Trump says he won't debate 'laughingstock' Republican primary challengers

President Trump said on Monday that he would not debate any of the three Republicans who have stepped forward to challenge him for his party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

“They’re all at less than 1 percent. I guess it’s a publicity stunt,” Trump told reporters gathered at the White House.

“I’m not looking to give them any credibility,” Trump said about former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, all of whom say they plan to take on the president for the GOP nomination. “They have no credibility. One was a person that voted for Obama, ran as a vice president four years ago and was soundly defeated. Another one got thrown out after one term in Congress and he lost in a landslide, and the third one, ‘Mr. Tallahassee Trail’ or ‘Mr. Appalachian Trail,’ he’s the Appalachian Trail, right? The Tallahassee Trail is nice, too, but I think he was the Appalachian Trail, but he wasn’t on the Appalachian Trail, he was in Argentina.”

Weld ran for vice president on the third-party Libertarian line in 2016, along with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. The ticket received nearly 4.5 million votes. Walsh served one term in Congress as a Republican representing Illinois, but after redistricting lost his bid for a second term in 2012.

Sanford served as governor of South Carolina before the discovery of an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman led him to step down at the conclusion of his second term. He also served in the U.S. House from 2013 to 2019, before he himself was defeated in a primary. As he announced his entry into the presidential race, he cited the need for debate within his party.

Donald Trump, Bill Weld, Mark Sanford and Joe Walsh

Walsh, meanwhile, has cast his challenge to Trump in more dire terms.

Incumbent presidents have not infrequently faced primary challenges from members of their own party. In 1976, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan sought to replace President Gerald Ford on the Republican ticket. Four years later, former Sen. Edward Kennedy took on President Jimmy Carter, and in 1992, hard-right pundit Patrick Buchanan mounted a campaign against President George H.W. Bush. But none of the incumbents agreed to a primary debate.

Last week, the Republican Party in four states — Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina — announced they planned to cancel 2020 primaries, effectively putting an end to the chances for long-shot GOP challenges to Trump.

The president said he understood the decision to scrap the primaries.

“The three people are a total joke. They’re a laughingstock. And I have nothing to do — The four states that canceled it don’t want to waste their money,” Trump said. “If there was a race, they would certainly want to do that. But they’re considered to be a laughingstock. They’re considered to be a joke, and those four states don’t want to waste their money. Having primary campaigns and having a primary election is very expensive.”

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