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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The VP Game - Republican Edition

About the time pundits get bored with the primaries once a presumptive nominee is selected, attention turns to who the candidate's Vice Presidential selection will be.

Donald Trump has so far stumped both pundits and opponents with his unpredictable behavior. It will be interesting to see if Trump makes a predictable choice for a conventional candidate, or whether he doubles down on the anti-establishment choices that he has made so far.

Former Opponents

One frequent pool of choices would be other primary challengers.  They have often already been vetted by the primary process.  They may have a large contingent of supporters and a ticket would unite the party.  They are often already familiar to voters.

Ben Carson recently leaked the names of five potential VP candidates on Trump's short list.  Four of the five are former primary opponents: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Chris Christie.  The fifth, Sarah, Palin, we'll address in a moment.  All of these choices seem rife with problems.  The primaries this year were rather bitter.  Trump really went after most of these candidates on a personal level.  I suspect this "leak" was deliberate and that none of those on the list are under serious consideration.  In fact, there was just confirmation by Trump who tweeted: "The @washingtonpost report on potential VP candidates is wrong. Marco Rubio and most others mentioned are NOT under consideration." Just for the heck of it though, let's take a look at each one:

Ted Cruz amassed the second largest number of delegates and was the only opponent who posed any serious threat to Trump by Super Tuesday.  Trump attacked Cruz quite bitterly and even went after his wife.  Cruz was also rather hostile about Trump at the end of his campaign, with clear bad blood between the two.  The name "Lyin' Ted" would be thrown around all the time, as would questions about Trump's questioning whether Cruz was even an eligible candidate based on his Canadian birth. All that said, if a Cruz alliance might bring aboard the more doctrinaire conservatives, perhaps the two could put their past aside and make a team.  After all, Reagan and Bush did it, as did Kennedy and Johnson.  Bitter primary rivals can sometimes make it work.  Cruz, however, was never a favorite, even among the establishment.  Many top officials were deeply opposed to Cruz until he became the only Trump alternative.  If Trump wanted a bridge builder, he should look elsewhere.

Marco Rubio was the next largest delegate winner after Cruz, despite dropping out right after Super Tuesday.  Candidates often like to pick someone who offsets a weakness of their own by being a demographic contrast.  Trump is likely to have his old age considered. A youthful candidate like Rubio might be a nice contrast there - think Bush-Quayle.  Rubio is also Hispanic, which is a demographic that is particularly weak for Trump.  Given his public statements there though, it is unlikely that even choosing a Hispanic running mate would help him much with that group.  Cruz, of course, is also Hispanic so there are other options in that demographic too.  Rubio is also from Florida, a critical swing State where Trump is currently polling behind Clinton.  Again though, lots of name calling and bad blood between "Little Marco" and Trump.  Rubio also has a reputation as an intellectual lightweight.  No one wants another Dan Quayle on the team.

John Kasich, has been the candidate most appealing to moderate Republicans.  He is also from the important swing State of Ohio.  Kasich has already said he has no interest in being on a ticket with Trump, but people do change their mind once the reality of the loss has time to settle.  Such an establishment choice though, would probably turn off Trump's hard core supporters more than it would encourage moderates.  Kasich has never been a strong and passionate speaker.  Further, Kasich is a Governor.  Almost all VP choices come from the Senate, or occasionally the House.  The last time a President selected a Governor for an election ticket was when Nixon picked Spiro Agnew.  Sure, Kasich was a longtime Congressman before becoming Governor.  But he has been out of Washington for quite some time and is not a person who could help with the Washington establishment.

Chris Christie is also Governor and has no Congressional experience.  He dropped out of the primaries rather early and never got into the serious bitterness with Trump.  Christie also came out as one of the first former candidates to endorse Trump.  He is from the very Democratic State of New Jersey, not a place generally considered a swing State.  But Trump is under the impression that he can be competitive in New York and New Jersey, so perhaps he thinks Christie might solidify that. Christie has appeared at a number of Trump rallies.  His demeanor though, has been the subject of ridicule.  If Trump ever was considering him, those incidents probably soured him on the idea.

Perhaps even Ben Carson himself is under consideration.  He has gotten on friendly terms with Trump.  He would double down on Trump's outsider image as he also has no government experience.  In the end though, two loose canons would probably be too much for even Mr. Trump.  I would count him out too.

There are still quite a few other primary opponents: Jeb Bush, again is from a swing state and is Mr. establishment.  He would possibly soothe the deep divide with the rest of the Bushes and be a nod to the Washington establishment.  But there is no possible way the two could work together after the deep differences expressed in the primary.  I see no way that could happen.  Other primary candidates include: Rand Paul (too much an outsider in Washington and too different from Trump),  Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum (both might help with evangelical voters, but are not exactly power players in Washington), Carly Fiorina (might help with women but Trump won't want Cruz's sloppy seconds), and Jim Gilmore (Governor from Virginia, but never made a blip on the electoral radar).  Quite frankly, I don't see any of them as a realistic option.

Washington Insiders

This is a traditional pool for outsiders to choose from.  The want a powerful experienced hand who are familiar with other Washington leaders and provide entree into the Washington Power Club.

Speaker Paul Ryan might have made an interesting establishment choice, even though he already ran and lost for VP with Trump enemy Mitt Romney.  Ryan has already put as much distance as he possibly can from Trump and has expressed zero interest in being part of any Administration.  This option would never happen.

