If Trump Had a Primary Challenger

How a Republican could take on the president

Trump International Hotel
Mark Tenally / AP

On November 20, 1975, Ronald Reagan announced his primary run against President Gerald Ford, a fellow Republican. On December 10, 1991, Pat Buchanan said he would challenge President George H. W. Bush for the GOP nomination. What might an ambitious Republican say this fall to launch an in-it-to-win-it campaign against President Donald Trump?

My fellow citizens:

Today I’m launching a bid for the presidency. I hope you’ll choose me to lead the most important patriotic project of our time: the effort to Make America Great Again.

President Trump made that rallying cry famous. Isn’t he great at branding and slogans? My next favorite is “Drain the Swamp.” Like a lot of Americans, I want the folks in charge to stop taking advantage of their positions to line their pockets.

Four years ago, on Inauguration Night, I prayed that President Trump would succeed in draining the Washington swamp. I prayed that he would rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. I prayed that he would help Americans who are addicted to opioids. I prayed that he would end our costly wars in the Middle East. I prayed that he would improve our health-care system. He promised to do all those things and more. Had he kept those promises, I wouldn’t be running.

But those promises are unkept.

Lots of us watched Trump fire good people week after week on The Apprentice when, after a few hours, they failed to complete whatever difficult task they’d been given.

Trump gave himself the task of building a wall on the southern border and getting Mexico to pay for it. And he failed. He gave himself the task of improving health care for all Americans. And he failed. He gave himself the task of making prescription drugs cheaper. Are your prescriptions any cheaper?

He gave himself the task of ending the opioid crisis. When did he last mention it? He gave himself the task of ending North Korea’s nuclear program. Now he says nice things about the country’s dictator, who still has just as many nukes as he did before.

He gave himself the task of ending America’s costly, unwinnable wars. Yet he’s still got troops in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Do you feel “tired of winning” like he promised?

Me neither.

I am tired of America losing and spending billions of dollars to do it. Many of you are too. You don’t want a president who talks bigly but doesn’t get the job done.

You want results.

I almost forgot about infrastructure. President Trump talked so grandly about what he would build for this country. And what did he build for America? Not a dam or a highway or a bridge or a power plant. He’s more focused on the many buildings with his name at the top that profit the company that his kids control.

That’s why I chose to announce my candidacy here. Behind me is the Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C. They’ve got a fancy room there called the Pennsylvania Avenue Suite, named for the street that the White House is on.

One night costs $2,645. And that isn’t even the most expensive room. Now, that might not be much for a tech billionaire from Silicon Valley or a Saudi prince who’s coming to town to make sure his influence is felt. But a regular American sure can’t afford it. Only swamp dwellers can. The Capitol Suite, named for the place where our Congress deliberates, costs $4,125 a night––more than you could charge for any hotel room here if the swamp were actually drained.

What kind of message does $4,125 a night send?

Here’s the message that I get: Draining the swamp is more urgent than ever for America––but it would be bad for the Trump Organization’s business model. Donald Trump may not like that things are that way. But he can’t help but know it. Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric, and their kids benefit from Washington as it is. And I’m not insulting the president when I say that Trump values the future of his kids and grandkids, his flesh and blood, more than he values your future.

His wealthy friends are invested in the swamp too. The ones he appointed to government got to Washington and started flying around on private planes and buying pricey furniture with taxpayer money. His former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski got to Washington and got started in the lobbying game.

If you elect me, I won’t have any conflicted feelings about draining the swamp, because it won’t affect the future of my children. I don’t own any fancy hotels in Washington. I don’t have any business dealings in foreign countries. And my friends aren’t like Trump’s friends. I’ve never said nice things about Jeffrey Epstein or Paul Manafort. When I celebrated my wedding with loved ones, I sure as hell didn’t invite “Slick” Bill Clinton and “Crooked” Hillary to the party.

Trump was never really an outsider any more than he’s a hunter or a fisherman or a guy who can change his own flat tire. It was an act, like when he talked about jobs for Americans first even though, when it’s time to staff his fancy resorts, he applies to bring in foreign labor and even employs illegal immigrants.

