Presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump is in the inchoate stages of vetting possible Vice Presidential runningmates. Much media focus is centering on Ohio Governor John Kasich. Electorally, it would make sense to select a popular Governor of a critically important showdown state. No Republican has ever won the Presidency without carrying the Buckeye state. However, it would be unlikely that Kasich would accept the offer. It would not be in Kasich’s best political interests to be associated with the Trump brand.
Current polls show Trump well behind Democratic Frontrunner Hillary Clinton. However, Kasich is currently ahead of Clinton in the polls. Should Trump lose in the General election, GOP voters would regret that they nominated Trump rather than Kasich in 2016. This would put Kasich in the electoral catbird seat for 2020. He could spend 2018 on the campaign hustings, stumping for Republican Congressional Candidates, collecting chits and ingratiating himself with GOP benefactors. This could put him in a position as the early frontrunner for the nomination in 2020. Kasich’s odds of winning the General Election in 2020 would be good, as Republicans would be galvanized to nominate an electable candidate, having been shut out of the White House for twelve years, and the electoral pendulum would likely swing back to the Republicans, as Americans would have fatigue at the same party occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for so long.
Beyond those considerations, Trump is not presenting himself as a traditional milquetoast Republican. Trump emphasizes an “America First” policy, which includes economic nationalism, opposing most trade agreements that the U.S. has negotiated in recent years. Trump labels NAFTA (signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993): “The worst economic development deal ever signed in the history of our Country.” Kasich voted for NAFTA and other trade agreements when he served in the U.S. Congress. Trump’s America First Policy also dictates opposition to most recent U.S. foreign interventions. With respect to this issue, Kasich is wedded to the interventionist bloodline of the party. In addition, Trump often bemoans the influence of large financial institutions on the political process. Ironically, Kasich is a former senior executive at Lehman brothers. Finally, Trump advocates closed borders and deporting the estimated 11-12 million illegal immigrants currently in the nation. Alternatively, Kasich favors a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, including a path to earned legalization for undocumented immigrants.
It is quite common for a candidate of one wing of a party to be paired up with a candidate from a competing wing to harness party unity. In 1880, Republican James Garfield, who emphasized Civil Service Reform, was paired with Chester A. Arthur, who had made a career as a beneficiary of the corrupt civil service system and opposed reforms. In 1904, the progressive Theodore Roosevelt was paired with the conservative Charles Fairbanks, and in 1976, the moderate Democrat Jimmy Carter was paired with the liberal stalwart Walter Mondale.
For Trump, selecting a runningmate with a different vision would likely be a non-starter. The media would focus with laser-beam precision on the differences between the ticket mates. Accordingly, Trump’s runningmate would need to be an individual who sings from Donald’s hymnbook on almost all of the major issues.
Trump averred he wants to select someone “who is friends with the Senators and Congressmen” (Senators are actually also Congressmen). This would imply that Trump would focus on either a sitting member who has relations with members on both sides of the aisle, or a former member. The former member would likely be someone without lobbyist ties, as Trump has emphasized his independence from members of the unpopular profession.
Trump would have a huge problem persuading a sitting member of Congress to agree to be his runningmate. Few members of the U.S. Congress who are up for re-election would sacrifice his/her political career for what could be a hapless Vice Presidential run. While it is possible to seek re-election to the House or Senate while concomitantly running for Vice President (as Lloyd Bentsen did in 1988, Joe Lieberman did in 2000, and Paul Ryan did in 2012), only a candidate from a reliably Republican state or district facing token opposition would take this risk. Most Representatives and Senators in at least nominally competitive races would not want to be tethered to Trump.
Of the sitting Senators, Trump’s biggest booster is U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL). While Sessions is charismatic and is simpatico with Trump on illegal immigration, the two have irreconcilable differences on other issues. Sessions has voted for many of the Trade treaties Trump condemns. In addition, Sessions supports proposals to privatize Social Security. Contrariwise, Trump opposes any changes to the Social Security system, pledging to: “do everything within my power not to touch Social Security, to leave it the way it is.”
