Trump the Outsider Looks for Insider Running Mate
In his campaign for president, Donald Trump has touted his “outsider” credentials to great success. But in a potential running mate, he is notably seeking the opposite.
Throughout the past six weeks, the presumptive GOP nominee has publicly expressed a desire to choose a seasoned political guide who easily navigates Washington’s power corridors — an area where Trump himself lacks experience.
"We don't need another business person," he told the Associated Press in May, shortly after he locked up his party’s nomination.
Trump is within days of announcing his would-be vice president. The celebrity businessman’s Twitter account has lately morphed into a running diary of his meetings and appearances with potential picks — most of whom boast Washington résumés.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich joined Trump for a rally in Ohio on Wednesday, an appearance that resembled an audition.
“I am not saying it’s Newt,” Trump told supporters after Gingrich introduced him. “But if it’s Newt, nobody is beating him in the debates.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s short list has already begun to dwindle. Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Joni Ernst of Iowa, both of whom were reportedly under consideration, each announced Wednesday that they would not be taking on the role.
After joining Trump on stage at a rally Tuesday, Corker told The Washington Post on Wednesday, “There are people far more suited for being a candidate for vice president, and I think I’m far more suited for other types of things.”
Still, Trump has strongly suggested that he will select a running mate in the mold of Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Trump told Fox News on Wednesday that he has “been thinking in terms of the politicians” for his pick, although he might consider a few generals or former generals as well.
In addition to Gingrich, Trump is reportedly considering Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, who formerly served in the House; Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama; and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who would not bring D.C. know-how to the ticket.
For a candidate who has defied convention at every turn, this approach would fit squarely within the traditions of presidential ticket balancing. Almost without exception, modern presidential nominees from outside Washington have selected running mates deeply familiar with federal lawmaking.
Jimmy Carter, who served one term as governor of Georgia, tapped Sen. Walter Mondale as his running mate. Another governor, Ronald Reagan, selected George H.W. Bush, who had served in Washington roles ranging from member of Congress to director of the CIA. When Bush ran for president himself, his Democratic rival, Michael Dukakis, a governor, picked a four-term senator, Lloyd Bentsen, to round out his ticket.
The list goes on. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton chose a senator from neighboring Tennessee, Al Gore. Gore’s adversary in the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush, tapped Dick Cheney, a former member of the House, White House chief of staff, and secretary of defense.
Indeed, 1948 was the last time two governors ran on the same ticket — Thomas Dewey of New York and Earl Warren of California.
“Political outsiders always seem to pick insiders,” said professor Joel Goldstein of Saint Louis University, an expert on the vice presidency.
For Trump, Goldstein added, there is obvious strategic appeal in hewing to this tradition.
“Trump is the consummate outsider, and so part of the argument is that he feels the need to pick somebody who knows how Congress works, who has some national security credentials, who knows how Washington works,” Goldstein said, “to suggest that although he’s an outsider, he’s not crazy, and he recognizes that he needs to surround himself with people who know how the government works and how the world works.”
Trump might face a unique challenge in squaring a more traditional running mate with his previous rhetoric, however. Just as he has rallied against political “insiders,” the candidate has routinely pilloried Washington — such as in one tweet last year, in which he characterized the capital as “such a mess” and a place where “nothing works.”
In spite of this wrinkle, the Republican nominee who says he thrives on unpredictability might, for once, take the predictable route to picking a running mate — a path, some Republicans say, that could also be the most fruitful.
“This will be a window into Trump's decision-making, and maybe the best opportunity he has to demonstrate that he has the right thinking skills to be president,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a former top aide to Mitt Romney — a former governor who selected then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as his running mate.
“He doesn't need to double down on his strength as an outsider. Picking someone like Ben Carson would be all wrong for him,” Fehrnstrom added. “Trump needs someone who possesses what he lacks, and that's government experience.”