Commentary: Why a Republican won’t beat Trump in 2020

Two days before being sworn in to the U.S. Senate, Mitt Romney wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post outlining his concerns about President Donald Trump “not rising to the mantle of the office.” Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, did not exactly break new ground. His column mostly rehashed concerns that many Republicans have long held about Trump’s temperament and international relationships while stopping short of an active commitment to addressing the many problems Romney sees in the Trump administration.

The op-ed also includes the kind of language that was standard from pre-Trump presidential candidates: “I remain optimistic about our future. In an innovation age, Americans excel. More importantly, noble instincts live in the hearts of Americans.” Romney has since said that he won’t run against Trump, but that he won’t necessarily support him either. It is difficult to read Romney’s column and not think that he won’t at least be part of any conversation about which Republican might be able to take on Trump for the Republican nomination.

The notion that a Republican will challenge Trump is not new. The idea of a primary against Trump is very appealing to many centrists, as well as whatever remaining conservative critics of the president still exist. A successful primary would also help bring an end to the Trump experiment while limiting lasting damage to America’s political system and perhaps even diverting the Republican Party from the direction it has taken under Trump. These are the developments that many in the political class, including many of the pundits and political analysts calling for a primary challenge to Trump, would like to see. 

The problem with this scenario is that it overlooks the extent to which the Republican Party has been remade to look like Trump, meaning that any primary challenger to Trump would likely get drubbed and therefore only strengthen Trump’s hold on the GOP. Trump himself has been extremely popular among his party. According to Gallup, his job approval rating among those who identified themselves as Republicans has not dropped below 77 percent at any point in his presidency. In 2018, that number never dipped below 81 percent and most weeks was much higher than that. (By contrast, his overall national approval rating has averaged 39 percent since he took office.)

Unseating an incumbent president in a primary is difficult enough – in recent decades the only candidate to do so was Senator Eugene McCarthy, who almost beat Democratic President Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 New Hampshire primary, spurring Johnson to drop out of the race. Beating a president who is beloved by the base in his own party in a primary challenge is almost impossible. Trump’s popularity among Republicans also demonstrates the gap between how Republican voters and some Republican elites think about the president. There are a lot of Republicans who are critical of Trump on television and popular political websites, but that is about the only place they can be found.

Beyond public opinion data, Republican primaries since 2016 have generally been won by pro-Trump Republicans while Republicans in Congress often have had to cater to their pro-Trump Republican electorates in order to stay in office. Even Jeff Flake, Trump’s most outspoken Senate Republican critic, conceded that if he had been running for reelection he would not have taken some positions that rankled the president. Policies around trade and foreign policy where Trump differs from Republican orthodoxy still polarize Republican leaders, but these are not the kinds of issues that will swing large number of voters in a Republican primary.

Last month, in the kind of move that does not draw headlines, the Trump reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) began to create a structure that will essentially combine the two entities into one for the 2020 race. The plan, according to a report in Politico, is for the campaign and the RNC to merge their field and fundraising organizations into a single, more streamlined unit. That all but ensures Trump will control the RNC, making it even less plausible that anyone can mount a successful, or even relevant, primary against him. Given this, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel’s Twitter response calling Romney’s opinion piece “disappointing and unproductive” is no surprise.

While it is perhaps possible that Trump will face a primary campaign to become the party’s nominee, whoever runs against Trump is likely not only to lose badly, but to fail in any attempt to move the party away from him. This is why the Republicans most frequently cited as potential challengers, like Arizona’s Flake and former Ohio Governor John Kasich, are in the later stages of their careers. Republicans with futures in the party, like Senators Ted Cruz of Texas or Marco Rubio of Florida, who disagree with Trump on many key issues and have previously indicated concern about his conduct and ethics, are not entertaining the idea of running against Trump and thus damaging their standing in the party. Over the last two years, the Republican Party has become Trump’s. Highfalutin opinion pieces in major media outlets are not going to change that.