Trump showcases his opposition to the Iraq War, charging that the U.S-led invasion “destabilized the Middle East.” It would not likely be a litmus test for a Vice Presidential candidate to have opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, but the candidate would have to have displayed fierce opposition in the attendant years.
There are two sitting Republican members of the House who fit Trumps brand of Republicanism almost to a tee and who would complement his message on the campaign trail as Vice Presidential running mates. They are both Southern accented less bombastic versions of Trump. The first is Walter Jones of North Carolina. While Jones was an early supporter of the Iraq war, he has since become a vociferous critic. Jones now maintains: “I just feel that the reason of going in for weapons of mass destruction, the ability of the Iraqis to make a nuclear weapon, that’s all been proven that it was never there.” In 2007, Jones was one of just three Republicans to vote for a bill ordering Bush to bring combat troops home by 2008.
Like Trump, Jones is an economic nationalist. He has voted against virtually every proposed free trade agreement since he entered Congress. He has co-sponsored legislation to repeal NAFTA and is a leader in the effort to stop the Transpacific Partnership. Jones avers: “free-trade agreements like NAFTA have pushed millions of good paying jobs outside our borders.” Jones is also a steadfast opponent of illegal immigration, averring: “It is imperative that we secure our borders and not reward those who have broken our laws with amnesty.”
The other member who fits this description is U.S. Representative John Duncan (R-TN). Duncan, a self-professed “non-interventionist,” was against the Iraq War from the beginning, despite support for the War from the preponderance of his constituents. In fact, after his vote, Duncan was slated to deliver an address at a Baptist Church in his District. However, inflamed church benefactors and a Church Deacon threatened to leave the Church if Duncan were allowed to address the congregation. In response, Duncan agreed not to show up.
Furthermore, Duncan is an economic nationalist and an adversary of illegal immigration. He recently endorsed Trump, praising Trump for his views on these three issues.
Finally, an interesting choice would be former U.S Representative Gene Taylor of Mississippi. Taylor represented that state’s Gulf Coast as a Conservative Democrat. Though popular in the District, he could not withstand the 2010 floodtide against Democrats and barely lost his seat. He has since become a Republican. Taylor was one of the most charismatic members of Congress, excoriating federal Budget deficits, advocating for a balanced Budget Amendment, and disparaging free trade agreements. Taylor introduced a resolution in 2010, “to provide for the withdrawal of the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement.” While Taylor voted for the Iraq War Resolution in 2002, he came to question the futility of the war effort. In 2006, Taylor averred: “How do you win a counterinsurgency when 80% of the people don’t want you there?” He wanted the President to call for a plebiscite among Iraqi citizens to see if they want U.S. troops to stay. A two-thirds majority vote would be required. If the referendum did not muster that number, Taylor harshly intoned: “then I’m at the point of saying to heck with them.”
Part of the reason why Taylor survived in what was a Congressional District where Republican John McCain garnered 69% of the vote in 2008, was his advocacy for his constituents. This was highlighted in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the district, destroying his home. He became a critic of the manner in which his constituents were being treated by the insurance companies, bemoaning: “Private insurance companies leverage our dollars to find ways to deny us the protection for which we pay good American money.” Taylor also lambasted FEMA Director Michael Brown at a House hearing, telling him: “You get an F- in my book.”
The road to a Vice Presidential pick will be a narrow one for Donald Trump. Many elected officials would not want to risk their political careers to be tethered to the real estate magnet. Moreover, a candidate would have to be ideologically simpatico with Trump. His “America First” brand of conservative is a minority ideological viewpoint among Republican elected officials. Trump says he wants someone who can work with Congress. All three of the aforementioned possibilities have worked with members of both parties quite often in co-sponsoring proposed bipartisan legislation. Vetting Jones, Duncan, and Taylor would be a good starting point for Trump.
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