11 May 2016

Trump’s hunt for the perfect Vice President


In order to stand a chance of beating Hillary Clinton to the presidency in November, Donald Trump is well aware of the need to broaden his appeal. On his way to becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, he gained the support of angry, disillusioned white men, and made enemies with just about everyone else. Trump’s divisive politics and hurling of insults have upset hispanics, women, muslims, the disabled, and various significant members of his own party, including the House Speaker and 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who has declined to support Trump.

The most disliked presidential candidate there has ever been, Trump has a big opportunity to improve his image and election chances by picking the right person to join his ticket. His objectives will be to attract more support from the GOP party, make himself more acceptable to demographic groups which he has alienated, and strengthen his chances in swing states which tend to decide the presidency. Picking a running mate who can help him in one or more of these objectives will be key. Here are the favourites for Trump’s VP candidate.

Newt Gingrich: In the past few days, the former House Speaker and 2012 presidential candidate Gingrich has suddenly emerged to become the bookies’ favourite to be named Trump’s running mate. Well-respected within the party, the GOP veteran became the first Republican House Speaker for 40 years in 1994, and was uncompromising against President Clinton, especially during his impeachment hearings.

Gingrich has spent the past few months defending Trump in the media and within the GOP establishment, criticising those who refuse to back the nominee and being clear of his ambitions: “it would be very hard for a patriotic citizen to say no”. Formerly representing Georgia, Gingrich would secure the south and help to unify the conservative right, but would offer very little in attracting moderates and independents to vote for Trump.

Gov. John Kasich: Someone who might attract those voters is the Governor of Ohio, the last GOP candidate to drop out of the race against Trump. As I wrote back in February, Kasich is a much more moderate conservative, with a calmer temperament and who can boast of a strong record in his home state. Trump has suggested he would want a VP to take an active role on Capitol Hill and Kasich, like Gingrich, offers knowledge and experience in Washington politics. Also, Trump has predicted that it’s 40% likely that his running mate will come from the field of former GOP rivals.

Perhaps most significantly, no Republican has ever won the presidency without taking the state of Ohio, and the governor’s popularity there was underlined by his commanding victory there in the Republican primaries. Despite these traits, though, Trump has suggested a Trump-Kasich ticket is “unlikely”, while the GOP right wing is suspicious of Kasich after he expanded Medicaid in Ohio.

Gov. Chris Christie: Many will remember the New Jersey governor Christie for his gormless, shell-shocked expression standing behind Trump during his Super Tuesday press conference on 1st March. Despite once saying Trump was not “suited to be President”, Christie endorsed his rival when he dropped out in February, and did so to a barrage of criticism. Now the pair claim they are good friends, and Christie got in there early to back the winning horse and angle for a place on the ticket. As a campaigner, the governor demonstrated his skills as an attack dog: especially in his infamous ABC debate clash with Senator Marco Rubio back in February. He would also offer an opportunity to win over the blue state of New Jersey.

Significantly, though, it was announced on Monday that Trump has tapped Christie to lead his transition team if he wins the presidency in November. Serving as chairman, the Trump campaign announced that the governor would be “overseeing an extensive team of professionals to take over the White House, and all that entails”. This would appear to discount Christie from the ticket, but it depends how much of an active role he will take with the transition team. Although unlikely, it could still be possible for Christie to split his time with a campaign for the vice presidency.

Gov. Susana Martinez: A hispanic woman, Martinez ticks the boxes that the other three cannot. Trump’s polling among ethnic minorities is pitiful, ahead of an election in which a third of voters in November will be from an ethnic minority, while his sexist comments have alienated a huge number of female voters. Although Trump’s strategy is likely to focus on encouraging white voters to the polls who don’t usually take part, he simply cannot win without improving his popularity in these key demographic areas.

Elected America’s first Latina governor in 2010, Martinez has been a rising star in the GOP, building a reputation for reform and even being named in the Time 100 most influential people in 2013. Unfortunately for Trump, she has said she’s not interested in serving as VP. In politics, and especially in this whirlwind year we’ve had, though, you cannot discount anything.

As Donald Trump and his team vet candidates for the Vice Presidency, rumours will continue to swirl about who will eventually join him on the ticket. With their experience, reputation and electoral advantages, one of these four figures seems most likely. However, if we have learned anything from the 2016 race so far, it’s that absolutely nothing is entirely predictable.

Jack Graham is a political commentator who specialises in American politics.