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China's coronavirus mission – helping others and healing its own image

Among the Italian opera arias, folk songs and modern tunes that rang out from balconies and windows of Italy’s cities earlier this month – as its people sought to lift their spirits through music amid the coronavirus lockdown – was the Chinese national anthem.

A recording of the anthem was heard in a Rome residential district, at the end of which the grateful Italian who played it said: “I am not sure if there is a Chinese neighbour here, but I would like to sincerely thank China and the people there.”

A day before, a team of experts, along with 31 tonnes of much-needed medical equipment including ventilators and masks, arrived from China, at a time when Italy was struggling with a massive and rising wave of Covid-19 cases. More help has since arrived from Beijing in the form of medical staff and gear.

As China has passed the peak in its coronavirus outbreak, it has begun sending aid and experts overseas to help tame the virus that has now spread to more than 150 countries worldwide.

Apart from Italy, Chinese experts have also gone to Iran – one of the countries outside of China hardest hit by the virus – and Iraq. They have held online conferences with experts from other countries to share their knowledge and experience.

China, which had ramped up production of masks, respirators, ventilators and protective suits to meet the needs of its healthcare workers and patients, has begun sending such supplies to other countries where the need is greatest, as its own demand has dropped.

These have included countries in the West as well as Malaysia and the Philippines. Some of these shipped supplies are donations and some are sold.

Earlier last month, China’s Foreign Minister held a meeting with his Asean counterparts to discuss cooperation on containing the virus.

REPAIRING MARRED IMAGE

China’s official media and diplomats have not been shy about publicising these actions.

On March 11, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying wrote on Twitter – a social media platform banned in China – that a batch of medical supplies had arrived in Belgium and that these would be delivered to Italy and Spain. Four days later, she tweeted that Foreign Minister Wang Yi had spoken on the phone with his Philippine counterpart Teodoro Locsin and that China would be sending experts and medical supplies to the Philippines soon.

In a display of global statesmanship, Chinese President Xi Jinping called the leaders of France, Spain, Germany and Serbia with offers of help.

This contrasts with reports that United States President Donald Trump had tried to acquire a German company that is working on a vaccine for Covid-19, with a view to keeping its product for the exclusive use of Americans.

As much as China’s actions show a desire of the Chinese to help, having gone through a devastating few months battling the virus, they also reveal an eagerness to repair China’s image, which has been battered by its initial missteps in dealing with the virus that began to show up in the central city of Wuhan last November, leading to its spread throughout China and to other countries.

And these actions have had an effect, as evidenced in the playing of China’s national anthem in Rome and the effusive thanks from Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to President Xi and China’s people for the medical aid that arrived last Saturday.

What has been disconcerting, however, is the quickness of China’s experts and diplomats alike to question the origin of the virus before evidence has emerged to show it had surfaced elsewhere before China.

Famed pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan, who discovered the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus in 2003, said at a press conference last month that while the coronavirus first appeared in China, it may not have originated in the country.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian went further earlier this month, promoting a conspiracy theory. He tweeted that it “might be the US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan” and republished a video clip of Dr Robert Redfield, director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, telling a US congressional committee on March 11 that some influenza deaths in the US were later identified as cases of Covid-19. Dr Redfield did not say when those people had died or over what time period, but Mr Zhao used the remarks to back his claim.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman’s comments allude to a conspiracy theory that US military athletes participating in the Military World Games in Wuhan last October may have brought the virus into China. The US had sent nearly 300 athletes and officials to take part in the games. While the Pentagon has confirmed cases of Covid-19 in South Korea and Italy among its servicemen, no American soldier has been linked to the illness from last October, The New York Times reported.

Mr Zhao, said Professor Steve Tsang from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, was shifting focus to an ungrounded claim from the fact that China’s government had acted irresponsibly in the way it dealt with the first reported cases of human-to-human transmission that led to a global pandemic. The Chinese diplomat’s comments had come days after US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said China’s slow response had cost the world two months in which it could have geared up for the outbreak. China’s Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai has since distanced himself from Mr Zhao’s comments, saying such speculation will help nobody and is very harmful.

