Saturday, May 07, 2016

Who Will Be Donald Trump's VP?

All right, let's do this thing.  With Donald Trump now the near-certain GOP nominee for the presidency it's time to take a look at his running mate-potential candidates.  Here I'm not, for the record, trying to go with who Donald Trump "should" pick, because quite frankly I don't want to do that to the kinds of candidates he should pick.  Politicians like Nikki Haley, Paul Ryan, and Kelly Ayotte don't want their careers within ten miles of Trump, quite frankly.  I genuinely expect them to simply endorse him in name only-no campaign stops, no commercials together, no giant rallies-and then ride it out (and possibly with a few select contenders like, say, Jeb Bush, secretly cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton).

No, what I'm going to try to do here is predict who Trump will pick, which is a far more difficult proposition.  This is because, in the cases of many candidates, I think they'll turn down the position.  At this point in the stage it's considered bad political form to want it too badly (politics is strange in this way, particularly since the entire thing is predicated on you wanting to have a massive amount of ambition), but I actually believe a lot of the people who say they don't want to go alongside Trump.  After all, linking yourself to Trump means that you carry with you the rest of your political career every comment he ever made-that's a lot for a promising talent in the GOP, particularly ones eyeing the 2020 elections and what could be an extremely difficult reelection bid by Hillary Clinton with great relish.  So I'm counting out most people who both have said no and were clear Trump detractors before this past week.  This is a risky move (it's rare that anyone turns down the veep slot), but I think it's a smart one.

Considering how nasty Trump was on the campaign trail, how thin-skinned he seems to be, and the way that he so effectively disregarded most of his competitors, I think (with the exception of two very high-profile surrogates) most of those he recently defeated in the primaries will skip out on the opportunity to join him in Cleveland.  It's (obviously) not because they don't want a shot at the Oval Office (clearly they all do), but I think that burnt bridges can only stay standing for so long, and Trump's tactics on the campaign trail, particularly making them so personal (Lyin' Ted, Little Marco, "look at that face!") are going to be difficult to ignore, and the Democrats will relish in the hypocrisy.

Finally, before we get to the list, I'm going to try and treat this seriously.  You will not see Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, or Kim Kardashian on this list.  Not to say that one of those names might not seriously be floated to the press in coming months, but I am going to assume that Trump will at least pick someone who has held high political office (either elected or appointed), and will resist choosing another celebrity.  This might be foolish, and I honestly don't know what to do with someone like Sean Hannity whom I could legitimately see Trump throwing out as an option, but I'm going to assume that the longtime political operatives on his team are smart enough to realize that another person who has never held political office would be a poor decision.

Who do I think he will pick then?  Let's find out...

10. Rep. Renee Ellmers (NC)

Ellmers is an interesting proposition for Trump.  On the one hand, she's a relatively reliable conservative on social issues, has been a pretty ardent Trump supporter despite it hurting her political standing, and as will be mentioned often here, Trump needs to find a way to shore up certain sectors of the population, particularly women, but his options are limited; I don't see rock stars in the Republican community (looking at you Susana Martinez) being willing to endorse the New York businessman (Martinez was more at home on a list for a traditional Republican like Jeb Bush's running mates).  Ellmers, though, has been a target of the Club for Growth for voting for an end to the government shutdown, and has faced accusations of an affair, so she would likely bring some skeletons in her closet.  However, if Trump is adamant that his team pick a woman who currently holds major elected office, Ellmers is one of the few that comes to mind as a legitimate option.

9. Ambassador John Bolton (MD)

John Bolton, who has been supportive of Trump's presidential bid and has been cited by Trump as one of his key foreign policy figures he would work with, is an interesting choice for a running mate.  One of Trump's biggest deficits is surrounding his experience in foreign policy.  Bolton, with his long history with the State Department and the United Nations, has worked under three Republican presidents (Reagan and both Presidents Bush), and is a respected figure in conservative circles.  Having him on the side of Trump may ease some concerns from Republicans over Trump's inexperience with foreign policy.  However, given Bolton's role in the Iraq War, as well as his neoconservative positions on most foreign policy, he might not jive with Trump, who seems to want to make Clinton's relatively hawkish views (certainly for a Democrat) a campaign issue.

