- - Thursday, November 9, 2017

Mark Cuban hinted to Harvey Levin on Sunday’s “Objectified” that he is looking at running against President Trump in 2020 as a Republican, as he is fiercely “independent” and believes that there is a place in the GOP for someone who is “socially a centrist but fiscally conservative.” Would Mr. Cuban be poised to inherit the populist movement in better than Mr. Trump would if he challenges him in three years if Mr. Trump doesn’t live up to the populism that he ran on?

Far more realistically this is a case of 2024 where we might see a political outsider, like a Mark Cuban ready to challenge Vice President Mike Pence for the populist mantle. Could he bring the Bannon voters into the fold for either? Could Mr. Cuban harness populism better than Mr. Trump has done?

A future candidate like Mr. Cuban could inherit Mr. Trump’s populist appeal which is Mr. Trump’s current bedrock driving his Republican leadership standing. After all, Donald Trump, certainly to some, may not be perceived to really be a Republican. Forget Mike Pence. In truth, he’s no populist. The true inheritor of Mr. Trump’s populism just might be a Mark Cuban.

If Mr. Trump’s not re-elected, it’s an open field against whoever defeats him. And, if Democrats dream that Mr. Trump was to somehow lose the office from impeachment or resignation, Mr. Pence would be the president and Paul Ryan his vice president. Mr. Cuban could then capitalize on the open lane, strike and come storming in with a populist campaign, taking his DNA for disruption to grab the momentum of the populist mantel in a way that is not self-destructive to his candidacy.

But Mr. Cuban will need to flex his muscle some, talk to people, and refine his populist stump. He’s got to get better at it. He can’t just do one-on-one interviews.

The populist base that rocket-powered the Trump presidency has the seismic thirst to rage hellfire on institutions, political parties and politicians. All positive signs point for another outsider candidate like Mark Cuban. In the world of business, disruption equals mammoth opportunities. Mr. Cuban is seen by many as a rare and ultimate disrupter who created new industries and destroyed competitors with better innovation.

He possesses qualities conservatives support like smaller government and economic growth. Mr. Cuban said, “I think there are better ways now to make government smaller than the old traditional Republican ways using technology. Government as a service could have a dramatic impact on how we live our lives. If you don’t understand technology, and you don’t understand the impact on jobs that technology will continue to have, then you’re going to run into some severe roadblocks.”

Mr. Cuban didn’t begin his career with a silver spoon, but without any spoon. He was broke when he started his self-made success, and a sports owner of the people approach could relate to the populist base in ways that Mr. Trump was initially unable.

Yet, economic nationalism and populism was a Steve Bannon creation, and according to Mr. Bannon, Mark Cuban would have a better chance at beating Mr. Trump as a Democrat. Running against Mr. Trump, the establishment and Wall Street as a Democrat might be a better lane of opportunity should Mr. Cuban want to unseat someone who he believes has “gone off the reservation and is bat—crazy.”

But Mark Cuban is going to have to make the decision of which lane will give him the win. Will he follow Mr. Bannon’s advice and run as a Democrat? Or will he try to convince the Republican party and its populist base that his solutions are winners for small government, economic growth and perhaps pull even more people from the Bernie Sanders populists than Mr. Trump could, to unite a party that can’t seemingly unite around a president with low approval ratings?

No one really knows what’s going to happen with the Mueller investigation, so perhaps Mr. Cuban is looking at it two ways. Yes, he could replace Mr. Pence, and if something happens, he can make the case in a primary against Mr. Pence that he’s the real inheritor of the Trump mantle — and if he positions himself correctly, that the Cuban brand is an even better version of brand Trump.

Mr. Cuban could inherit the mantle if in the next eight years he played the game the right way. He’s going to have to start showing up, he can’t just go on with a libertarian gut sell. Mr. Trump used the long game to harness populist conservatives over the last decade. It may be time for Mr. Cuban to start showing up at CPAC, the Value Voters Summit, the NRA Annual Meeting and making nice with big-name talk radio hosts. People are going to need to know up front and personal what he thinks about the Second Amendment, immigration and the other issues that matter.

Eric Schiffer is chairman and CEO of Patriarch Equity.

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