CLEVELAND,: The 2016 US presidential election is more than 100 days away, but at the Republican convention in Cleveland the battle for the party’s 2020 White House nomination is already raging.
The received political wisdom goes something like this: Donald Trump’s White House bid is doomed to fail and from the ashes a new generation of Republican leaders will emerge.
Step forward Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton.
Each man addressed the Republican delegates this week, showing face where an older generation of likeminded Republicans pointedly stayed away.
“Most party leaders expect Trump to lose,” said Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia’s school of politics.
“Many of them are not for Trump, and they aren’t happy that he has presented the party with loads of problems.”
Yet most strained to appear loyal, championing conservative values and bashing Democrats, careful not to play Brutus to emperor Trump.
All except Ted Cruz. The conservative Texas senator had come to bury Trump, not to praise him.
Cruz received a heroes’ welcome in the convention hall, but as it became clear he would not endorse Trump the crowd was soon baying for blood.
“We deserve leaders who stand for principle,” he said. “Vote your conscience.”
There had been a hint of things to come earlier in the day, when Cruz waxed lyrical before a small group of supporters about winning eight million primary votes and 12 state contests.
Then in the distant sky Trump’s plane glided in to view. The crowd let out boos and a few giggles.
Other 2020 hopefuls used the convention to burnish their reputation, and to more subtly improve their chances of becoming the Republicans’ designated survivor.
Cotton, a senator from Arkansas and perhaps the least known of the quartet, played up his resume as a veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
It was, he said, God’s calling to serve.
“Against the wishes of my family, I gave up my legal career and I volunteered for the Army,” he said. “I became an infantryman. I went to Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The 39-year-old quoted George Washington, spoke tellingly about “my generation” and made 16 references to “I”, “me” or “my” in a 500 word statement.
Ryan, who as House speaker must be an honest broker between party and campaign, hung his speech on the one thing that unifies Republicans: disdain for Hillary Clinton.
“Let’s win this thing!” he implored delegates, without really saying what “this thing” was. His talk of turnout and competing in “every part of America” suggested that November’s congressional races were uppermost in his mind.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio appeared via video link and delivered a similar message.
“The time for fighting each other is over, it is time to come together and fight for a new direction for America,” he said.
“It is time to win in November.”
Other names will no doubt emerge before the 2020 race begins in earnest.
Two other speakers could yet come into the frame, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence and maybe, just maybe, his daughter Ivanka, who will address the convention on Thursday night.
Or, as has so often been the case in this 2016 race, the conventional wisdom could be all wrong, and the next batch of White House hopefuls will have to bide their time serving under President Donald J. Trump.