Newt Gingrich seems to be sniffing around Trump a great deal these days.  He resigned the Speakership more than a decade ago as a relative failure, and highly disliked by most of Washington. He does, however, know people and can perhaps provide some continuity with the last Republican Revolution in the 1990s.  Gingrich, like Trump, can be very persuasive and likes to play fast and loose with the truth.

Jeff Sessions as a twenty year Republican Senator from Alabama is a fairly safe establishment choice. Sessions was one of the first in Congress to back Trump and has been helpful in introducing him to his legislative colleagues.  He is a fairly hard core anti-immigrant conservative, although he was also a big supporter of the Iraq War, something Trump has tried to distance himself from. Sessions had been nominated for a federal judgeship in the 1980's but was rejected due to racist comments he had made while US Attorney for Alabama, probably a positive for most of Trump's hard core supporters.

Bob Corker, a second term Senator from Tennessee and Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee is another possibility.  Corker brings some foreign policy credentials to the ticket.  Corker was also an early fan of the Iraq War and also rather late to the line of Republicans endorsing Trump.  He and Trump have some shared views but would likely have a rather cool and distant relationship.

John Thune, a longtime Congressman, defeated Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle in 2004 to take his Senate seat.  Thune actually went unchallenged six years later.  Thune is a relatively quiet down the line Conservative who would not rock the boat.  He would be a safe, if uninspired choice.  He does not bring any demographic or swing state advantages (from South Dakota).

There are a few other Senators who might be considered, but they fall into my next category:

Women

Running against the first female Democratic nominee would present demographic problems for any candidate.  But Trump's well practiced insensitivity to women makes it a nightmare for his campaign. A recent poll found that only 23% of women hold a positive view of Trump.  If he cannot bring up those numbers, he has got a real problem.  A woman on the ticket with him might help there.

Sara Palin was mentioned in Carson's leaked short list.  But again, that leak seems to be an attempt at misleading folks.  Palin, the former Governor of Alaska and running mate of another Trump enemy John McCain, would be a risky choice.  During the 2008 elections she was a wild card who was seen as an intellectual light weight.  She also could not stay on script and often said things that caused problems for the campaign.  Trump does not need any help doing that.

Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina is not only a well know conservative woman but also covers the non-white demographic.  Haley, however, was a strong Rubio supporter, and seemed to have been angling to be his VP.  She picked the wrong horse.  In any event, she has shown little interest in playing nice with Trump since Rubio left the race.

Joni Ernst is a moderate Senator from Iowa with only two years under her belt.  She is a moderate with soccer mom appeal and is from the critical mid-west.  Her military experience would be a help to Trump. She has been coy about ongoing VP speculation, not really saying whether she would be interested or not.  Refusal to shut the door on such speculation is usually seen as a sign of interest.   Ernst has never had her background picked apart by top of the line opposition research, so it's possible she could have skeletons, or whither under the national spotlight.  On the other hand, she could bring pro-military voters and perhaps some conservative women back to supporting the ticket.

Mary Fallin, Governor of Oklahoma did a stint in Congress before her present gig.  She is a moderate in style but has taken some highly conservative positions on controversial issues.  She is divorced, frowned upon but forgivable by evangelicals who must also forgive Trump for the same sin.  Fallin is not known as a headline grabber or attack dog.  But again, Trump will like do those things himself.

Jan Brewer, former Governor of Arizona is someone Trump himself has suggested is worth a look.  She is an outspoken leader of the anti-immigrant movement and has openly attacked President Obama during a visit to her State.  She has no real Washington experience.  Her lack of a college degree could also be an distracting issue for the ticket. She is a champion of the same folks that gave Trump the nomination.  Choosing her would be seen as doubling down on the folks that made Trump the nominee, not a pivot to the center.  Still, Trump likes to be out of the box on such things.

Susana Martinez, Governor of New Mexico would be a demographic coup for Trump.  This female Hispanic Governor could possibly help with those two demographic groups where he needs it most. But like many Hispanics and many females, Martinez has been an outspoken opponent of Trump during the primaries.  She has been less outspoken since Trump has become the presumptive nominee, but has shown no real inclination to jump on the Trump train.

Marsha Blackburn, Rep. from Tennessee is relatively unknown to the electorate.  She is a conservative woman with strong pro-life and other conservative credentials.  She might help bring some conservative women back to to ticket.  She also expressed interest in working with Trump even before he became the presumptive nominee.  She would not be seen as someone dragged kicking and screaming onto the Trump train.

Left Field Choices

Trump may decide to go off in a completely different direction from the traditional VP paths.  While these choices would not necessarily help him with the establishment, moderates, or even double down on his base, he may pick someone just to shake things up and get people talking.

James Mattis, a former Marine Corps General with combat and command experience is someone who conservatives have discussed as a third party choice.  Trump could shut down all third party talk on that front by selecting Mattis as a VP.  Although he has no electoral experience, he has an impeccable military record, including service as President Obama's Commander of Central Command.  He would certainly help with pro-military voters and would likely be someone who could obey orders from the President and keep other officials in line.

Rick Scott, Governor of Florida, is not a Washington insider, but has political experience and is from a swing State.  Scott, however, is fairly unpopular in Florida and might not be helpful in shoring up support there.  Scott has supported Trump since Rubio left the race.

Conclusions

There is little point in predicting where Trump may go, since he has been so unpredictable so far. Personally, I think Jeff Sessions might be in play.  I could also see Jan Brewer making the campaign much more interesting.  Trump is unlikely to play it safe or be traditional.  Newt Gingrich is also the sort of kiss ass with top credentials that might appeal to Trump as well.  Those would likely be near the top of any short list.

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