Given who was willing to accept a spot on the Republican ticket, Donald Trump (after much back and forth) did the somewhat mature thing and named Governor Mike Pence of Indiana as his running mate. This pick pretty much ends the chance that Trump will face any type of substantial open rebellion at the convention as the Republicans decide to take whatever lumps they will get in the fall. However, there are several significant problems with this ticket.
First, Indiana, unlike some other states, does not have a provision allowing somebody to run for president/vice-president while also running for some other position. What really force the Donald’s hand on picking Pence was the deadline for Pence to withdraw from the governor’s race. While Pence was facing a tough race, he would have still been favored to win. Whomever the Republicans pick to replace Pence in the governor’s race will not have the name recognition of Pence and will have to start from mostly scratch in terms of raising money. Add in a strong Democratic senate candidate, and Republicans now have to be seen as a slight underdog to keep the governor’s mansion in Indiana.
Second, Pence has a really conservative anti-science, anti-woman, anti-LGBT record (once denying that tobacco use was a significant factor in people getting lung cancer). Pence’s record will make it hard for Trump to pivot back to the center on abortion rights and LGBT rights.
Third, Pence does not agree with most of Trump’s position. If Trump was a normal candidate, it would be easy to paper over the differences. George H.W. Bush had differences of opinion with Ronald Reagan, but Reagan’s positions were clearly stated in the primary and so H.W. was able to change his tune to support Reagan. Similarly, in 2012, in picking Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney knew that Ryan had taken positions that might be controversial, but the two candidates were able to come up with a script about which of those positions a Romney-Ryan Administration would implement.
This ticket is, in many ways, the inverse of the McCain-Palin ticket. Like the 2008 ticket, one of the two candidates is a loose cannon prone to say something that no reasonable person with any knowledge of the government could find acceptable. (Worse, this time the candidate for president instead of vice-president.) When the two candidates are campaigning in different parts of the country, it is entirely possible that Trump will say something unexpected and outrageous. If Pence ever gets cornered by the media and asked to respond to Trump’s latest statement (or worse gets punked with a fake Trump statement), Pence’s natural instinct will be to try to distance himself from that opinion. If he does, it will increase stories about the tensions in the ticket. If he feels like he has to stick by Trump, his endorsement of the Trump statement will make attempts by the campaign to spin Trump’s statement that much harder. In a normal ticket, the campaign would love having Pence available to media. With Trump at the head of the ticket, exposing anybody other than campaign spokesmen travelling with Trump to the media is a risk, and the campaign team assigned to Pence will have to be in constant communication with the team travelling with Trump to make sure that Pence is aware of Trump’s latest outrageous statement.
Additionally, because Trump’s position on many issues is a rejection of the Republican approach to government that have been so appealing to Wall-Street and higher income Republicans, Pence is going to have a difficult task of explaining why Trump’s positions n specific issues is not a rejection of Republican values. There are sound reasons why many Republicans and many Democrats favor free-trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (primarily a feeling that are current laws are so much more pro-free trade than other countries that we are giving up less than the other countries to the agreement). In the vice-presidential debate, Pence is likely to be put on the spot to explain why Trump is in disagreement with most Republicans on TPP and certain other issues. Pence is going to have to find a way to explain why Trump’s rejection of certain proposal is based on very specific flaws rather than a rejection of the Republican Party’s traditional positions. It is likely Pence and the Trump campaign will be working on these issues to find nuances, but Trump is not a nuanced person.
Trump’s positions are very appealing to white voters without college education, but the Republicans are at risk of losing white college-educated voters for the first time in a very, very long time. If Trump loses white college-educated voters, he would need over 80% of white non-college voters. Unless Pence can find a way to explain how Trump does not represent a rejection of everything about the Republican Party (pro-free trade, anti-regulation, pro-low taxes, pro-balanced budget) that has appealed to a key segment of college-educated voters. Pence’s nomination may comfort the social conservatives, but it is the college-educated economic conservatives that are still at risk. If Trump can’t be trusted on economic issues, these voters are more comfortable with the Democratic positions on social issues and do not have any significant problem with a Democratic president getting to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court.