South Carolina Republicans could forgo their 2020 presidential primary in a show of support for President Donald Trump, the party chairman told CNN, a move that could frustrate efforts of possible GOP challengers.
The potential move was first reported by the Washington Examiner.
State Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick said a final decision won’t be made until this summer, when the party’s executive committee meets. But he suggested that such a move would be on the table and likely to receive the party’s stamp of approval.
“Why have taxpayers pay for a primary? Our party totally supports the President,” McKissick said.
This would not be the first time that Republicans nixed the “first-in-the-South primary” and endorsed the incumbent president. They did so for President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and again in 2004 for President George W. Bush.
Luke Byars, who served as the South Carolina GOP chairman in 2004, explained that the party — not the state — footed the bill for the primary election at that time. “And the party didn’t really want to undertake any of that, because the party supported the president,” Byars told CNN.
But there were political considerations, too.
“The President’s re-election campaign was not unhappy with our move,” Byars said, “let’s put it that way.”
South Carolina Republicans have been influential in the Trump administration, with the President tapping former Gov. Nikki Haley and former Rep. Mick Mulvaney to serve in his administration. Trump also counts Sen. Lindsey Graham and current Gov. Henry McMaster among his close allies, and he has visited the state on multiple occasions as president.
McKissick said he has not spoken with Trump’s re-election team or national Republican Party officials about forgoing the presidential primary in 2020. But there’s little question that a move to effectively quash the state’s presidential primary could help protect Trump in the face of possible threats from within his own party.
In 1992, President George H.W. Bush was forced to endure a bruising South Carolina primary contest against Pat Buchanan. Although Bush prevailed in the Palmetto State, he limped into the general election.
As one of the most unpopular presidents in modern history, Trump could face a challenge from Ohio Gov. John Kasich, among others. But no one has officially jumped into the race, and the President is still overwhelmingly popular with Republican voters.
“Right now, I’m not even aware of a need for a primary,” McKissick said. “I’m not aware of any challengers.”
However, the state is already teeming with activity among would-be Democratic presidential candidates — another reason to possibly forgo a GOP primary, McKissick said: “Why would we want to distract any attention from the absolute circus the Democratic primaries are going to be?”