By Jim Ellis
July 18, 2016 — Donald Trump had scheduled an announcement Friday in New York to introduce who would be his vice presidential running mate. A plethora of media reports suggested that he would select Indiana Gov. Mike Pence over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The reports were right. Gov. Pence withdrew from the governor’s race before the noon CDT, for that was the established deadline when the ballots became final under Hoosier State election law. Once a vacancy is registered, the Indiana Republican Party has 30 days to name a replacement for the gubernatorial ballot, and already at least three individuals have informed the party leadership that they are candidates. Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb and representatives Susan Brooks (R-Carmel) and Todd Rokita (R-Clermont) are withdrawing from their respective campaigns, but the ones not chosen could conceivably be reinstated in order to keep their present ballot position.
Choosing Pence makes sense for Trump, at least from the standpoint that the conservative Indiana governor will help unite the Republican base. Though Trump’s GOP support numbers in national polling appears on par with Hillary Clinton’s backing within the Democratic Party universe in most polls, the bedrock Republican states, particularly in the central and Rocky Mountain regions of the country, are a slightly different story.
For a Republican to win, he or she must keep in line all 23 states that traditionally vote for the GOP candidate in presidential elections. Of the 23, all but one have voted Republican in every presidential campaign of the 21st Century. The one to stray, interestingly, is Pence’s Indiana, which went for Barack Obama (by one percentage point) in 2008, but returned to the GOP fold four years later.
Some of Trump’s weaker primary/caucus states were traditional conservative Republican enclaves like Utah, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, not to mention North Dakota and Wyoming, which by-passed actual voting in favor of sending an unbound delegation. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) won all of the aforementioned against Trump, and Utah performed as the presumptive nominee’s worst state in the nation (14 percent). Therefore, teaming with a solid social issues conservative should help firm his base support in those weaker places.
The Pence selection will undoubtedly re-start further discussion over the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act that the governor signed in early April, and ignited a national gay rights/marriage discussion. We can count on the media continually bringing that issue to the forefront once the Indiana governor assumes his place on the national ticket.
Going to Gingrich would have also targeted the Republican base, but it appeared that the former House Speaker carries too much long-term political baggage to be an effective Trump national partner. Additionally, returning to a political figure from the past does not send the futuristic signal that Trump wants to communicate to the national electorate.
On paper, Gov. Christie would have made sense if the Trump team believed he could realistically help steal New Jersey from the bedrock Democratic column. Approval polls and the lingering George Washington Bridge controversy suggest that Christie no longer has any political magic left for the state, meaning a Trump victory there would remain a long shot. Additionally, a Trump-Christie ticket would lack the geographical balance that is usually significant in choosing a vice presidential nominee.
With Trump’s long-awaited selection becoming official, heavy speculation will commence about whom Hillary Clinton will choose. Expect her to pivot politically around the Pence choice and take the person she perceives can best help her win the national election.