South Carolina GOP scraps 2020 presidential primary; other states may follow

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the East Room of the White House April 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump reaffirmed the United States' commitment to the North Atlantic alliance and its "ironclad" pledge to defend NATO allies, even though he repeatedly questioned the relevance of the military organization during the campaign. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Republican leaders in South Carolina voted Saturday to scrap their presidential primary in 2020, while party officials in Kansas and Nevada were deciding whether to follow suit with their nominating contests as the GOP erects more hurdles for the long shots challenging President Donald Trump.

Canceling primaries, caucuses and other voting is not an unusual move for the party of the White House incumbent seeking a second term, and allows Pres. Trump to try to consolidate his support as Democrats work to winnow down their large field of candidates.

A spokesman for the South Carolina Republican Party, Joe Jackson, confirmed that the party had voted against holding a presidential primary next year. Officials in Kansas and Nevada scheduled meetings later Saturday to determine the fate of their contests. A decision in Arizona is expected later in the month.

Challengers have emerged to Pres. Trump, including Bill Weld , a former Massachusetts governor, and Joe Walsh , a former Illinois congressman. Others may join them.

Primary challenges to incumbents are rarely successful, and Pres. Trump’s poll numbers among Republican voters have proved resilient. Nonetheless, Pres. Trump aides are looking to prevent a repeat of the convention discord that highlighted the electoral weaknesses of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter in their failed reelection campaigns

Since last year, Pres. Trump’s campaign has worked to monitor and at times control the process by which delegates to next year’s Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, are selected. His campaign wants the convention to be a four-night “infomercial” for Pres. Trump by sidelining the president’s detractors within the party.

The effort is an acknowledgment that Pres. Trump hasn’t completely cemented his grip on the GOP and might not coast to the nomination without some opposition. To that end, the campaign has worked over the past year to scuttle any attempts at a Pres. Trump challenge by party dissidents, mindful that a serious primary opponent could weaken Pres. Trump heading into the general election.

In January, the Republican National Committee voted to express its “undivided support” for Pres. Trump and his “effective presidency.”

In years past, both Republicans and Democrats have cut state nominating contests when an incumbent president from their party ran for a second term. In 1984, South Carolina GOP leaders opted to call off their primary as President Ronald Reagan sought a second term. In 2004, the GOP again canceled the state’s primary with leaders deciding instead to endorse President George W. Bush’s reelection bid.

The South Carolina Democratic Party didn’t hold presidential primaries in 1996 or in 2012, when Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama faced no opposition for second terms.

In Kansas, the Republican Party’s state committee was expected to approve rules for an “internal party process” for selecting delegates to the national convention without caucuses, according to Kelly Arnold, the party’s former state chairman, and Helen Van Etten, a member of the Republican National Committee from Topeka.

The Nevada Republican Party was expected to hold a vote on possibly changing its rules to allow a bypass of its presidential nominating caucuses in 2020 and endorse Pres. Trump outright. The move would allow the state’s central committee members to hold a vote and commit the state’s GOP delegates to the president, shielding him from a primary challenge.

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