Today at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) near Washington, D.C., Ronna McDaniel, chair of the supposedly-impartial-in-primaries Republican National Committee (RNC), said that anyone foolish enough to challenge President Donald Trump would "lose horribly."
"So have at it, go ahead, waste your money, waste your time and go ahead and lose," she advised #NeverTrump Republicans.
McDaniel, niece of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), whom she criticized sharply after his January Washington Post op-ed critiquing the president, is just the latest RNC official to push the party toward full Trump-defense mode. Last month the RNC passed a unanimous resolution offering "undivided support for President Donald J. Trump and his effective Presidency." In December, the party and president announced the extraordinary step of merging organization and fundraising into a single entity called Trump Victory, which McDaniel bragged would be "the biggest, most efficient and unified campaign operation in American history."
While the party did not adopt a resolution explicitly blocking a primary challenge, officials in the first-in-the-South primary state of South Carolina are thinking about scrapping their election altogether.
"I've never seen anything like it and I've been involved in the Republican Party for most of my life," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a potential primary challenger, told Politico last week. "It's unprecedented."
"Remember when Republican primaries were about choosing the best candidate to represent the ideals of the party?," exploratory committee-haver Bill Weld tweeted earlier today. "What is it they are so afraid of?"
Writing in the Washington Post earlier this month, Republican strategist and Defending Democracy Together Executive Director Sarah Longwell laid out in detail the obstacles any Weld/Hogan type could face:
[I]t might be hardest for a Trump primary challenger to get on the ballot in states such as California and Texas, where state party organizations have sufficient control over the primary system to keep a challenger off the ballot for no other reason than caprice or self-interest. They could similarly put Trump on the ballot unilaterally, saving his campaign the trouble of qualifying.
At this moment, when the GOP establishment's support for Trump seems unshakable, partisan self-interest could mean blocking a challenger. But months from now — when the fallout from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation may be clear, for instance — the political winds might be blowing in another direction, and the state Republican organizations might be more welcoming to a challenger. Their election officers could use their discretion to place a challenger's name on primary ballots, removing the hurdle of collecting tens of thousands of nomination petition signatures.
Trump, who has serially accused Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee of colluding to rig the 2016 Democratic primary against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has consistently maintained approval ratings in the 80s among Republicans.