Last Friday in New Hampshire, Jeff Flake—the outgoing Republican senator from Arizona who has denounced President Donald Trump as a threat to American democracy—got a standing ovation in Manchester, New Hampshire. John Kasich, another potential challenger to Trump in the 2020 GOP primary, will visit the Granite State next month. “The unusual flurry of activity,” noted The Washington Post, “is stoking speculation about whether a sitting president could face a serious challenge from within his own party for the first time in a quarter-century.”
The focus on New Hampshire makes sense. It was in New Hampshire that Eugene McCarthy won 42 percent of the Democratic primary vote in 1968 against Lyndon Johnson. It was in New Hampshire that Pat Buchanan won 37 percent in 1992 against George H.W. Bush. Iowa, which traditionally holds its caucuses eight days before New Hampshire’s primary, is almost certainly too conservative to embrace a comparative moderate like Flake or Kasich. In 2016, Kasich came in eighth in the state. So is South Carolina, which in recent cycles has directly followed New Hampshire, and where Kasich came in fifth.
New Hampshire, with its libertarian bent and reputation for Yankee high-mindedness, would appear more fertile ground. But it is probably isn’t. The core reason is that most Republicans in New Hampshire—like most Republicans everywhere—like Trump. A February poll by the University of New Hampshire found that 80 percent of New Hampshire Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing as president. Among Republicans nationally, according to the most recent Gallup survey, the figure is 82 percent. And in New Hampshire, as in the nation, Republican politicians are following Republican voters. New Hampshire’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu, is a Trump backer. (The state’s two senators are Democrats.)