In the old days, the presidential nomination was often unsettled until balloting began at the convention. Under those rules, the winning candidate typically announced his preferred running mate on the morning of the last day of the convention. Since 1984, with each party having a presumptive nominee heading into convention, the norm has been to name the preferred running mate before the convention, most often in the week before the convention. Based on that history, Trump should name his VP pick sometime next week.
Right now, Trump’s pick may come down to who is willing to accept the nomination that is a viable pick. Every time the press speculates on a candidate who might actually improve Trump’s chances, that candidate withdraws their name from consideration (most recently Bob Corker and Jodi Ernst).
The three names that are most frequently mentioned as potential running mates for Trump are all hopelessly flawed.
With Newt Gingrich, the question would be which of the nominees dumped his wife in the worst possible way. Gingrich would also be a throwback to the 1990s in a way that would not compare favorably with Clinton. Finally, there is also the suggestion that a contributing factor to the shutdown of the government when Gingrich was speaker was Gingrich’s brusied ego. Given the concern about Trump’s ego getting the better of him, Gingrich is not necessarily an improvement.
With Chris Christie, the issues start with Bridgegate and go on from there. Like Trump, Christie is a bit of a bully — a tendency that did not wear well in the Republican debates. Finally, given how tentative Trump’s control over the convention is, picking a northeastern “moderate” will feed into the fears of many delegates that Trump has no core principles (beyond self-promotion).
Finally, there is Senator Jeff Sessions. There is not anything immediately disqualifying about Senator Sessions and he would make the convention delegates happy. On the other hand, it is hard to see what an ultra-conservative Senator from Alabama does to make the ticket more competitive. In fact, Senator Sessions may be the only pick that makes Trump’s positions on immigration seem moderate.
With none of the main three being viable, it is almost run a name up the flagpole time to see who gets good reaction. Currently at the top of the list is Indiana Governor Mike Pence. He is conservative enough to keep everybody happy and did serve in Congress for a decade before becoming governor — giving him both experience at the federal level and in the executive branch. The downside is that he is up for re-election this year and Indiana does not allow candidates to run for some other position while running for vice-president or president. If he were to get the v.p. pick, Indiana Republicans would have to do some quick shuffling which might cost them the Governor’s mansion.
Other names that seem to be coming up are Senator John Thune of South Dakota, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and former Senator Scott Brown of whichever New England state he currently calls home. Of the three, Senator Thune has the longest service in Congress (to the extent that it is a relevant consideration). However, picking a no-name senator from South Dakota or Arkansas does not seem to add much to the ticket (and Senator Cotton has not demonstrated any real enthusiasm for Trump as the nominee). Scott Brown’s three years in the Senate don’t add much in the way of governing experience. Additionally, there is the concern about his conservative bona fides plus a lot in the way of negatives.
Right now Trump really needs somebody to change their mind and agree to run with him. The problem is that anybody who would be a decent v.p. pick can do the math and look at polls. It is hard to see how running on a ticket with Trump makes you look more presidential in 2020. That means that Kasich, Rubio, Cruz, and others who ran in 2016 have next to zero interest in taking a call from Trump. Right now the best name still in the mix might be Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. The mere fact that Scott Walker’s name is being seriously discussed after his quick exit from the presidential race says something about Trump’s current position within the Republican Party.
While, in theory, Trump still has a week or so to make his pick, he really can’t afford to have any more potential picks express a lack of interest in the spot. Even in a week in which events seemed to give Trump an opening, his own inability to have any coherent message other than the “greatness” of Donald Trump and the evil of anybody who fails to recognized that greatness is a drag on his campaign. He can’t afford many more hits. Having the V.P. selection process turn into “last man standing” will not help turn things around.