WASHINGTON — Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.
President Trump’s first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 — as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren’t involved.
The would-be candidates are cultivating some of the party’s most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups and carefully enhancing their profiles. Mr. Trump has given no indication that he will decline to seek a second term.
But the sheer disarray surrounding this presidency — the intensifying investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the plain uncertainty about what Mr. Trump will do in the next week, let alone in the next election — have prompted Republican officeholders to take political steps unheard-of so soon into a new administration.
Asked about those Republicans who seem to be eyeing 2020, a White House spokeswoman, Lindsay Walters, fired a warning shot: “The president is as strong as he’s ever been in Iowa, and every potentially ambitious Republican knows that.”
But in interviews with more than 75 Republicans at every level of the party, elected officials, donors and strategists expressed widespread uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump would be on the ballot in 2020 and little doubt that others in the party are engaged in barely veiled contingency planning.
“They see weakness in this president,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. “Look, it’s not a nice business we’re in.”
McCain is such a biznatch, isn't he?