The Running Mate: What Is Trump to Do?

by | May 15, 2024 | Opinion

Washington, D.C. – The competition for the job former Vice President John “Cactus Jack” Garner is said to have once described as “not worth a bucket of warm spit” – or words to that effect — is getting intense. On the GOP side, whoever Donald Trump picks as his running mate – which he seems ready to do by month’s end — automatically catapults that person to the front of the field of candidates for the 2028 Republican nomination.

That’s not helpful to Trump, but it is important. He needs someone who he believes will be loyal and not allow their presidential ambitions to cast a shadow over the four years remaining to him as president should he win. Many names have been mentioned. Some make sense. Others seem a bit outside the box, but that’s not a reason to disqualify them. Trump likes to do the unexpected. Surprises appeal to his “inner showman” because they shake things up.

It’s easy to put together a list of the characteristics a good running mate should have. In addition to loyalty, they should bring some kind of balance to the ticket – ideological, regional, racial – or increase the chances the ticket will carry a vital state like Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Arizona.

The right pick can make a campaign. People forget how close Jimmy Carter came to losing to Gerald Ford in 1976. He needed Walter Mondale on the ticket to reassure Democratic liberals that while he might be campaigning as a centrist Southerner and Sunday School teacher, he’d be okay on the big stuff.

It worked—as it did when Ronald Reagan picked George H.W. Bush as his running mate to provide a reassuring ideological balance to the ticket. The GOP carried 44 states in 1980, beating Carter and Mondale in the electoral college, 489 to 49. Still, some conservatives still consider it the worst decision ‘The Gipper’ ever made.

The wrong pick doesn’t necessarily break a ticket, but it sure doesn’t help. Mitt Romney did himself no favors in 2012 by picking Paul Ryan because he appealed to younger voters and economic conservatives.

Ryan couldn’t pull Wisconsin into the GOP win column, so he was no help at all. Tim Kaine didn’t help Hillary Rodham Clinton carry Virginia in 2016 – she was going to win there anyway. He also didn’t help her carry any of the states she needed, so he was no help either.

The sharpest pick in years was Al Gore’s selection of Joe Lieberman as his running mate in 2000. It seemed a bizarre choice when it was announced. It didn’t start to make sense until late in the election when it became clear the presence of a politically centrist, orthodox Jew from Connecticut on the national Democratic ticket was helping cut into the GOP’s lead in all-important Florida.

None of those examples are relevant to Trump because Trump is not a conventional politician. He plays by a set of rules that are exclusively his. To him, the unconventional is conventional.

What Trump is looking for in a running mate is a person who brings to the ticket what he thinks it needs. That could mean a woman to take the edge off some of the attacks against him. It could mean an African-American or Hispanic to capitalize on his growing popularity in what are obviously crucial demographic groups for both him and Joe Biden. It could mean another billionaire with unlimited resources to pour into the national campaign. Or it could mean someone who’s off the radar screen entirely. No one knows – which is just the way Trump wants it.

Some names have been bandied about, but when talking about Trump, the idea that someone’s been tagged as a potential running mate may hurt their chances more than help. Most of those who’ve been mentioned, including South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, would each, in their own ways, be strong choices. Each would bring something to the ticket that Trump understands would help him win and govern as he hopes to.

Interestingly, Biden is in the same situation, even if he doesn’t realize it. Right now, everyone presumes he’s going to keep Vice President Kamala Harris on the ticket. She’s popular with the party’s base, which includes an outsized proportion of black women. The polls, however, suggest much of America is uncomfortable with the idea of her as president.

That might work against Biden, who, if he wins re-election, will be the oldest person ever to occupy the White House. Suppose he really wanted to put the election away early in order to concentrate on winning control of a unified Congress and strengthening his party’s position out in the states. In that case, he’s got an outside-the-box move of his own to consider. Mitt Romney needs something to do. He’s not running for re-election to the U.S. Senate and reportedly has said he’ll leave the GOP if Trump is the party’s 2024 nominee.

A Biden-Romney fusion ticket would give many Republicans committed unenthusiastically to voting for Trump in 2028 the other option they tell pollsters they desperately crave. It would also really shake things up and make the 2024 presidential campaign among the most interesting in U.S. history.

Washington, D.C.-based columnist and commentator Peter Roff is a former senior political writer for United Press International and former U.S. News & World Report contributing editor. He can be reached at RoffColumns AT and followed on social media @TheRoffDraft.

NEXT: America First Republican Matt Gaetz Fires Off Against Establishment Attacks As Well as Primary Challenger Aaron “DEI” Dimmock

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