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In just a few months, the 2020 presidential campaign will begin in earnest.

Democrats who hope to replace President Donald Trump are already making their pilgrimages to the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

But what about Republicans? Will they stick with Trump and hope the most widely despised president since Richard Nixon can repeat his improbable 2016 victory and claim a second term?

The answer, most likely, is yes. The thumping the GOP took in the midterm election was not thorough enough to embolden them to turn their back on a president who still thrills his rabid base.

The gain of a few Senate seats doesn't mitigate the loss of the House, or of seven Republican governors. Nor does it change an electoral college map that shifted decisively in Democratic favor this past Election Day.

While those Trumpites are intensely loyal to the president, there aren't enough to re-elect him. And the midterm demonstrated that the independents who gave him a shot two years ago are now heavily against Trump. 

Unless the GOP dumps Trump and unites behind a more appealing — or less unappealing — primary challenger, the destruction of the Republican Party that began with the 2018 vote will be complete in 2020.

Republicans need a principled conservative who can reach the party funders and the old GOP establishment who were never behind Trump — and there's plenty of them.

It has to be ONE challenger, though, not a half dozen. And it has to be someone who's a safe vote for independents and even moderate Democrats should their party stand a socialist to challenge Trump.

Some names are floating. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, for one. He was Trump's most persistent rival in 2016. But he feels a bit like warmed-overs. 

Mitt Romney just got elected to the Senate from Utah, and it would be unseemly for him to immediately launch a third presidential bid.

Jeff Flake, the retiring Arizona senator, says he may run, but his wobbling on the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hurts him. 

Nikki Haley is a fabulous choice, but she's too loyal to Trump to take him on.

I like Sen. Ben Sasse from Nebraska. He's young and hasn't been afraid to criticize Trump. Sasse is dynamic and excites young voters — a big plus if Democrats dip into their septuagenarian corps for a candidate. 

Sasse is also highly principled, honest and intelligent — he holds a Ph.D. in history — and in personal character stands in sharp contrast to the president. 

Trump can be beat. His position ahead of 2020 is similar to that of Lyndon Johnson's in 1968. LBJ saw his popularity plummeting, his odds of defeat by the charismatic Bobby Kennedy rising, and decided not to run for re-election.

Trump isn't that self aware. So Republicans shouldn't wait for him to make the decision.

The president has proved toxic to the GOP's political prospects. His power to inspire Democrats to the polls in overwhelming numbers is confirmed, and won't dissipate over the next two years.

 The Dump Trump movement within the Republican Party should start now. 

nfinley@detroitnews.com

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.

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