China has also taken umbrage at US leaders’ insistence on calling the coronavirus a “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus”, even after it was given a non-geographic name – Sars-CoV-2 – by the World Health Organisation. What has ensued is a war of words and a blame game between the world’s two most powerful nations, which should really be cooperating to lead the world out of this crisis.

Now, Chinese and Hong Kong media, including CGTN and the South China Morning Post, are floating the idea that the coronavirus could have originated in Italy because an expert there recently told the US’ National Public Radio that a “strange pneumonia” was circulating there as early as last November.

When and where the virus could have started, time and science will tell. In the meantime, it is unhelpful if government officials and diplomats were to latch on to these reports and draw as yet unfounded conclusions.

EMULATING CHINA’S DRACONIAN WAYS

Meanwhile, many countries that are facing spikes in Covid-19 cases and deaths are taking a page from China’s playbook – the lockdown, albeit to varying degrees of severity.

The lockdown of Wuhan and several cities around it in January had been vilified by some in the West as too draconian and an infringement on individual rights. But these measures, as well as restricted movement in other parts of the country affecting about 500 million people in all, proved to have worked in slowing the spread of the virus and buying the world time to gear up for the outbreak.

Some of these measures included shutting schools, offices and factories and requiring everyone to stay home unless they needed to seek medical care. Public transport was also halted and private vehicles banned from the roads.

Italy was the first Western nation to emulate China in imposing a lockdown on the worst-hit areas of the country last month. This has since been expanded to the whole country as the epidemic has worsened. Italy has the highest number of infections in Europe and it now has more deaths than China.

In what is effectively a national quarantine, Italy has shut down all but the most essential businesses, closed schools and universities, prohibited public gatherings and suspended sporting events. The army has been enlisted to help enforce the lockdown.

In France, from March 17, people can leave home only on essential business, such as shopping for food or basic necessities, going to the doctor or going to work. Restaurants, nightclubs, cinemas, museums and sports centres were closed and only food shops, pharmacies, banks, news agents and petrol stations were kept open.

In the US, four states including New York and California have instituted statewide lockdowns affecting 80 million people.

Closer to home, Malaysia last week imposed a partial lockdown, or movement control order, as cases began to spike, with nobody allowed to leave or enter the country from March 18 to 31, schools and non-essential businesses closed and public gatherings disallowed.

LET ACTIONS DO THE TALKING

While some of China’s draconian measures are being emulated around the world, it does not mean that these countries are looking to the Chinese authoritarian ways as a model for governance.

People are willing to accept draconian and intrusive measures that they normally would not have because of the pandemic, said Professor Zheng Yongnian from the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore.

However, it is Chinese authoritarian rule that had led to the initial delay in the country’s response, and this has caused more people to doubt the Chinese model, he added.

Even the Chinese themselves were questioning the initial delay and whether the situation would have been different if the government had not been so tardy, he said.

While the draconian measures had been necessary to bring the virus under control, it came at a huge social and economic cost as the whole country came to a standstill for two months, said Prof Zheng. People are reflecting on whether China could have instead adopted the less paralysing measures taken by South Korea, Singapore or Japan, as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, he added.

“They don’t have the draconian measures of China but still those societies are quite effective in controlling the disease,” he said.

What China can do, through its actions now – sending needed medical equipment overseas and sharing its experience and scientific knowledge to help the world combat the coronavirus – is to salvage some of the credibility that it had before the outbreak.

The last thing it should do, said Prof Zheng, is to trumpet such actions, as it could lead to a backlash because people usually don’t like such behaviour.

Indeed, that pushback has begun with commentators in the US and Europe questioning Chinese motives in sending medical supplies and healthcare personnel to coronavirus-hit countries.

Former diplomat Kurt Campbell and researcher Rush Doshi, in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, wrote that China is positioning itself as the global leader in pandemic response – while the US falters – by working to “tout its own system, provide material assistance to other countries, and even organise other governments”. Others have said China is trying to deflect blame through its propaganda.

