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Trump could face GOP challengers in the 2020 election

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- As President Trump’s approval among Republican voters drops, speculation looms about potential challengers from within the GOP ahead of the 2020 election.

Just over six months into his presidency, a CNN poll released Tuesday found that Trump’s strong approval rating among Republicans has fallen to 59 percent, down from 73 percent in February. According to the poll, only 35 percent of whites without college degrees, a key component of Trump’s base, strongly approve of Trump, down 12 percentage points since February.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Republicans, including elected office holders and donors, expressed to the Times uncertainty about Trump’s place in the next presidential race.

The administration has been quick to denounce such claims. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos during a Sunday appearance on This Week that Trump “plans on being a two-term president.”

Nonetheless, some Republicans are making moves that could be interpreted as signs of a 2020 run, from trips to Iowa to meetings with donors.

Vice President Mike Pence

Perhaps the most controversial of all suspected 2020 presidential contenders is current Vice President Mike Pence. After a New York Times article Saturday pointed to signals of Pence’s future presidential ambitions and noted that “multiple advisers to Mr. Pence have already intimated to party donors that he would plan to run if Mr. Trump did not,” the vice president pushed back forcefully.

“Today’s article in the New York Times is disgraceful and offensive to me, my family and our entire team. The allegations in this article are categorically false and represent just the latest attempt by the media to divide this Administration,” Pence stated in a statement released Sunday morning.

The Times reported Pence’s packed vice presidential schedule, nods to party donors, the recent hire of political operative Nick Ayers as chief of staff, and appearances at high profile events, including Iowa Senator Joni Ernst’s pig roast, as notable signs that Pence may have big plans for 2020 in mind. Pence’s creation of a PAC, the “Great American Committee” has been interpreted by some as a sign he may challenge Trump. Neither Vice President Joe Biden nor Vice President Dick Cheney created PACs until they left office, but Pence’s Press Secretary Marc Lotter told Fox Monday that the PAC was only created out of “legal necessity.”

Governor John Kasich

Ohio Governor John Kasich, who ran for the GOP nomination in 2016’s presidential election, has not ruled out entering the 2020 race. Kasich was the last candidate to withdraw from the race, following efforts to present himself as a more traditional Republican than Trump. Kasich joined efforts with fellow running mate Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in attempts to reduce Trump’s delegate wins during the primary.

In an interview with CNN in April, Kasich said it would be “very unlikely” he would enter the race, but said “how do you close the door on anything?” “If I see something I need to do to help my country, that I really believe that I have to do, then I would think I would probably do it,” he added.

Kasich has spoken out recently against the GOP’s health care repeal efforts and plans to convene a series of forums on health policy. As part of a book tour, the Ohio governor has traveled across the country, including to New Hampshire, where he placed second in the 2016 primaries. The two-term Governor cannot serve another term after his stint ends in 2018.

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley, who was appointed by Trump to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and former governor of South Carolina, has also been referenced as a potential challenger to the president in 2020. Haley criticized the president during the 2016 campaign and supported Marco Rubio, but has come to be a powerful player in Trump’s administration.

Tuesday morning on Fox & Friends, Haley appeared to suggest that Trump may have tweeted about classified information. When asked about a story appearing on regarding North Korean activity to load anti-ship cruise missiles in a patrol boat, she responded, “I can't talk about anything that's classified. And if that's in the newspaper that's a shame.” Trump, however, had retweeted the same FOX News story that morning.

Haley also responded to questions on whether the administration will embrace the report on climate change drafted by scientists at thirteen different federal agencies, which the New York Times broke news of Monday night. “I haven't seen the report. But I don't see any reason why they wouldn't. A lot of this is, we're not saying that climate change is not real. It is real,” she said. Trump has been a longtime critic of government spending and regulations on climate change and pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord in June. Haley also stated during her Tuesday morning appearance, “just because we pull out of the Paris accord, doesn't mean we don't believe in climate protection.”

Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist who managed John McCain’s 2008 campaign, told Politico Haley is “one of the few political leaders ... who’s had consistently good moments on the political stage over the past few years.” In spite of talk about Haley’s political rise, she told CNN in April she couldn’t “imagine running for the White House.”

Sen. Tom Cotton

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton has risen as a prominent national conservative. Though Cotton raised speculation of a 2020 bid, he has recently been working alongside Trump. He partnered with the president and Georgia Senator David Perdue on pushing an immigration bill, which has no cosponsors, that focuses on merit and skills over family affiliation when determining legal entry into the United States. In a May interview with Politico’s Off Message podcast, Cotton stated, “Donald Trump won, and he’s the president and everybody needs to accept that, especially the Democrats.” However, he also said, “That doesn’t mean I’ll support every policy he announced or every statement he makes.”

Sen. Jeff Flake

The junior senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, has been a top critic within the GOP of the president. Flake would not endorse Trump during the 2016 campaign, and recently released a book titled Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle, which largely centers around his disapproval of Trump.

In return, the Trump administration has met with several potential challengers to Flake, who is up for reelection in 2018. Flake has not announced any plans to run in 2020, but continues to position himself as a leading GOP critic of the president.

Sen. Ben Sasse

While only a first term senator, Ben Sasse has gained recognition in part due to his criticism of Trump. Sasse, who represents Nebraska, refused to support Trump during the campaign, and in an open letter on Facebook wrote that if Trump was to become the nominee he would support a “third candidate -- a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.”

Sasse’s new book, The Vanishing American Adult, does not explicitly mention Trump, but focuses on the failure of current American culture and political virtue. Sasse visited Iowa earlier this year, but claimed the trip was a result of a lost bet. He did not directly respond when asked on CNN in July if there was any chance he would challenge Trump.

How likely is it there will be a different GOP nominee in 2020?

Trump has given no sign that he will not run for reelection in the 2020 race.

Of the Republicans seen as potential challengers, some may simply be gearing up early for 2024 and beyond. Nonetheless, the amount of speculation about a potential GOP challenger to Trump in 2020 suggests a lack of unity within the party and surrounding the president.

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