After his Super Tuesday wins, it’s likely that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president. More than in any past election, his choice of VP makes all the difference — not just in electability, but because he might not last a full term. He needs to pick someone less wacko than he is.
Super Tuesday revealed the dynamic that will dominate the rest of the primaries. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich will divide the anti-Trump votes. They won’t drop out — each feels he is the best Trump alternative. Trump has rolled up 40% of the delegates assigned so far, and will continue to win even if he doesn’t win over a majority of votes in the remaining states.
Why Trump’s VP pick matters
Here’s why Trump’s choice of vice president is crucial, both to his electoral chances, and to his ability to govern if he wins:
- He must show he can make a consequential decision in a mature way. So far for Trump it’s been just talk; he could never actually get Congress to go along with his radical and unrealistic ideas, like the border wall. His choice of VP, on the other hand, is a real decision with real consequences. In the general election, he needs to win over the people who might hold their nose and vote for him rather than Hillary Clinton; he’ll be less stinky if his running mate is a grownup.
- He needs a rational campaign surrogate. The tricks, feints, and insults that have served Trump so far work best in a multi-candidate field, not against a single opponent with united Democratic Party backing. He won’t win Virginia or California without a campaigner who looks like normal politician.
- He’ll need help with governing. Trump has already stated that he wants a political insider for vice president. He has no government experience, and running the federal government is a massive undertaking. He’s unlikely to succeed in navigating the power dynamics of Washington and the Congress without somebody who knows where the power lies.
- He might get impeached. What are the chances that Donald Trump breaks a rule that rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors? And remember, the Congress prosecutes impeachments — getting rid of Trump might be the one thing they could agree on.
- He might give up. Trump has given up on businesses from bankrupt casinos to air shuttles to Trump University to meat. If the presidency thing doesn’t work out and turns out to be too hard, he might bail.
- Haters with guns. Trump makes people angrier than any politician I’ve ever seen. He may inflame a mentally unstable person sufficiently to do the unthinkable.
Who will he pick?
Conventional wisdom suggests picking a vice president to add geographical or ideological balance to a ticket. Of course, conventional wisdom and Trump are two things that never appear in the same sentence (except this one).
Instead, Trump needs what I’ll call “wacko balance.” That is, he needs a candidate who is less wacko than he is, to win over the people who can’t trust him. Despite the speculation, this eliminates clear wackos like Sarah Palin and Ben Carson. He won’t double down on wacko.
He also needs someone who will bow to his will. Trump would never put up with someone unwilling to defer to him, publicly and privately, in every decision. That eliminates prominent Republicans who could really help him, like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, or John McCain (and those traditional Republicans would never back Trump, anyway). It also likely eliminates Marco Rubio, because of his scorching and personal attacks on Trump in the last week.
Who fits both criteria? Depends on which way he’s leaning.
Chris Christie certainly looked deferential — simpering, in fact — at Trump’s press conference Tuesday night. He would definitely do it. He’d help Trump win over moderates, but might lose some conservative votes.
Ted Cruz could bring the religious conservatives into the fold and possibly win over South and Midwest states, which otherwise might go blue in this topsy-turvy election. Cruz is young and inexperienced; a term as VP would help his aspirations. Despite Trump’s earlier comments calling Cruz a liar, he was gracious toward Cruz last night. They’re both “tear-it-down” outsiders and an alliance with Cruz would solidify Trump’s position in a contested convention. But knuckling under to Trump (or anyone) wouldn’t be easy for Ted Cruz.
What to expect now
Given Trump’s masterful penchant for grabbing the media’s attention — doing a press conference instead of a speech last night was a great example — watch not just who Trump picks, but when. It could happen at any moment. The traditional process of waiting until the convention won’t matter to Trump at all.