The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is already running a full-scale opposition research strategy on several Republicans that might challenge President Donald Trump for reelection in 2020. They also are focused on other possibilities, like Trump deciding not to run or being impeached.
The DNC is looking at how to best run against people like Vice President Mike Pence, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, among others.
“With Trump’s tumultuous presidency in complete chaos, we are prepared for all scenarios,” said DNC research director Lauren Dillon.
With possible scenarios that include Pence and Kasich, the DNC researchers are most likely just updating their existing research that they deployed in 2016. But for the others, almost two dozen researchers are looking through voting and governing records, building financial profiles, searching for conflicts of interest and marking past connections with Trump.
In recent months, the DNC staff has increased acquiring Freedom of Information Act-style records requests in several states. They have released researchers to courthouses collecting legal records that correspond to potential candidates.
Republicans have to tread lightly in any conversation about a 2020 election without President Trump. Pence, along with his aides, lashed out earlier this month after a New York Times report said that he and others were prepping for a potential run if Trump were to decide not to enter the race.
“As the Vice President has said repeatedly, the only election in 2020 that he is focused on is the reelection of President Trump and Vice President Pence,” Pence press secretary Marc Lotter said.
Presidential primary challenges are few and far between. The last was when Pat Buchanan launched a failed attempt to replace George H.W. Bush. But with the president’s approval rating so low and GOP leaders in his crossfire, researchers on both sides have focused on potential rivals.
Pence, Kasich, Haley, and Sasse have all said that they are not planning on running against Trump.
“I think the Democrats would be better served coming up with a better economic policy rather than planning to rely on Trump’s unpopularity,” said Kasich’s political adviser John Weaver.
“How Democrats waste their money is up to them, but this is pretty funny,” added Sasse spokesman James Wegmann.
Haley spokesman John Degory offered, “I don’t know or have anything to share on that.”
There is also some growing speculation about Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Marco Rubio of Florida, as well as former Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“Needless to say, there is no historical precedent for this kind of challenge to a sitting president this early in his term. I do think it’s important to begin to have these discussions, if for no other reason than to make it clear that there remain Republicans unstained by Trump’s presidency,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative radio host from Wisconsin.
Tom Rath, a longtime Republican strategist, questioned the DNC’s focus on other candidates. “I would think, if I were a Dem, I would really want to run against Trump in ’20 rather than any one else.”
Although a full-scale opposition research effort seems premature to some, Democrats had little research done on Trump when he announced he was running. In contrast, they had six years’ worth of planning done for Romney by the time he launched his 2012 campaign. Instead of letting this kind of research stall after their failed 2016 election, they are committed to not being caught “flat footed” in 2020, said Erik Smith, a senior advisor to both Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.
“It’s much harder,” he said, “to compile, analyze and summarize opposition research in the heat of a campaign.”
Do you agree that it is the right time to do opposition research for other GOP candidates in 2020?