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The Republican class of 2020 is serious about defeating the incumbent president even pumping their life savings in their campaigns or quitting their careers

Donald Trump won the Republican nomination with ease in 2016, defeating more than a dozen rivals before going on to win the presidential election.

Ahead of 2020, all eyes are now on the spectacularly crowded 2020 Democratic primary race. But it is easy to forget, or not notice, that Trump will need to beat off 52 Republican challengers, from across the country, if he is to have any chance of a second term.

The presidents declared rivals are less vaunted this time round. So far only Bill Weld, who was governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, has anything approaching national name recognition.

But the rest of the class of 2020 are serious about their unlikely task of defeating an incumbent president with the Republican party mostly united behind him, even as observers believe they have virtually no chance of winning.

Some have pumped their life savings into their presidential quests, others have quit their careers, all with the dream of becoming the 46th president of the United States. Those dreams range from cautiously optimistic to incautiously optimistic.

I want to be candid and honest and not sound like a lunatic, said James Peppe, a financial adviser from Houston. But I think if I can get the exposure for enough people to see what Im about, and what I represent, then I think that not only will I win, but Ill win big.

Peppe, whose campaign website shows him wearing a shirt, tie and a pair of stars and stripes boxing gloves, has previous experience in politics he said he worked for the former Minnesota senator Rudy Boschwitz and former governor Arne Carlson and an ambitious set of proposals.

A screengrab from James Peppes website. Photograph: James Peppe 2020

He wants to abolish the Department of Veterans Affairs and instead scoop health coverage for former military members under the apron of Medicare he calls the proposal Veticare and has has suggested a series of updates to the constitution, tweaking archaic language to establish clearer positions on guns, free speech and privacy.

Peppe, 52, plans to pitch up in Iowa and New Hampshire the first states to vote in the 2020 primaries and take his message to the people, hoping to slowly gain exposure.

When they see me and they see Im a pretty plainspoken, I think common sense-oriented kind of guy, I think thats the tipping point where youll see a flood of people move my way.

And I dont think itll be very close, honestly. Starting with those early primary states, I think theyll flood my way. The real question is: can I get that exposure?

Its a big question. Even Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, has struggled to get much airtime after announcing his campaign on 16 April.

The former Ohio governor John Kasich and current Maryland governor Larry Hogan are also rumored to be considering runs, but they too face a daunting task to overhaul Trump, given the Republican National Committee effectively the GOP leadership voted unanimously to back Trump earlier this year.


Nevertheless, there is something of a precedent for long-shot candidates. Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were considered outliers when they ran. But they were hardly quite as long-shot as this crowd.

Republican candidate Chris Brainards political experience pales in comparison: he has none.

The Texas property developer is running on an atypical platform which fuses the leftwing economic policies of Bernie Sanders with a hard-right, fundamental Christian-esque stance on social issues.

I have progressive ideas, Brainard told the Guardian. And my core fundamental values are more traditionally Republican.

Brainard promises universal healthcare and a $15 minimum wage, but is anti-abortion. He believes in free college tuition and closing tax loopholes exploited by the rich, but thinks calls for stricter gun control are senseless.

To the casual bystander it might seem this manifesto creates a difficult path to victory, alienating for different reasons both the left and right. Brainard disagrees.

I think that it actually has a much better chance of winning enough of the electorate to achieve the presidency than Trumps current positions, he said.

Brainard plans to travel to Iowa and New Hampshire in June and July currently the only event he has lined up is the Iowa corn belt forum, a presidential town hall which Collins will also attend and essentially just approach people and tell them hes running for president.

People actually value meeting the person and shaking their hand and actually having a conversation about what our values are and what we think can happen, he said.

Doing that costs money, and the Trump campaign has lots of it the president raised $30m in the first three months of 2019.

The candidates the Guardian spoke to have so far raised less than that, although Brainard had managed to rake in $101,225.45 by the end of March, $101,000 of which came from his own pocket.

We put enough money in there to make sure that we can go do whatever we need to do right now, Brainard said. His savings will currently go toward hiring a campaign manager to guide him in the early primary states.

Even with a manager in place, Brainard is realistic about his prospects.

Very, very, very slim, he said of his chances of defeating Trump. Not zero, but pretty close.

Every four years hundreds of people like Brainard register to run for president, partly because it isnt very difficult. Hopefuls fill in a very short form on the Federal Election Commission website, send it off, and they are officially in the race.

To run for the Republican nomination, however, gets more difficult from there. In some states candidates have to pay to make it on to the Democratic or Republican primary ballot. According to Ballotpedia, it costs $1,000 to be listed in New Hampshire, while other states demand a certain number of signatures from party members. Either way, its expensive.

For Robert Eugene Smith, a data entry specialist from Nevada, Missouri, it proved too costly.

The 35-year-old had high hopes when he launched his campaign. Smith wanted to fix social security, tackle the spiraling national debt and perhaps even heal the country a little bit.

I wanted to be a uniter, not a divider, Smith said.

Robert Eugene Smith, a data entry specialist from Nevada, Missouri. Photograph: Courtesy Robert E Smith

He pumped more than $1,000 into his campaign, buying business cards, Facebook advertisements and a website, but his campaign struggled to gain traction. There was little interest from the media, which made it difficult to attract a core base of supporters.

You think people are going to be interested in what you have to say. But nobody will give you the time of day to speak with you, Smith said. I spent one weekend sending maybe 100 emails to different news organizations across the US. I didnt get a single reply.

Dispirited, Smith suspended his campaign in early April.

Ive no regrets, he told the Guardian at the time. Plenty of people waste a thousand dollars on a lot of sillier stuff.

That could have been the end of the road for the Missourian: another aspiring politician crushed by the party elite. But a week after we first spoke, Smith got in touch with some good news. He had been recruited to run for the House of Representatives by the Alliance party, a freshly formed, conservative third party.

In 2020, Smith will go up against Vicky Hartzler, a Republican who has represented Missouris fourth congressional district since 2011.

I dont want people to give up on their dreams, he said.

Dont give up, dont sell yourself short. Always hold true, and a door will open.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/may/08/republican-2020-presidential-challengers-trump-bill-weld