The VP Sweepstakes

By Jim Ellis

July 6, 2016 — The media carried stories over the July 4th weekend that one or both of the presidential candidates is close to naming a running mate. It is a virtual certainty that Donald Trump will announce first, since there is little or no incentive for Hillary Clinton to do so. It is to her advantage to wait until after Trump makes his move, since the Democratic National Convention follows the Republican conclave.

Clinton has the opportunity to pivot from Trump’s eventual choice, and help use the VP choice to balance her own ticket and counter whomever the Republican eventually selects.

Some media reports are suggesting that Trump will unveil his running mate this week. It would make better political sense for him to wait until convention week, thus drawing more attention to the national assemblage, but there is one reason he might announce earlier.

It is clear that a growing number of Republican delegates are looking to influence the Convention Rules Committee to eliminate the binding requirements for the state delegations, meaning that every delegate would be free to cast his or her ballot for whomever they choose on any roll call. Currently, five delegations feature unbound delegate votes through the balloting process and a sixth, Pennsylvania, only bounds 14 of its 71 delegates. Those wanting to change the rules would give this same unbound status to all delegations.

Though the chances of changing the convention rules the week before the plenary session begins, and expecting a majority of the full body to accept such an alteration are very low, announcing a vice presidential candidate could potentially help mitigate some of the anti-Trump upheaval before the movement gains greater strength.

The media is saying that the short list for a Trump vice presidential nomination includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and a new entry, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). This may or may not be the true list, and it certainly is subject to major change in these pre-announcement days.

Choosing Christie or Gingrich makes little sense. Neither would bring much to help balance Trump or deliver a state that he can’t win on his own. New Jersey is not likely to be included in a Republican targeting list, since the state has voted so consistently Democratic in presidential election years. Gingrich could help strengthen the Republican base vote for Trump, but his selection would do little for the ticket, nationally.

Going toward Pence would inevitably re-ignite all the stories about the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act that led to a major national controversy and drove down the governor’s approval ratings.

But, Sen. Ernst might provide Trump the added boost he needs. Also coming from the conservative ranks, Ernst is obviously from an important general election swing state, might help soften Trump’s image, and likely brings more assets to a national ticket than anyone else on this particular “final cut” list.

Clinton is reportedly narrowing her list down to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

Depending upon how Clinton believes she needs to counter Trump’s eventual choice, she could move to Warren to shore up her left-wing base and appeal to the Bernie Sanders’ voters, if she feels weak in that area. A more mainstream choice would be a senator from a swing state, i.e., Brown or Kaine, since the Democrats have so few governors who would fill such a need. Castro, virtually unknown and from a state, Texas, that Clinton will not carry, would purely be an appeal to Hispanics and an attempt to exploit further what the Democrats believe is a major Trump demographic weakness.

The VP ball is clearly in Donald Trump’s court. We will soon see how he plays.

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