The Republican parties in South Carolina and Kansas won't hold nominating contests in 2020, offering support to President Donald Trump despite fierce opposition from several GOP challengers lodging a long-shot bid for the White House.
The GOP in the deep-red state of South Carolina, which went to Trump in 2016 with about 55% of the vote, announced on Saturday it wouldn't hold a GOP primary contest for the 2020 election. Kansas' Republican party said on Friday it would not hold a caucus and explained conservatives have historically always given the state's delegates to the Republican incumbent. Officials in Nevada and Arizona are also examining the option of nixing their primaries.
"With no legitimate primary challenger and President Trump's record of results, the decision was made to save South Carolina taxpayers over $1.2 million and forgo an unnecessary primary," said GOP state Chairman Drew McKissick in an emailed statement. "President Trump and his administration have delivered for South Carolinians, and we look forward to ensuring that Republican candidates up and down the ballot are elected in 2020."
Trump is officially facing GOP primary challenges from former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who announced his White House bid in April, as well as from former Rep. Joe Walsh, who announced his candidacy in August.
The announcement will affect Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor and congressman, who was also thinking about challenging Trump but postponed announcing his decision due to Hurricane Dorian. Sanford said Saturday afternoon that he was disappointed by the state party's decision to cancel its presidential primary.
"I believe that political parties are about ideas, and ideas are refined and made stronger by debate and that's what primaries are about," he said.
"The debate of ideas is part and parcel to the American way," he .
While primary challenges to incumbent presidents rarely show success, news that states were debating canceling Republican primaries sent Trump's GOP challengers into a frenzy, accusing the administration of "rigging" the election.
"Remember all the times back in 2016 when Donald Trump accused the Democrats of 'rigging' the system to make sure Hillary got the nomination? I do. Well lookie here...the lying hypocrite is trying to 'rig' the system in 2020," Walsh wrote on Twitter.
Weld said the idea was undemocratic and accused the president of being "paranoid."
"Donald Trump, by turns arrogant and paranoid, has made no secret of the fact that he wishes to be crowned as President rather than elected," Weld wrote on Twitter. "That might be fine in a monarchy, but we overthrew ours two centuries ago."
State political parties set their own rules for primaries and caucuses, and one consideration when an incumbent president is seeking re-election is the costs that the state parties must bear to put on an intra-party contest when the likely outcome appears relatively clear.
It is also not an unusual move for state parties to cancel primary contests when a strong incumbent is running for re-election as president.
For example, the South Carolina and Arizona Republican parties did not hold primaries in 1984 and 2004 when Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, respectively, were seeking re-election, according to the Associated Press. In 2012, Democrats canceled 10 presidential preference contests to support Barack Obama, according to the New York Times.
The Trump campaign also pointed to a list of similar instances in past elections.
“These are decisions made entirely by state parties and there are volumes of historical precedents to support them," Trump campaign communication director Tim Murtaugh said. "Nevertheless, President Trump will dominate and prevail in whatever contest is placed before him."
Contributing: John Fritze and Savannah Behrmann; Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: S.C., Kansas halt Republican primaries to support Trump amid criticism