Jeff Flake Rules Out Primary Challenge Against Trump In 2020

Jeff Flake says he won't be running against President Trump in 2020, but there may be others.

Former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake won’t be challenging Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination:

Former Sen. Jeff Flake won’t challenge President Donald Trump in 2020, he announced Tuesday, putting to rest months of speculation about what’s next for one of the GOP’s most prominent Trump critics.

“I have always said that I do hope that there is a Republican who challenges the president in the primary,” he said in an interview on “CBS This Morning.” “I still hope that somebody does, but that somebody won’t be me. I will not be a candidate.”

The Arizona Republican had fueled murmurs that he would take on the president either with primary challenge or as an independent after declining to run for reelection in 2018 amid fears he would lose to a more Trump-friendly primary challenger.

Flake has became known for his frequent criticisms of the president, In the Senate, he lamented the lack of civility in politics and broke with his party by holding up priorities in order to squeeze out concessions on issues important to him.

But he said Tuesday that the path to beating Trump in a primary was much too difficult.

“There really isn’t a path right now that I could see,” he said, noting that the Republican National Committee and the president’s reelection campaign had taken steps to solidify Trump’s standing atop the party. Last weekend, the RNC passed a resolution declaring “undivided support” and the Trump campaign has begun vetting potential delegates to minimize the possibility of defectors at the party’s nominating convention.

“The RNC and the president’s campaign are now melded,” Flake said Tuesday. “They’re trying to do everything they can to squelch any opposition.”

But, he added, “I still hope that some — and some are still talking about it — do run. I think that that’s healthy. And I’m not a fan of this president. But that won’t be me.”

Flake is largely correct in his assessment of the odds against any candidate who might attempt an intra-party challenge to an incumbent. As I noted in a recent post, there hasn’t been a successful challenge to an incumbent President in the modern primary era, and it’s unlikely that there will be one in 2020 absent extraordinary circumstances. This is especially true given the fact that the entire Republican Party machine, from the Republican National Committee on down, has committed itself to re-electing the President. Even while his job approval numbers among voters as a whole continue to be at historic lows, they are at historic highs among Republicans. Absent something truly extraordinary, this is likely to remain the case heading into 2020 no matter what happens nationally or with the Russia investigation. Given that, a challenge to the President inside the Republican Party is quixotic at best and given the lessons of history the best that such a challenge would accomplish would be to weaken an incumbent sufficiently that they end up losing in the General Election. In Trump’s case, of course, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Instead of running for office again, Flake has apparently decided to sign on as a political contributor to CBS News, meaning that we’re likely to see him showing up on the CBS morning show as well as Face The Nation on a regular basis. While some former politicians use such positions as a way to stay in the news pending some future run for office, one does not get the impression that this is what Flake is aiming for. Whatever the case, though, this may not be the end of the road for potential 2020 GOP challengers against Trump. As I noted last week, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has been mentioned as a potential challenger and, of course, former Ohio Governor John Kasich is making no secret of the fact that he’s considering a run against the President. Should either or both of these men get into the race, they’d likely be no more successful than Flake would have been but they could make things interesting for the President.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    OT…for more on the racist MAGA hats see; Jussie Smollett.
    This is America in 2019.

  2. Teve says:

    Well this is interesting:

    Trump favorability:
    50% favorable
    47% unfavorable

    37% favorable
    60% unfavorable


    This provokes the question, should men have the right to vote?

  3. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: I don’t trust favorability polls. There are people who may find Trump unfavorable, but will find Hickenlooper even more unfavorable.

    (Yes, I’m calling it now, in a divided primary with 53 candidates, the people who find Hickenlooper’s name funny will be greater in number than those that support any other candidate. Bootigieg, however, is too funny, and the American people aren’t ready for that)

  4. Teve says:

    @Gustopher: shame, though, because Buttigeig’s got good policy and values.

  5. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: He does. He should run for governor. It’s not as blood red a state as it seems.

    I don’t think Mayor to President is going to be successful.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @Gustopher: But, I also didn’t think vacuous celebrity “billionaire” to President would be successful, so, what do I know?

  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    ” Flake has apparently decided to sign on as a political contributor to CBS News…”


  8. Timothy Watson says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: He’ll have plenty of time to be “very concerned” there.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    He’ll have plenty of time to be “very concerned” there.

    He’s too boring. I can’t see the gig lasting past the election, if that long.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    I think it likely Trump will finish his term. But he could be impeached, he could resign one step ahead of the Sheriff, he could be named fifty times as an unidicted co-conspirator, he could be 25th Amendmented, he could have the heart attack he’s been working so hard for, he could go blatantly gaga, he could get a dose of Polonium. The odds of his being removed, or not being able to seriously run, are good enough you’d think people, in addition to Pence, would be lining up, just in case.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: I suspect any prospective candidate is too terrified of Trump’s base.