COLUMBIA, S.C. — Republican leaders in South Carolina and Kansas have voted to scrap their presidential nominating contests in 2020, while party officials Nevada were deciding whether to follow suit as the GOP erects more hurdles for the long shots challenging President Donald Trump.
"What is Donald Trump afraid of?" asked one of those rivals, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.
Canceling primaries, caucuses and other voting is not an unusual move for the party of the White House incumbent seeking a second term, and allows Trump to try to consolidate his support as Democrats work to winnow down their large field of candidates.
A spokesman for the South Carolina Republican Party, Joe Jackson, confirmed that the party voted Saturday against holding a presidential primary next year. The Kansas GOP tweeted on Friday that it will not organize a caucus "because President Trump is an elected incumbent from the Republican Party." Its state committee planned to approve rules Saturday for an "internal party process" for selecting convention delegates, according to Kelly Arnold, the party's former state chairman, and Helen Van Etten, a member of the Republican National Committee from Topeka.
Officials in Nevada scheduled meetings later Saturday to determine the fate of their contests. A decision in Arizona is expected later in the month.
Challengers have emerged to Trump, including Weld and Joe Walsh , a former Illinois congressman. Others may join them.
Weld, in a statement, said voting is "the ultimate right of speech in America, and Trump's machine in South Carolina has just told the people of South Carolina that they don't need to be heard. Donald Trump wants to be treated as a monarch, but we rejected that idea 200 years ago."
Walsh told CNN after the South Carolina vote that his campaign would "fight South Carolina and any other state that considers doing this." He also noted that Trump complained during the 2016 election "about how the Democrats were rigging the system to get Hillary (Clinton) elected. Well, look what he's doing now. You talk about rigging a system."
Primary challenges to incumbents are rarely successful, and Trump's poll numbers among Republican voters have proved resilient. Nonetheless, Trump aides are looking to prevent a repeat of the convention discord that highlighted the electoral weaknesses of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter in their failed reelection campaigns.
Since last year, Trump's campaign has worked to monitor and at times control the process by which delegates to next year's Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, are selected. His campaign wants the convention to be a four-night "infomercial" for Trump by sidelining the president's detractors within the party.
The effort is an acknowledgment that Trump hasn't completely cemented his grip on the GOP and might not coast to the nomination without some opposition. To that end, the campaign has worked over the past year to scuttle any attempts at a Trump challenge by party dissidents, mindful that a serious primary opponent could weaken Trump heading into the general election.
In January, the Republican National Committee voted to express its "undivided support" for Trump and his "effective presidency."
In years past, both Republicans and Democrats have cut state nominating contests when an incumbent president from their party ran for a second term. In 1984, South Carolina GOP leaders opted to call off their primary as President Ronald Reagan sought a second term. In 2004, the GOP again canceled the state's primary with leaders deciding instead to endorse President George W. Bush's reelection bid.
The South Carolina Democratic Party didn't hold presidential primaries in 1996 or in 2012, when Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were their incumbents.
The Nevada Republican Party was expected to hold a vote on possibly changing its rules to allow a bypass of its presidential nominating caucuses in 2020 and endorse Trump outright. The move would allow the state's central committee members to hold a vote and commit the state's GOP delegates to the president, shielding him from a primary challenge.
Associated Press writers Michelle Price in Las Vegas, Jonathan Cooper in Phoenix and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.