If China wants to repair its image and build goodwill, it has to move hearts through its acts of kindness and generosity on the ground, rather than blow its horn. It has to let its actions do the talking.

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Impossible Foods raises about $500 million in new funding

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Plant-based meat company Impossible Foods said on Monday it had raised about $500 million in its latest series F funding round, which was led by new investor South Korea’s Mirae Asset Global Investments.

That brings the total raised to $1.3 billion since its founding in 2011. Other investors in this round include Khosla Ventures, Horizons Ventures and Temasek.

Impossible Foods did not disclose its latest valuation. Reuters in November said citing sources that the company was aiming to more than double the $2 billion valuation it attained in its May funding round.

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GKSD Investment walks away from offer for NMC Health

(Reuters) – GKSD Investment Holding on Monday pulled out of preliminary stages of considering an offer for NMC Health (NMC.L), days after the UAE-based hospital operator was relegated from London’s bluechip index FTSE.100.

GKSD, backed by sponsors of Italy’s Gruppo San Donato, last month confirmed that it was mulling an offer for NMC but did not provide any further details.

NMC declined to comment on the news.

NMC has been embroiled in a series of set backs since December when U.S. based short-seller Muddy Waters questioned its financial statements. Ever since, NMC shares have dropped dramatically, losing about two-third of its value.

The troubled company said in February it received preliminary buyout approaches from private equity firms KKR & Co Inc (KKR.N) and GK Investment.

But KKR said it had not made a proposal or discussed any possible offer for the London-listed company.

NMC said earlier this month it would ask for an informal debt standstill to stabilize its finances and confirmed that it had hired Moelis (MC.N) to advise it in talks with banks.

The company also hired PwC as an operational adviser to assist on liquidity management and operational measures, while Allen & Overy were hired as a legal adviser.

GSD, founded in 1957, operates research hospitals, general hospitals and clinics in 44 locations across Italy and calls itself the country’s largest private hospital group.

Last year, NMC was also the target of two groups, one backed by China’s Fosun, looking to buy a 40% stake in it.

Trading in shares of the company on the London Stock Exchange stood to be suspended.

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Exclusive: ProSieben's NuCom nears deal to acquire Meet Group – sources

(Reuters) – German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE’s (PSMGn.DE) e-commerce arm NuCom Group is nearing a deal to acquire Meet Group Inc (MEET.O) that could value the U.S. dating app developer at more than $500 million, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

NuCom, whose holdings include online dating website eharmony, could finalize an agreement to buy Meet Group as early as Thursday, when ProSieben reports its fourth-quarter earnings, the sources said.

It is still possible the deal negotiations will fall apart at the last minute or get delayed, one of the sources added.

The sources asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. ProSieben declined to comment, while Meet Group did not respond to a request for comment.

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South Korea's Jeju Air buys Eastar Jet at lower price amid virus outbreak

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean budget carrier Jeju Air Co Ltd (089590.KS) said on Monday it would acquire a 51% stake in competitor Eastar Jet for 54.5 billion won ($45.49 million), a lower price than previously announced.

The acquisition is the latest case of restructuring in South Korea’s aviation industry, which is suffering losses from low travel demand due the coronavirus epidemic and a diplomatic feud between South Korea and Japan last year.

South Korea has the most virus infections outside China, with 4,212 as of Monday.

The final acquisition price is lower than a preliminary deal price of about 69.5 billion won Jeju Air reported in a December regulatory filing, which was subject to change after due diligence.

A Jeju Air spokesman declined comment on whether the change in the price was affected by the coronavirus epidemic or South Korean airlines’ current difficulties.

Jeju Air said last month it was instituting unpaid leave for all employees due to shrinking travel demand, while Eastar Jet has said it will only pay 40% of executives’ and employees’ salaries in February, with the remainder to be paid at a later date.

