GOP’s ‘winner for most likely loser’ may help Texas governor threaten Trump in 2020

Mike Pence, who helped Ted Cruz come from behind in the 2016 Republican primary campaign, will likely do the same for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2020.

That’s because Pence, widely viewed as the front-runner for the GOP nomination, is reportedly on the verge of launching a national campaign tour of presidential primary states with Abbott. The first stop will be on Jan. 14, four days after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. A senior adviser confirmed Pence and Abbott’s impending tour to The Washington Post on Wednesday.

By then, Trump will have two years to perform his constitutional duty of nominating a successor to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and appointing his own. Also on the presidential election calendar next year will be primary races in Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, Florida, California, Texas, Connecticut, and elsewhere. After the early GOP primary stumbles of Romney and Carson in 2012, Trump himself often played the role of establishment front-runner in 2016. Pence’s recognition of this dynamic could help him build a head of steam heading into 2020.

For his part, Abbott has discussed the prospect of a presidential run several times with Pence. And in recent weeks, both men have held back-channel conversations with several potential Republican White House candidates. Earlier this year, the two attended a group dinner for Republican governors hosted by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton. Afterward, Pence joked about the state of Cruz’s campaign during that dinner.

The speculation is nothing new. For months, Trump allies have teased that he will be leading a primary-challenge campaign at some point. The notion gained particular traction when California billionaire Tom Steyer, who funded a Super PAC against Hillary Clinton and was a frequent Trump critic, announced a political group to focus on primary challenges against Trump or other GOP incumbents.

Abbott isn’t the only Texas candidate mentioned by GOP leaders to challenge Trump for the 2020 nomination. Cruz, whose once-familiar tweeting references to Trump and his attacks on his wife became more frequent throughout the 2016 campaign, is seen as the biggest threat to Trump.

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