Running mates

Senator Ted Cruz’s selection of Carly Fiorina as his running mate two weeks ago brought one of the most over-analyzed aspects of any presidential campaign into focus earlier than anyone would have thought: running mate selections.

Do running mates really matter? The media certainly talks enough about them to indicate that perhaps they do. A lot of the discourse focuses on the utility of selecting a running mate from a swing state to help deliver that state. If this were a guarantee, then I’m sure every running mate would be from Ohio, Florida, or Virginia, but that’s not exactly the case. Candidates choose running mates for a variety of reasons, but one of the most salient ones is balance.

What kind of balance? Think President Obama choosing then-Senator Joe Biden as his in 2008. Obama was seen as youthful and energetic, and there was a lot of criticism (from both Democrats and Republicans) of his supposed inexperience, especially in foreign affairs. Biden helped to balance this out: an experienced senator with foreign policy experience, older than Obama, a seasoned Washington operator.

The opposite was true for Obama’s predecessor as the Democratic nominee, then-Senator John Kerry. Kerry, an experienced senator with plenty of experience, and foreign policy credentials to boot, selected the youthful and energetic then-Senator John Edwards (remember him?) Edwards was also a former rival of Kerry’s for the nomination. Similarly, Senator John McCain chose then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a young and relatively unknown figure…at least then. McCain knew a lot about foreign policy, and Palin knew a lot about…not much.

And sometimes candidates choose running mates to bring different wings (or “lanes,” in the hip parlance of 2016) of the party together: 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney brought in Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate; Ryan had more in the way of conservative credentials. In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran with George H.W. Bush, who had previously criticized supply-side economics (now the GOP gospel) as “voodoo economics,” bridging movement conservatives and the then-moderate GOP establishment that Bush represented.

So with all that in mind, who are likely VP nominees this year? We have two de facto nominees, although nothing is clinched yet. Donald Trump faces a divided party and an uphill climb in the polls against Hillary Clinton now, so he will surely use the VP pick as an opportunity to bolster his chances. He’s indicated that he will pick a politician, to balance out his outsider status, and a Republican rather than a Democrat or independent (in normal years, no one would even need to say that). So that rules out Mark Cuban or Joe Lieberman, most likely (never say never in this election).

Trump could tap into the 16-person strong field of GOP dropouts, and the field does have some potentially strong contenders. Ohio Governor John Kasich is one–presumably, he brings an edge in his home state, and potentially could broaden the ticket’s appeal to some moderates. He’s said he wouldn’t, but you pretty much have to say that while you’re still running for president (no one could credibly admit that they’re interested in a running mate slot and still keep up a campaign for the top job). It’s probably safe to rule out the ones Trump got particularly nasty about–Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, and Cruz are probably still seething over being called “low-energy,” asked if anyone would vote for “that face,”having their cell phone number given out, and Trump suggesting his father was involved in the JFK assassination. There are others, though: Rick Perry recently endorsed Trump, and he could be a good pick to signal a commitment to conservatism. “Little” Marco Rubio, as Trump christened him, may also be a good choice, but there’s probably too much bad blood between the two. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may be a strong contender, although it’s entirely possible he’s more interested in a job as attorney general should Trump win rather than VP.

Outside of the dropouts, there are plenty of congressmen or governors that will make Trump’s short list. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval is one particularly strong option in my book–swing state, executive experience, Hispanic background–or Trump may opt for a true believer conservative. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who ran in 2012, could make the short list as well, although this would probably be an odd choice (but far from the oddest thing of this election, to be fair).

This is all predicated, of course, on the VP agreeing to run with Trump. In a normal election year, most governors or senators would probably jump at the chance to run for VP, but this is not a normal year. Trump has already divided the GOP, and some are looking to the future. If November sees a Democratic rout of the GOP across the country, then it won’t bode well for the running mate’s future, and if anti-Trump factions “take back” the party at some point, then they may well blacklist any prominent Trump supporters. Christie has already thrown in his lot with Trump, certainly, but Perry’s support may be one to watch, along with other governors across the country.

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