SOUTH BEND – Many Republicans, and some independents and moderate Democrats, could face a real dilemma in the 2020 presidential election. Conservative columnist and commentator David Brooks recently put it this way: “If the general election campaign turns out to be Trump vs. Warren, what the heck are we supposed to do?”

Brooks is indeed a conservative but no supporter of President Trump, which makes sense. Trump is no conservative. He is a big-spending, big-government, big deficit (now at $1 trillion) president constantly seeking to expand, not limit, presidential powers. But many conservatives overlook that and his character flaws because of his judicial appointments and stands on social issues.

It’s far from certain that it will be President Trump vs. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Well, Trump now appears certain to be again the Republican nominee after he is impeached by the Democratic-controlled House and acquitted of the impeachment charges by the Republican-controlled Senate. We don’t know whether the president will emerge weaker or stronger after all the impeachment warfare. But even if weakened, his base will be solid and he could win reelection if he can again successfully paint his opponent as darn near unthinkable.

Warren has been rising in the polls, in second place among Democratic nomination contenders. She could falter. One of the candidates less frightening to voters outside of what Brooks calls the leftward-sprinting “Bernie-Squad-Warren” wing of the party could prevail. Still, she now has momentum. And many Democratic primary voters will want to believe she really could do all that she promises, including winning congressional passage of and paying for her $34 trillion health care plan.

Could Warren, if nominated, stop swerving left and capture more of the voters in the center, those who could be decisive in the key states needed for victory in the Electoral College? Maybe. Or would Warren leave those potentially decisive voters with a dilemma in which just enough might once more decide that Trump was the lesser of two evils? Maybe.

Let’s be clear. Warren isn’t the only Democratic candidate who could wind up leaving potentially decisive voters with a dilemma and perhaps leaving President Trump in the White House. Strengths and weaknesses of all the contenders will be evaluated in the long-running series of debates and actual voting that begins on Feb. 3 in the Iowa caucuses. Warren gets the most scrutiny now as she advances so quickly in the polls.

What would Brooks, the true fiscal conservative, do if faced with a Trump vs. Warren dilemma? A race between two candidates who most certainly are not fiscally conservative. A choice between two candidates, each with what critics say is a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach to their promises for governing.

Brooks fears a Warren presidency would be “deeply polarizing and probably unsuccessful,” struggling like Trump with only a 40% partisan base. But he concludes, especially now with betrayal of the Kurds and reminders “that we have a president whose professional competence is at kindergarten level,” that “the only plausible choice is to support Warren.”

Reluctantly.

Brooks cites Democratic contenders he could more enthusiastically support: “Biden, Buttigieg, Booker, Bennet, Bullock or Klobuchar.” Some of those now appear to have no chance for the nomination. That’s the way one person would decide if faced with a Trump vs. Warren dilemma. Yes, Brooks is a noted columnist and commentator. But he has only one vote.

How about the millions of voters in crucial battleground states who could see a Trump vs. Warren race as a dilemma; many Republicans, and some independents and moderate Democrats, too? Would a potentially decisive percentage stick with Trump, deciding they just couldn’t vote for Warren? Would a potentially decisive percentage go with Warren, deciding they just couldn’t vote for Trump?

We don’t know. Maybe we’ll find out. 

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.