It was inevitable. This surreal election has taken such a toll on the sensibilities of the American public that comedians are now suggesting that Donald Trump sponsor a reality show contest to pick his vice presidential running mate — and audiences aren’t laughing.
Remembering 2008, John McCain must be scratching his head, wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
But, seriously — selecting a running mate is important business. Especially for a former reality show host. Trump’s choice will tell us a lot about how he would govern.
Rule No. 1 of vice presidential selection should be about substance: “Pick somebody who can help govern the country and, if needed, be president.” Rule No. 2 should be about politics: “Do no harm.”
Some Republican strategists want Trump to use his VP choice to mollify conservatives who doubt his ideological allegiance, or to soften his sky-high negative ratings among women and Hispanics. Trump says he wants an experienced politician who can help him deal with Congress.
Whether Trump would pick somebody he’s harshly criticized on the campaign trail, or who has attacked him, is an open question. Think about it. If Sen. Ted Cruz, 45, becomes his running mate, imagine the New York billionaire introducing him on stage as “Lyin’ Ted — the next vice president of the United States.” If it’s Sen. Marco Rubio, 44, Democrats will run a million ads showing him calling Trump a “con artist.” The same applies to others who have had a turn in Trump’s barrel, from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, 48, to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 66.
Among Trump’s former rivals, the most likely choice would be either Ohio Gov. John Kasich, 63, or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, 53. Kasich brings 18 years of congressional experience to the table plus his home state’s all-important 18 electoral votes. But Kasich, known for his prickly independence, has said he’s not suited to be No. 2. He may be right. Christie offers a tough-talking style consistent with Trump’s, as well as strong debating skills, as we saw when he demolished Rubio before the New Hampshire primary. Watching the former federal prosecutor take on Hillary Clinton would be something to behold.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, 52, is another option. He’s a former federal judge and the first Hispanic to win statewide office in Nevada. But Sandoval may be too moderate for the party’s right flank. Another governor being mentioned is Florida’s Rick Scott, 63, largely because of his state’s 29 electoral votes. But Scott’s lackluster job ratings plus his controversial corporate background may be too much baggage to carry.
If Trump really wants congressional experience, he could pick former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 72 — who knows Washington, has a broad grasp of issues and excels in the role of “change agent.” Another possibility would be Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, 60, a former U.S. trade representative and director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. He’d bring policy expertise and stature to the ticket. But Portman is in the middle of a tough Senate re-election and that may rule him out.
Other senators include Bob Corker, 63, of Tennessee, a successful businessman — something Trump would respect — as well as the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a valuable credential. There’s also John Cornyn, 64, of Texas, the Senate’s majority whip, and Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, 69, who shares Trump’s hardline views on immigration and is one of the Senate’s most conservative members. A younger prospect is Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, 41, a solid politician and “idea man” with a focus on economic and energy issues. Another possibility is former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, 56, a Trump favorite.
Many GOP operatives want Trump to pick a woman. Obvious choices include South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 44, a rising star in the party, and New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, 56, the nation’s first Hispanic female governor. While both have expressed no interest in being Trump’s running mate, one wonders whether either would reject the offer if it actually came. Other possibilities: Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, 45, who skillfully navigated her way through a tough 2014 Senate race in a swing state to become the first female veteran to serve in the Senate, and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, 61, a former member of Congress.
A surprise pick would be Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, 67, who racked up an impressive record as a two-term governor of Indiana. An accomplished conservative reformer and seasoned Washington hand with federal budget and management experience, Daniels once ran a policy think tank and directed the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He considered a 2012 presidential run but ultimately passed. His selection would signal to insiders that Trump is serious about governing.
Regardless of what pundits say about possible VP picks, it’s Trump’s decision, and his alone. After all, he’s the captain now.
Ron Faucheux, Political analyst and President of Clarus Research Group part of MSLGROUP Washington DC