8. Rep. Jim Jordan (OH)

If Trump really wants to show that he's against "Washington," including both Republicans and Democrats, few politicians offer a more combative perch than Ohio congressman Jim Jordan.  Chair of the House Freedom Caucus, Jordan's conservative bonafides are pretty much as far-right as you can get and unimpeachable.  He was a key leader in the 2013 government shutdown, has been a longtime critic of John Boehner, and is on record as being one of the biggest congressional opponents of Planned Parenthood (and has the congressional testimony against Cecile Richards to prove it).  Selecting Jordan, whose Freedom Caucus is a critical but combative aspect of the House Republicans, could well be a shot at Speaker Ryan as much as against Hillary Clinton that Trump isn't going to be taking marching orders from anyone.  Jordan would not help the argument of Trump with women (that Cecile Richards testimony would make a great compliment to Clinton's current damning series of commercials), but it would be in-line with Trump's current strategy and would be an outside-the-box pick.

7. Sen. Scott Brown (MA/NH)

Scott Brown has been an early defender of Donald Trump's, and has been outside pushing hard for the New York businessman before almost anyone in the Washington establishment was willing to go there.  Charismatic and attractive, he would also be a relatively solid running-mate in some traditional areas, namely that he's willing to be a pitbull and would probably be in the first-do-no-harm school of thinking.  He would also be a fascinating counterpunch to the current theoretical media circus over Hillary Clinton selecting Elizabeth Warren as her running-mate, as of course the two had a rather nasty campaign against each other four years ago.  Trump has shown a great disdain for Warren (and the feeling is more than mutual), and if he wants to run against her and Clinton, this is the most effective way to do so.  However, Brown is one of Trump's most-hated words: a loser; his last two election battles against Warren and Jeanne Shaheen resulted in him losing both bids to return to Congress, and picking him would just open up attacks that he's selecting a loser.  If Trump feels he's truly teflon in that department, he might go with Brown, but if not he'll probably just stick to him as a cabinet choice.

6. Gov. Sarah Palin (AK)

You scoff, but you know it's a possibility.  If Trump wants to send a giant middle finger to the RNC (and give Reince Priebus a one-way ticket to an asylum), he could go with Palin.  On paper, it's not that far-fetched.  After all, Palin has been a major surrogate for Trump, she's attractive (come on, you know that's going to be something that Trump is going to be looking for in a female running-mate, let's not be naive here), she's someone who knows what it takes to run for vice president since she's been there before, and she is relished by the same base of supporters as Trump.  She's part of the "no-nonsense express," and would somewhat insulate him from attacks that he's being anti-woman on the campaign trail, and if the election is about getting out your base (and increasingly that's what presidential races are about with fewer and fewer actual swing voters), Palin would do that with ardent conservative Republicans.

Of course, this would be viewed as a "hosanna" moment for the DNC, as Palin rivals Trump in terms of horrifying news clips, and is viewed as an equally loose cannon.  In fact, having Trump/Palin as a ticket could well result in a McGovern or Mondale-style landlside.  But I wouldn't totally count it out, as Palin is one of the few people you can point to with relative ease in terms of political power-players who have genuinely helped Donald Trump gain the nomination.

5. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (TN)

You'll notice that Blackburn is the highest-ranking woman on this list, and that's on purpose.  Quite frankly, of the women who would be willing to be Trump's running-mate, I think that Blackburn is the most likely to be actually chosen.  She's a longtime political force in the Capitol, has unimpeachable credentials on the Right, and while she's been somewhat critical of Trump (particularly during the David Duke/KKK-endorsement), she's been relatively supportive of his campaign, and again, selecting a woman might help him in terms of attacks from Hillary Clinton as she would be a pitbull against Clinton in this regard.  Blackburn's views on a number of issues, particularly climate change (she had that debate with Bill Nye that would certainly gain more attention in a presidential campaign), but she's a fierce competitor and someone who would probably do well in a vice presidential debate (she's no Palin in that regard).

4. Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL)

Sessions, under normal circumstances, would not be considered for the vice presidential nomination.  He's a relatively low-key senator from a solid-red state.  However, as the first sitting senator who endorsed Trump and as a critical surrogate in his quest to gain more backing from the RNC, he will surely be considered as part of the conversation for the nomination.  Sessions credentials are relatively impressive (senator, state attorney general, US Attorney), and could go a long way in helping Trump on the experience question (the public claims they don't want "experience" but with someone as politically novice as Trump, I suspect it still comes up on the campaign trail).  Sessions position as a relatively low-key senator (and as someone who might not want the spotlight-he's never really sought it above senator), might make him someone who would demur, but if Trump pushed hard enough I could see this happening.

3. Dr. Ben Carson (FL)

Carson has become a top Trump surrogate on the campaign trail, and will be heading up the vice-presidential search committee for Trump.  As has become a running-joke since Dick Cheney held the same position and then chose himself, one wonders if it might hold some water this time around.  After all, Carson is perhaps the only serious person of color in Republican circles that Trump could tap for his vice-presidential nomination, and perhaps insulate himself against some attacks he's made on minority Americans.  He is someone who has great support amongst specific pockets of the Republican party, and Trump clearly likes the guy, as he frequently utilizes him at campaign stops.  However, Carson is the only person on this list who has not held high political office, and Trump has been pretty adamant that he wants someone with elected experience, and Carson has repeatedly (though, admittedly, not as forcefully as others) claimed he has no interest in serving in a Trump administration.  Plus, Carson's debating skills are subpar at best, and pretty much any leading Democratic contender on Clinton's veep list would destroy him in a head-to-head contest.

2. Gov. Rick Scott (FL)

Like Carson, Scott has claimed he does not want to be on Trump's ticket, but as I stated above I'm only dismissing candidates who have shown both a reluctance to get onboard with Trump and who have also claimed they don't want to be the VP nominee.  Scott was a pretty avid supporter of Trump, skipping an endorsement of fellow Floridian Marco Rubio when he needed it most, and then getting behind Trump in a big fashion afterwards.  Scott is someone who is in a similar mold to Trump: famously blunt and someone who made a name for himself in business prior to holding public office.  He's also won Florida twice, and as that is the most important swing state on the map, having a candidate with that track record on your ticket is hardly something to sneeze at.  I suspect that while Clinton's camp would have a lot of fodder for Scott considering he's had periods of great unpopularity during his time in Tallahassee, Scott wouldn't be one of the candidates they're hoping to take on, which is probably more incentive for Trump to go with him if his team is being strategic (if I were making recommendations, he'd be toward the top of the list).

1. Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)

No single Republican force has more on the line in his support of Trump than Gov. Chris Christie.  Christie's evisceration of Marco Rubio led to Trump's "Little Marco" moment, and quite frankly imploded the guy who seemed like the best possible candidate for the GOP against Hillary Clinton.  Christie's endorsement of Trump brought a legitimacy to the businessman's campaign that no one else can boast, and he has stuck his neck out on the line.  Quite frankly, Christie, whom I still think could have beaten Mitt Romney in 2012 and quite frankly could have given Barack Obama a run-for-his-money, is in a situation where if Trump doesn't win, he is done in elective politics, and he knows it.  Trump also has to acknowledge that his campaign knows no greater debt to anyone other than Christie, and that their combative styles (Christie is born for the pitbull aspect of being a VP candidate), plus Christie's loyalty, are prices that are too valuable to ignore.  What may make Christie unattractive right now (aside from those New Jersey poll numbers and Bridgegate re-emerging) is that he's expected from a man who loves the art of surprise-Chris Christie being Trump's running-mate is what pretty much everyone expects-will Trump give in to that or throw a random curveball as is his wont like Palin or Bolton?

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