In 2012, an unknown candidate named Keith Judd registered a stunning 41 percent of the vote against then-President Barack Obama in the West Virginia Democratic primary. Neither man had even campaigned in the state leading up to the election, although Judd, at least, had a good excuse: He was incarcerated in a Texas prison at the time, serving a 17-year sentence for extortion.
This year, President Donald Trump has two announced primary challengers for the Republican nomination, and neither is a felon. Both, in fact, are former Republican elected officials: ex–Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld and former Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois. But if either man earns even close to 41 percent against Trump in a single Republican primary next year, the result would be equally shocking.
Trump has caused plenty of angst for the GOP in his two and a half years in office. He’s all but reversed the party’s traditional support for free trade and its hostility to Russia, cozied up to dictators such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, attacked Republican elder statesmen, launched racist Twitter tirades, and presided over the loss of the party’s majority in the House.
Yet for all of Trump’s turbulence, even the president’s toughest Republican critics concede he is in virtually no danger of losing the party’s nomination for reelection—and certainly not to Weld or Walsh, the conservative ally turned foe who launched his bid over the weekend. Indeed, Trump is barely more vulnerable than his recent predecessors—none of whom drew serious primary challengers to their reelection.