Assuming that the reports today are true that both Bob Corker and Joni Ernst have removed themselves from consideration as Trump’s VP, it’s time to consider the remaining options that Trump and his campaign have bandied about. I really don’t think it’s possible these days for a VP pick to help a candidate very much. After all, the last VP who mattered was Lyndon B. Johnson. And personally, I wouldn’t vote for Trump if he nominated me to be his Vice President.
But it is possible to do yourself some small, extremely marginal favors with your VP nominee, and it is also possible to hurt yourself politically with your VP pick. I think Obama hurt himself by picking Biden because it showed he was not really taking the position seriously. Initially, McCain helped himself with the selection of Palin, but as the election wore on, she became a political liability – worse than Biden. I think Cheney was a governing asset to Bush but a political liability in 2004 – thankfully, Edwards was worse. Quayle likewise became a political liability for Bush 41, and Dukakis did himself no favors by nominating the stultifying Bentsen.
That having been said, let’s rank the remaining possible candidates according to the help/harm they could do to the Trump ticket.
1. Tom Cotton (Senator-Arkansas) Here’s how far above the rest of the field Cotton is on this list: I have trouble believing he is seriously allowing himself to be considered for the job because of the possible damage it would cause to his future career. Cotton is a serious, intelligent person with national security credentials, military experience, and a relatively high national profile due to prominent dust-ups with Obama. He is also young (for someone who is seriously being considered as VP). Cotton’s presence on the ticket would lend some national security credentials to a ticket that is currently sorely lacking it – which, let’s be honest, is probably a death blow for a Republican candidate no matter what.
Cotton is a McCain disciple and (with Rubio) is about the strongest neocon in the Senate, so there are a whole bunch of reasons why I find it hard to believe that a Cotton nomination is something that might happen. However, Cotton is also clearly ambitious and might believe that he could mitigate any potential damage to himself.
2. Mike Pence (Governor-Indiana) Pence would have been a dynamite pick for Romney four years ago, but his star has dramatically faded both nationally and within conservative circles of late. Pence isn’t all that popular even in his home state and after taking both sides of an extremely divisive religious issue fight, has detractors from almost every corner of the globe, ideologically speaking. Additionally, Pence is white, male, and old-ish. These things should not matter, but they do. Plus, if Trump needs Pence to help deliver Indiana, he might as well quit – and there’s no evidence that Pence could do that anyway (given that he’s facing a potentially bruising re-election campaign). Still, Pence has some leftover residue star power from people who stopped paying attention to him after he left his national perch as a conservative firebrand in the House, and Pence still gives a good speech. He would be a decent attack dog. Definitely better than anyone else on the list.
3. Chris Christie (Governor – New Jersey) There’s a huge drop between Cotton and Pence, and another huge drop from Pence to Christie. Christie is widely unpopular nationally and in his home state, which will not be competitive for Trump regardless. He burned the last of his bridges with everyone who wasn’t already committed to Trump when he endorsed Trump. He brings absolutely no one to the table who wasn’t already there. Nominating Christie would essentially represent a doubling down of the idea that wiseguy cracks delivered in crass eastern seaboard accents are super attractive to the country as a whole.
4. Newt Gingrich (Establishment Gadabout) The one VP possibility who would begin the race with unfavorability numbers that are similar to Trump’s. Absolutely no one is clamoring for Newt’s return to the national scene. He couldn’t even clear a vastly weaker Republican field himself during the last election cycle, having lost handily to Mitt Romney – and everyone groaned about the possibility of a Romney third party candidacy this year. Gingrich is just about the worst possible idea for a VP pick, which means Trump will almost definitely pick him.
NOTE: Probably Jeff Sessions fits somewhere between 2 and 3, if Trump is considering him seriously, but I’m hearing nothing indicating that is actually happening.