“The management is well aware that there is concern among our employees about the Eastar Jet acquisition,” Jeju Air CEO Lee Seok-joo said in a message to employees on Monday.

“However, the domestic airline industry, which has a structural problem of oversupply, will soon have to restructure… If it’s unavoidable, we believe it’s best to make a preemptive move.”

Jeju Air shares jumped as much as 21% after the announcement.

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Virgin Galactic dealmaker seeks to raise $900 million for new blank check companies

(Reuters) – Chamath Palihapitiya, the dealmaker behind last year’s blockbuster Virgin Galactic deal, is looking to raise a combined $900 million through two new investment vehicles, according to regulatory filings.

The investment vehicles are blank check companies or special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) and aim to raise $300 million and $600 million, respectively. (bit.ly/2PzNMP9) (bit.ly/32ArvWR)

A SPAC uses proceeds from an initial public offering (IPO), together with borrowed funds, to acquire companies that are usually privately held.

The companies, called Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp II and III, are a result of a partnership between venture capital firm Social Capital, founded by Palihapitiya, and London-based VC firm Hedosophia.

The first iteration of Social Capital Hedosophia merged with Richard Branson-backed Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc (SPCE.N) in October last year allowing the space tourism company to go public by sidestepping an IPO.

Shares of Virgin Galactic have more than doubled since their market debut.

Through a SPAC deal, a company looking to go public can avoid the risk of struggling to sell shares to investors in a traditional IPO process.

Palihapitiya is doing simultaneous SPACs because he sees healthy deal flow in smaller companies that could not absorb the capital of the larger SPAC, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Credit Suisse advised Social Capital on the offering.

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Buyout bids for Thyssenkrupp Elevator loaded with similar leverage: sources

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Private equity suitors for Thyssenkrupp’s (TKAG.DE) elevator division, which is seen fetching around 16 billion euros ($17.4 billion), have submitted offers with similar levels of debt, four people familiar with the process told Reuters on Wednesday.

Two consortia remain in the race: Blackstone (BX.N), Carlyle (CG.O) and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board are competing with Advent and Cinven, who are supported by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Germany’s RAG Stiftung.

The bids, which were submitted in the afternoon, both include a leverage factor of more than 7 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, the people said.

Spokespeople for Thyssenkrupp and the suitors declined to comment or were not immediately available for comment.

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Xperi receives all-cash buyout offer from Metis Ventures

(Reuters) – Technology licensing firm Xperi Corp (XPER.O) said on Sunday it received an unsolicited, non-binding buyout proposal from Metis Ventures LLC for $1.16 billion in cash, months after announcing that it would merge with set-top box maker TiVo Corp (TIVO.O).

The Delaware-based company has offered $23.30 per share, which represents a premium of about 20% to Xperi’s last close on Friday.

The board is unable to conclude that Metis’ proposal is likely to lead to a superior proposal based on the current terms and conditions, Xperi said, reiterating its support for the pending all-stock deal with TiVo.

The company will not be engaging in further discussions with Metis at the time, Xperi added.

The deal between Xperi and TiVo was announced in December, giving the combined entity an enterprise value of about $3 billion.

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Two suitors for Thyssenkrupp elevator division sign fair owner pledge

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) – The two consortia bidding for Thyssenkrupp’s (TKAG.DE) 16 billion euro ($17.3 billion) elevator division have signed a fair owner agreement, a key demand by labor union IG Metall to protect jobs, the union and a company spokesman said on Saturday.

The move leaves wide open the race for the asset, potentially Europe’s biggest private equity transaction since 2007.

Two consortia are battling it out: Blackstone (BX.N), Carlyle (CG.O) and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board on one side and Advent and Cinven, supported by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Germany’s RAG foundation, on the other.

Thyssenkrupp’s management board will make a decision about the sale in the coming week, and then inform the supervisory board, the union said.

The supervisory board is scheduled to meet on Feb. 27.

The agreement between labor and the two consortia includes the preservation of collective bargaining agreements and safeguarding the company pension scheme, according to the union.

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