Just over six months into his presidency, a CNN poll released Tuesday found that Trump’s strong approval rating among Republicans has fallen to 59 percent, down from 73 percent in February. According to the poll, only 35 percent of whites without college degrees, a key component of Trump’s base, strongly approve of Trump — down 12 percentage points since February.
The New York Times reported Saturday that Republicans, including donors and elected officeholders, expressed uncertainty to the Times about Trump’s place in the next presidential race.
The administration has been quick to denounce such claims. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway told ABC News’ chief anchor George Stephanopoulos during a Sunday appearance on “This Week” that Trump “plans on being a two-term president.”
Nonetheless, some Republicans are making moves that could be interpreted as signs of a 2020 run — from trips to Iowa to meetings with donors.
Vice President Mike Pence
Perhaps the most controversial of all suspected 2020 presidential contenders is Vice President Mike Pence. After a New York Times article on Saturday pointed out signals of Pence’s possible presidential ambitions and reported that “multiple advisers to Mr. Pence have already intimated to party donors that he would plan to run if Mr. Trump did not,” Pence pushed back forcefully.
“Today’s article in The New York Times is disgraceful and offensive to me, my family and our entire team. The allegations in this article are categorically false and represent just the latest attempt by the media to divide this administration,” he said in a statement released Sunday morning.
Marty Obst, a Pence aide, also denied to The New York Times that he and Ayers made any private insinuations to donors that Pence wants to be ready for 2020.
Gov. John Kasich
In an interview with CNN in April, Kasich said it is “very unlikely” that he would enter the race but added, “How do you close the door on anything? ... If I see something I need to do to help my country that I really believe that I have to do, then I would think I would probably do it.”
He has spoken out recently against the GOP’s health care repeal efforts and plans to convene a series of forums on health policy. As part of a book tour, he has traveled across the country, including to New Hampshire, where he placed second in its 2016 primary. He may not serve another term after his second term ends in January 2019.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
Tuesday morning on “Fox & Friends,” Haley appeared to suggest that Trump tweeted about classified information. Asked about a story appearing on FoxNews.com regarding North Korean activity to load anti-ship cruise missiles in a patrol boat, she responded, “I can't talk about anything that’s classified. And if that’s in the newspaper, that's a shame.” Trump had retweeted the Fox News story that morning.
Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist who managed Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, told Politico that Haley is “one of the few political leaders ... who’s had consistently good moments on the political stage over the past few years.” In spite of talk about her political rise, she told CNN in April she couldn’t “imagine running for the White House.”
Sen. Tom Cotton
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton has risen as a prominent national conservative. Though Cotton raised speculation of a 2020 bid, he has recently been working alongside Trump. Cotton partnered with the president and Georgia Sen. David Perdue to push an immigration bill, which has no co-sponsors, that focuses on merit and skills over family affiliation in determining who is permitted to immigrate to the United States. In a May interview with Politico’s “Off Message” podcast, Cotton said, “Donald Trump won, and he’s the president, and everybody needs to accept that, especially the Democrats.” However, he also said, “That doesn’t mean I’ll support every policy he announced or every statement he makes.”
The Associated Press reported that he took a trip to Council Bluffs, Iowa, in May, where he delivered a speech at the Pottawattamie County Republican Party’s annual fundraiser. The speech, which was directed at an audience of over 100 Iowa GOP supporters and received a standing ovation, had seemingly presidential tones, with Cotton calling for “that new beginning.”
He will be hosting a $5,000 per person fundraiser in September, signaling large fundraising efforts. However, as AP reported, when he was asked whether he was building a framework for a 2020 presidential bid, he replied, “No.”
Sen. Jeff Flake
Jeff Flake, the junior senator from Arizona, has been a top critic of the president in the GOP. Flake would not endorse Trump during the 2016 campaign and recently released a book titled “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle,” which largely centers on his disapproval of Trump.
In return, the Trump administration has met with several potential challengers to Flake, who is up for re-election in 2018. Flake has not announced any plans to run in 2020 but continues to position himself as a Trump critic.
Sen. Ben Sasse
While only a first term senator, Ben Sasse has gained recognition in part because of his criticism of Trump. Sasse, who represents Nebraska, refused to support Trump during the campaign and in an open letter on Facebook wrote that if Trump became the nominee, he would support a “third candidate — a conservative option, a constitutionalist.”
Sasse’s new book, “The Vanishing American Adult,” does not explicitly mention Trump but focuses on the failure of current American culture and political virtue. Sasse visited Iowa earlier this year, claiming the trip was a result of a lost bet. He did not directly respond when asked on CNN in July if there was any chance he would challenge Trump.
How likely is it there will be a different GOP nominee in 2020?
Trump has given no sign that he will not run for re-election in 2020.
Of the Republicans seen as possible challengers, some may simply be gearing up early for 2024 and beyond. Nonetheless, the amount of speculation about a GOP challenger to Trump in 2020 suggests a lack of unity in the party and behind the president.