President Trump has been campaigning for his re-election since not long after his inauguration, but the Democratic National Committee, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and veteran GOP political consultant Mike Murphy, isn't so sure Trump will be the GOP standard-bearer in 2020. DNC research director Karen Dillon confirmed to Politico that the Democrats have already started a full-bore opposition-research operation on a number of potential Republican rivals in 2020, including Vice President Mike Pence, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. The idea is that either a weakened Trump will have a strong primary challenger or he won't run for re-election for whatever reason.
"With Trump's tumultuous presidency in complete chaos, we are prepared for all scenarios," Dillon told Politico. Sitting presidents don't usually get serious primary challengers, and when they do — Pat Buchanan taking on George H.W. Bush in 1992 or Ted Kennedy challenging Jimmy Carter in 1980 — it doesn't usually end well for the president in the general election. "For an opposition party to be scrutinizing potential intraparty re-election rivals to an incumbent president just seven months into his term is highly unusual," Politico's Gabriel Debenedetti notes, though Trump's entire chaotic presidency "has been nothing if not unusual."
Other potential Trump challengers include Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), plus Mitt Romney. Spokesmen for Sasse, Kasich, and other Republicans being investigated mocked the Democrats for spending their money this way, but the Republican National Committee is also already digging for information on Democrats including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And conservative radio host Charlie Sykes actually thinks this early opposition research could be a blessing for the GOP. "Needless to say, there is no historical precedent for this kind of challenge to a sitting president this early in his term," he said. "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." You can read more about the Democratic effort at Politico, and Mike Murphy's case for Trump not making it to 2019 at CNN.