That leaves five rumored names on Trump’s list: former Representative Newt Gingrich, Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Sen. Joni Ernst, and Gov. Mike Pence. My colleague from the left, Hilary Schwartz, has a fun, snarky column on who Trump might pick, but—I can’t believe I’m saying this in relation to Trump—this matter must be taken seriously.
Each of these potential running-mates bring both possibilities and liabilities to a Trump ticket and, despite the common wisdom about the presidential race, it will likely be close enough for the running mate to make a difference. Let’s assume that Trump doesn’t totally surprise us with a candidate not on this list (a risky assumption) and analyze some of strengths and weaknesses of each of these politicians.
Donald Trump VP Candidates
Newt Gingrich. Despite some apostasies in recent years, Gingrich tends to be a legend amongst most conservatives and Republicans. He helped engineer the GOP’s “Contract with America” and subsequent takeover of congress in 1994. As an articulate historian and intellectual, he was a worthy foe for the first Clinton regime and a chief critic during the impeachment scandal. This also made him polarizing.
Yet, all of this was in the 1990’s. When Gingrich ran for president in 2012, his wittiness in debates seemed to earn him some short-term success, but he was largely an afterthought and quickly flamed out. The fact that he is on his third marriage will also turn off some social conservatives, especially as he runs with a mogul who bragged about his sexual conquests of married women.
Chris Christie. While a natural politician, there is a polarizing aspect to Christie as well. His punchiness earned him plaudits from the GOP and a lot of crossover voters in New Jersey, but those who fell in his crosshairs didn’t find his bluntness particularly amusing. Like Gingrich, Christie has the ability to change the media narrative and speak directly to the voters. While redundant alongside the loose-lipped Trump, his eloquence and intelligence would certain add heft to the ticket.
Perhaps Christie’s greatest liability came with his capitulation to Trump during the primary. He was one of the few willing to take shots at Trump early on and his scorn for Trump clearly showed. Yet, after Trump got pummeled by Senators Cruz and Rubio during the debate in Texas, Christie rolled out a slobbering endorsement of Trump that was downright embarrassing (especially when a hot mic caught Trump telling Christie to go home). Christie’s candor seemed to give way to calculated opportunism.
Jeff Sessions. There is not much controversial about Sessions—he is a wise, conservative, gentlemanly politician from the deep South. He is widely respected, which made his early endorsement of Trump an utter shock to many conservatives (especially Ted Cruz, who frequently cited his work on immigration alongside Sessions). His strength comes from being a seasoned politician, but he would not seem to add any credible gain to the ticket.
Mike Pence. There is little about Pence for conservatives, in particular, not to like. He is an eloquent spokesman for conservative values and does not back down on issues, like traditional marriage, that have weighed down Republican candidates for office. He is the former head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative Republicans within Congress, and has served as a talk radio host throughout the state of Indiana. He also is extremely humble (I once attended a lecture by him on Capitol Hill in which he confessed that he had demeaned himself with attack ads against an opponent).
Pence would do much by shoring up some conservatives—especially social conservatives—who are skeptical of Trump. At the same time, his initial promotion of, and later waffling over, a bill that protected the religious rights of business owners against mandatory participation in gay weddings would raise the eyebrows of some. Still, he would be a safe and compelling choice.
Joni Ernst. The freshman senator from Iowa is fresh in a number of ways: She is (obviously) a woman, has laudable military experience, and is smooth in front of a camera (she gave the response to a State of the Union address). She rode the Tea Party wave of 2014 and did so without the foibles and baggage of other Tea Party candidates in 2010 and 2014. Though she lacks the experience and proven credentials of Pence, she just might excite some conservatives (and women) into backing Trump. She also hails from a slightly blue battleground state in Iowa.
Both Pence and Ernst have much to commend themselves for a presidential ticket and seem, on balance, to be stronger candidates than the rest of the field. In galvanizing conservatives, Pence likely has the edge, while Ernst would help take the gender card off the table. Trump really couldn’t go wrong with either one of them.