Warning: Donald Trump hasn’t made a final decision about his running mate. So what follows is a mixture of reporting and analysis.
My sources say it has come down to a choice between two very different political personalities, Chris Christie and Mike Pence.
While Newt Gingrich is still in the mix, he appears a less likely pick at this point.
The process has been unusually public, with Trump and his children and son-in-law—who have become increasingly influential advisers—huddling with the finalists, including Pence and Gingrich in Indiana yesterday. But the family is divided.
If Trump were to lead with his heart, he would pick Christie, whose brash and pugilistic persona matches his own. I’m told the New Jersey governor made a strong pitch in their meeting Tuesday, saying they have been friends for 12 years, that he has demonstrated his loyalty, and that he would help eviscerate Hillary Clinton.
Christie would seem to fit the profile that Trump offered the Wall Street Journal in saying he wants an attack dog—a “fighter skilled in hand-to-hand combat”—to go after Clinton.
Pence, by contrast, is a low-key political personality, not terribly well suited for the attack-dog role. He and Trump have only met a handful of times. Trump doesn’t connect with the Indiana governor in the backslapping way he does with Christie or Gingrich.
The conventional wisdom is that Trump doesn’t need an attack dog because he has such a sharp bite himself. But some insiders say that having a brawling running mate—say, Christie—would free the nominee to act more presidential and read more scripted policy speeches. If Pence is on the ticket, Trump will have to provide most of the rhetorical firepower.
Christie has some baggage, of course. Trump has told advisers that he doesn’t even help carry his home state, given his unpopularity in New Jersey. And the media will revive the ugliness of the Bridgegate scandal. But I’m told the campaign’s vetters concluded that after all the investigations, nothing personally damaging to Christie is expected to emerge.
But Christie faces a major obstacle in the person of Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s husband. It’s no secret that as a federal prosecutor, Christie sent Kushner’s father to prison. So that is factoring into the process.
Pence checks many boxes, as a traditional conservative, Midwestern governor and former congressman. He’s not that popular at home either, and would be giving up a tough reelection battle. He signed a religious freedom law last year that critics said could allow Indiana businesses to refuse to serve gays, and backed off to the point of signing a revised measure.
Would his low-profile approach conflict with Trump’s brand? Pence, for his part, has nothing to lose, and even being on a losing ticket would boost his chances of running for the White House in 2020.
And then there’s Newt. Fox News has suspended his contributor agreement as Trump settles on his VP choice. He’s a national celebrity, with the kind of outsized personality that Trump prefers, though he has a well-known tendency to wander off script.
A Gingrich selection would give the 70-year-old nominee a 73-year-old running mate who has also been married three times. The media would revive all kinds of scandals and controversies from his days as House speaker, including the fact that he resigned under pressure after leading the impeachment drive against Bill Clinton.
Gingrich is a force of nature who won South Carolina in his 2012 White House bid, but the betting is the odds are against him.
And just as I type these words comes word that Trump is meeting with Jeff Sessions, the senator who many had written off as a VP choice.
In the end, it may not matter all that much who Trump picks. People are going to vote for him or against him in this election. What’s important is how he is seen handling his first presidential-level decision.