Politics & Policy

Weighing Trump’s Running-Mate Options

Trump and Christie in Fort Worth, Tx., February 26, 2016 (MIke Stone/Reuters)

Now that Ted Cruz has announced his vice-presidential pick is Carly Fiorina, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza contemplates the most likely running mates for Donald Trump. In order of likelihood, Cillizza names New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Florida governor Rick Scott, Iowa senator Joni Ernst, Ohio governor John Kasich, and Florida senator Marco Rubio.

This list is a mix of the likely and the nearly impossible. Starting at the top, Christie’s an obvious prospect; he was one of the first major Republican rivals to endorse Trump, and he did so at the moment when Trump needed it most, resetting the news cycle in a week when Marco Rubio had torn the front-runner apart.

Some Republicans who see Trump as reckless and inexperienced might feel better with Christie at his side — or perhaps a few paces behind, staring awkwardly and silently ahead. Then again, it’s not clear how much Trump actually likes Christie — remember, “Get on the plane. Go home”? — and with Christie’s approval rating in New Jersey in the dumpster, it’s not terribly likely a Trump-Christie ticket would carry the Garden State.

Rick Scott might be the most intriguing choice. Scott endorsed Trump — although after Florida’s primary — and he’s now calling upon #NeverTrump to give up the fight. Speaking as a guy who frequently points to Trump’s terrible polling against Hillary overall and in a lot of key states, I’ll admit that his numbers don’t look that bad in Florida. Scott won two exceptionally nasty, hard-fought gubernatorial races and could lock up the state for Trump — giving him a win that John McCain and Mitt Romney could not achieve. Scott’s a relatively low-key, even-tempered figure among Trump endorsers; he may not have an overwhelming personality, but he isn’t likely to do much harm.

RELATED: What Fiorina Brings to Cruz’s Ticket

It’s not clear why first-term senator Joni Ernst would jump on the ticket of a not-conservative, not-popular-in-Iowa candidate who faces long odds in November. Cillizza thinks that anyone who is offered the vice-presidential slot will take it, but I figure that any conservative with a bright future will be hesitant. Politics has not been kind to losing Republican vice-presidential candidates not named Paul Ryan — e.g., Sarah Palin, Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle, Bob Dole, William Miller. (Only Dole ever ran again. Miller ended up doing a “Do you know me?” commercial for American Express.)

Kasich keeps insisting that he doesn’t want to be Trump’s running mate, and in fact has said more than once that he would be “the worst vice president in history.” Trump might need Kasich’s delegates, but it’s hard to see Trump really wanting Kasich to be his partner in the Oval Office. (After Trump’s impassioned diatribe about Kasich’s “disgusting” table manners, the pair would have some exceptionally awkward White House lunch meetings.)

#share#Marco Rubio? Come on. We don’t even have to get into the “Little Marco” and pants-wetting insult-fest from earlier this year. A decision to join Trump would represent the disavowal of everything Rubio said about Donald Trump and conservatism during his campaign. Being Trump’s running mate in a losing effort would be one final indignity in what must be a phenomenally disappointing year, and many of Rubio’s Trump-loathing supporters would perceive it as a betrayal. For Rubio, or any Trump critic, a decision to sign on with Trump is a lose–lose: It alienates anti-Trump Republicans but isn’t likely to win over that much goodwill among Trump’s most loyal supporters.

Any conservative with a bright future will be hesitant. Politics has not been kind to losing Republican vice-presidential candidates not named Paul Ryan.

There are several names Cillizza doesn’t mention that the Trump campaign would be foolish to dismiss, particularly among the handful of statewide officials who endorsed Trump. Start with Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. A pick of Sessions would double down on Trump’s signature issue and arguably turn the election into a referendum on building a wall and border security. Sessions seems pretty happy in the Senate, but he is a serious figure, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general who would signal that the Trump administration could stick to its principles.

Former Arizona governor Jan Brewer is 71, so she’s an unlikely pick, but she would amplify Trump’s strengths: She’s tough, unafraid of controversy, and adamant about border security and enforcing immigration laws. Her autobiography was entitled “Scorpions for Breakfast.” She’s defended Trump from Mitt Romney’s criticism and dismissed the controversy over Trump’s comments about David Duke, shrugging that “people always want to race-bait you.” Trump’s presence atop the ticket might make a traditional attack-dog running mate superfluous, but Brewer’s a tenacious defender of the man and his most prominent stances.

#related#Former senator Scott Brown has been a pretty good surrogate for Trump. His glory days of 2010 seem very far away, and Brown lost two Senate races in a three-year span, but he could probably amplify Trump’s best messages and avoid making anything worse. He could offer Trumpism with a more amiable tone and style.

Finally, though she’s been on this rollercoaster before and is probably much happier outside elected office, why shouldn’t Trump at least consider Palin? No matter whom Trump picks, his ticket would face long odds, demonization by the media and Democrats, and relentless mockery from comedians. If you’re sailing into a maelstrom, why not pick a first mate who knows exactly what’s coming?

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.

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