I am an outsider.

I don’t sell high-rise luxury condos to finance professionals who make all their money on Wall Street. So I’ll keep the economy humming, but I won’t worry at all about the Manhattan real-estate market, and I won’t brag about the stock market as if it’s the only measure of economic health. The economy needs to work as well for the people who live far from Trump Tower as it does for its residents.

Trump can be unpredictable.

It’s hard to know what he’ll do or say next week, let alone for the next four years. But I know one thing. He’ll always care bigly about the Trump brand and its interests. I’ve got a family. But I don’t have a family brand to worry about. The only brand I want to make bigger and better for the next four years is the U.S.A. America will get my undivided attention. I won’t spend time on any outside business. I won’t appoint family members to important government jobs with taxpayer salaries. I won’t worry about what cable-TV hosts say about me. I doubt I’ll have time to watch TV at all. And I certainly won’t tweet.

I will appoint good conservative judges just like Trump. He’s chosen some fine ones. Americans deserve judges like that. Elect me and you can get those same judges without having to swallow conflicts of interest and broken promises. You can get those same judges and better health-care policy. You can get them without having to help the Saudis fight a war in Yemen. You can get them without having to explain to your kids why they shouldn’t talk like the president.

Like everyone else, I’m flawed, and I’ll definitely make mistakes. But I’ll never, ever forget that the kids are listening. And that God is watching everything.

And I haven’t forgotten that America is a healthier place when politics isn’t the focus of our national life. When events demand it, I’ll address the nation. But I’ll strive to do my job quietly––no needless drama––so that whole weeks go by when you’ll forget about me and the city of Washington. Remember what that was like?

I want your support. But I don’t crave your attention.

Have you all read The Art of the Deal?

A fascinating book. Trump reveals a lot about himself. “The final key to the way I promote is bravado,” he tells his readers. “I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves,” he adds. “But they can get very excited by those who do. That is why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest, the greatest and the most spectacular.”

We owe the president thanks for his biggest, best ideas. But at the end of the day, ideas aren’t enough. Trump oversold his ability to execute his ideas. A lot of us believed his hyperbole, because he’s a talented showman, and we want the best for our country, so we wanted to believe. But the Republican Party can’t afford to spend four more years led by a man who can’t deliver on his bravado.

America can’t afford it.

I’ll be honest with you, now and always: Choosing a new nominee carries risks. But so does sticking with an incumbent like Trump as more and more Americans get tired of his broken promises. The Republican Party stuck with George W. Bush in 2004, even as his mistakes were becoming more and more obvious. And while he won the election against John Kerry, the debacle of his second term led directly to eight years of Barack Obama. Let’s not make that mistake again.

The warning signs are there. Trump has already helped fuel a Democratic majority in the House. And while many of you love that he drives the left crazy, like Richard Nixon did, he also makes the left more extreme: more zealous in their political correctness, more supportive of socialism and open borders and reparations, and more powerful in the Democratic Party than they’d be without him.

I can Make America Great Again for the next four years without radicalizing the next generation against the Republican Party, or alienating whole races and religions, or creating a pendulum swing that gives the country eight years of President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, beginning in 2024. Trump couldn’t even win the popular vote against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, one of the worst candidates in American history. And you’re assuming he’s the best shot to win in 2020.


I’ll beat the Democrats in the Electoral College and in the popular vote. All I need from you to make it happen is help sending Trump back to Mar-a-Lago––but on his own dime for once, not at taxpayer expense. Every Monday, for the next eight weeks, I’ll release specific plans and promises for how to do better than he has done on health care, on the economy, on immigration, on taxes, on foreign affairs, on climate change, on infrastructure, and on the opioid-drug epidemic.

He’ll respond with personal attacks. When he does, remember that it’s because after four years, he still doesn’t have answers about how to make your lives better, or how to clean up the swamp, or how to Make America Great Again.

But I do.