Donald Trump has to pick a good vice presidential running mate. It’s a tough decision, multilayered and vexing for the best, most well-positioned candidates. But it’s especially difficult for Trump.
For one thing, he’s got fewer options than the average candidate. The controversy of his candidacy places extra limits on what’s already a hard choice (for the presidential candidate, the potential veep, and others in the party). He probably cannot pick a governor, for example. It would be far too easy for the opponent to flatly state, ‘your running mate is much more qualified and experienced.’
Lots of folks that might be choices won’t want the job. It’s one thing to align with a presidential candidate on something like privatizing social security. It’s quite another to embrace mass-deportation, anti-religious causes, wall-building. Those positions will be the kind that stick to a candidate long-term.
The sorts of choices that would help to win-over alienated voters are also mostly off the table. They are exactly the sort of moderating voices that would have trouble aligning, but they also tend to be from states that would put their replacing them at risk if Trump won. It’s not as big of a risk as for the Democrats, who still hold an advantage going into the actual race, but it’s still there.
The campaign has claimed to reject out-of-hand a woman or a minority for the second spot, out of fears of it being seen as pandering. Trump has walked it back some, saying they won’t pick such a running mate just for that reason, but that should go without saying. No presidential candidate calls central casting and says, ‘send me a dark-skinned woman, please.’ That’s a preposterous notion.
In picking a vice presidential candidate, the first, main goal is to do no harm to the campaign. A bad pick is hard to recover from. But a bad pick takes many forms. Someone who will fall asleep during the veep debate? Someone who won’t keep on message? Can’t do an interview without coming across as sentient pet food?
You also have to do what’s best for the party. That means weaving around candidates with risky districts, picking someone who might want to run in the future and who is seen as having a shot in that event, and so on.
But strategy is important, too. You want someone who balances the ticket, something the Trump campaign claims they’re looking to actively avoid. The campaign will try to claim his pick shows him ready to take the oath of office, but the fact that his pick will inevitably be some Trump acolyte that has to stand next to him and nod along to such draconian views of the world will probably refute that.
We all know whom he wants to pick (besides Oprah): Donald Trump. But you can’t do that, as I’m sure his handlers have had to tell him at least a couple of times by now. This is always a thread-the-needle pick, and it will be a surprise if Trump manages to do it in a way that actually helps his odds for the general.