Trump has now fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in an attempt to show that he’s getting serious about the general election, where the challenges are far greater because the electorate is broader.
It was a long overdue decision, given Trump’s losing ground in polls, his inability to raise money, and Lewandowski’s tarnished reputation after he was nearly charged with battery in Florida. To some keen observers, the move is an implicit acknowledgement that things haven’t been going well recently.
But Donald’s Trump’s failure to “pivot” to a general election audience – read: stop saying things that are unfathomable to most decent human beings – is ultimately his own fault, and it’s going to make finding a strong vice presidential candidate a challenge.
As the campaign strategist for Ohio Gov. John Kasich – who is himself considered a VP contender but will never accept – put it in an interview with Politico: “I can’t imagine a truly credible person agreeing to be his running mate, because it would be the end of his or her political career.”
It is indeed grim. If Trump loses, then you cozied up with a scoundrel who doesn’t even get to be president. If he wins, you have to serve under a man that the Economist has called a top threat to the global economy, answering for everything he does on endless repeat.
Ultimately a vice president is a cheerleader for the administration in which they serve, and there simply aren’t that many prominent Republican politicians who are willing to cheer on Trump’s ideas and stake their credibility on him.
Democrats are well aware of this, and they want Marco Rubio to join Trump for exactly that reason.
While it’s always a common tactic for a sitting politician to say something along the lines of, “No thanks, I’m too busy working for the people of _____ to consider a vice presidential candidacy,” what’s especially remarkable in this situation is the sheer number of people who have pre-emptively said “No way” in public.
Let’s consider that list briefly before getting into the candidates that Trump is seriously considering.
People who have already said they would decline:
- Gov. John Kasich of Ohio (“Never. No chance,” he said through a spokesman to the New York Times)
- Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin (“Scott Walker has a visceral negative reaction to Trump’s character,” a top adviser told the New York Times)
- Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida
- Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina (“flattered” but “not interested,” she told Politico)
- Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa
- Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico
- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (simply “not interested,” a spokeswoman said)
- Jeb Bush
- Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina (“That’s like buying a ticket on the Titanic,” he told the New York Times)
- Gov. Rick Scott of Florida (“I worked hard to get this job. I’m going to stay in this job,” he told CNN)
- Ben Carson (but because the “left-wing media” would react poorly, he told Politico)
Obviously that still leaves a huge swath of the Republican world who may be willing, but it illustrates the degree to which the party’s top-tier doesn’t want to risk their careers in a Trump bid.
That’s why some of people he is seriously considering are not household names. But at least two are.
- Former speaker of the House when Bill Clinton was president
- Credited with bringing Republicans to dominance in Congress in the 1990s
- Ran for president in 2012 and actually won two states, including the early contest of South Carolina, before dropping out
Why Gingrich? Trump has said his ideal vice president would be someone who knows Congress and Washington, D.C., very well. Gingrich certainly fits that bill, though he’s been out of office since 1998, when he resigned after being criticized for pushing the Monica Lewinsky scandal too forcefully.
But equally important is the fact that Gingrich has been a big supporter since the beginning and has said he talks with the campaign and candidate frequently.
The one time Gingrich has been forcefully critical was over Trump’s racially charged statements about the judge presiding over his “university’s” fraud case. “It was one of the worst mistakes Trump has made. Inexcusable,” Gingrich told Fox News in early June.
- Current two-term governor of New Jersey and former federal prosecutor appointed by George W. Bush
- Was widely considered a top presidential contender before the 2013 scandal over an intentional closure of portions of the George Washington Bridge that was connected to his staff members but never directly to him
- Despite the suspicion that has followed him around ever since, he ran for president in this cycle but didn’t win a single state
Why Christie? This is a harder question to answer for Christie than Gingrich. Trump doesn’t stand a chance of winning New Jersey even with Christie on the ticket, and Christie hasn’t spent significant time in D.C.
But Christie was the first nationally prominent politician to back Trump and has actively worked as a surrogate ever since. And he’s still a formidable debater (think about what he did to Rubio in New Hampshire) and skilled politician.
Also unlike Gingrich, Christie has criticized Trump heavily in the past – all before he backed Trump, but still. Here’s a sampling:
- Called Trump one of the great “carnival barkers of today” at an event in New Hampshire. “Showtime is over. We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief. Showmanship is fun, but it is not the kind of leadership that will truly change America.”
- Criticized Trump’s plan to make Mexico pay for a wall in a CNN interview. “This makes no sense. I’ve met [Mexican] President Nieto a number of times. I don’t think if we present him with a bill he’s going to pay for it. This is not negotiation of a real estate deal, OK? This is international diplomacy, and it’s different.”
- Called his proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. a “ridiculous position” and “the kind of thing that people say when they have no experience and don’t know what they’re talking about.”
- Said Trump exhibited the behavior of a “13-year-old” when he refused to participate in a Fox News debate. “What’s that tell you about what we can expect if things go sideways when you go into the Oval Office? What are you going to do? Just go upstairs to the residence and say I’m not playing?” he asked. “You know, Vladimir Putin isn’t being nice to me, I’m not going to return his phone call? The press isn’t being nice to me, I’m not going to hold any more press conferences?”
- Current two-term governor of Oklahoma
- Backed Trump on May 4, just after Indiana left Trump the only one in the race
- Has been talked about by some officeholders and pundits as a good potential VP pick
- Has said she would be “honored” to serve but, as governors are essentially obligated to do, added that she’s focused on serving her state right now. In her case, that is not a “no”
Why Fallin? South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, a Trump supporter, first suggested Fallin as a potential VP on CNN. His reason? She provides “balance.” Trump called that “great advice” on Twitter. By “balance” he may have meant that she has extensive political experience, from the state legislature to Congress and the governor’s mansion. He may also have meant that she’s super conservative on social issues, which would reassure some conservatives who think Trump is more populist than principled right-winger.
Then again, “balance” may mean nothing more than “she’s a woman, and Trump performs terribly with women.” Think of it as a Sarah Palin move, which worked out really well for Republicans and won over scores of women who still remain loyal to the party. Not. But speaking of Palin, some have suggested that she’s on the short list, but that’s highly unlikely because it would only reinforce the idea that he’s unserious, Palin is loathed by the GOP establishment, and she’s a rambling disjointed mess.
Fallin has basically only said nice things about Trump, praising his leadership qualities and his ability to speak to disaffected voters. Here’s a good example:
- A senior senator from North Carolina
- Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee
Why Burr? Yes, he’s really obscure, but Burr provides some key assets. For one, as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee he provides experience on national security, an area where Clinton dominates Trump, according to the latest polling. And it may be questionable just how much the VP candidate boosts the vote share in his or her home state, but Trump desperately needs to win North Carolina, which is going to be a key battleground in November.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt has said Burr is on Trump’s short list, and Burr, for his part, has been relatively positive about Trump. He has said Trump is well-positioned to beat Clinton, saying “I think Donald Trump is Hillary’s worst nightmare.” But at that same event, the state’s Republican convention, he didn’t respond to a reporter’s question about whether he would campaign for Trump and painted his support as an obligation to the party.
“This has been the weirdest election cycle I’ve ever seen. But there’s a point in time where having our preferences is no longer an option, and getting behind a candidate is absolutely essential. We’re there. It’s time. It’s time to elect a Republican president. … It’s going to be Donald Trump.”
Not exactly a sonnet to the presumptive Republican nominee.