge the states.
“Let us spend the next six months attempting to draw new voters to our party instead of demanding fealty to a preordained choice,” the three wrote. “If we believe our party represents the best hope for the United States’ future, let us take our message to the public and prove we are right.”
CNN’s Rebecca Buck contributed to this report.