The best choice to unite party isn’t one based on identity politics.
The media circus of speculation is swirling over who will take a position beside Donald Trump as his vice presidential nominee. Much of that speculation follows the same tired logic of the last two failed Republican bids for the White House — assuming the pick should be a token gesture to a specific demographic group. A group, like Latinos and women, that the party has traditionally struggled to win.
From early in his maverick candidacy, Donald Trump indicated his simple strategy to win the presidency in a matchup with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton involved remaking the map. For Trump to defeat Clinton in November he will piece together a jigsaw of states that play to his strength with frustrated, blue-collar, largely male and largely white voters, expanding the map into Wisconsin and locking down Iowa and Ohio.
Trump will depart from the twice-repelled swing-state strategy of the 2012 and 2008 GOP. The primary targets (after must-win Florida and Ohio) will not be Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, or Virginia, nor the higher proportions of Latino voters and non-blue-collar workers within them. In picking a running mate, Trump will want a candidate who buffets his weaknesses, foils Clinton’s pick, and contributes to the objective of running up the score with blue-collar white voters.
The Party Unity Pick — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
Disunity is a brand of weakness, and as figures in the Republican Party and conservative movement who vigorously opposed Trump now grapple with how or if to embrace him, Trump needs to offer them an outreached hand to grasp.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker fits the bill of a unification pick to heal the wounds of the primary. Walker fiercely opposed Trump throughout the primary process. In his own early exit from the race, the Wisconsin governor took the opportunity to call for candidates to rally behind stopping Trump. When the focus of the race turned to his home state, Walker locked arms with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and fought hard and successfully to prevent Trump from notching a win there.
To bring Walker into the fold would demonstrate in clear terms the ability for once-bitter rivals to come together to stop the Clintons from moving back into the White House. Walker also remains popular with the conservative grassroots wing of the party and is at least ambiguous enough on Trump’s key issues of trade and immigration to not cause a conflict — a trait not shared with Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Walker would also be a powerful pick to double down on a blue-collar, white-voter focus. Wisconsin is a key state for Trump to target in his shifted map strategy and Badger State Republicans built the blueprint for dismantling previous Democratic dominance in the industrial Midwest.
The Fresh Face — Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton
Cotton, a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq,would represent a younger generational focus. At just 38 years old Cotton is the youngest senator in Congress and would serve as an important foil to the possible Clinton veep choice of 41-year-old Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.
Both Castro and Cotton are graduates of Harvard Law School. But while Castro went into private practice and then politics, Cotton enlisted in the U.S. Army. Cotton turned down an opportunity to be commissioned at the rank of Captain in the JAG Corps in favor of an enlistment and later promotion to the officer level in an infantry unit.
In an election sure to feature intense debates over the future of America’s foreign policy and tackling terrorism at home and abroad, Cotton would be a powerful complement to Trump’s resume. Aside from his military service, Cotton sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and also sits on the Select Committee for Intelligence. Cotton is a tried and tested campaigner, having defeated two-term Sen. Mark Pryor by 17 points in one of the most hotly contested Senate races of 2014.
Cotton carries his own history of wide appeal in the party. In his 2014 election, Cotton was backed by both the conservative Club for Growth PAC and the National Federation of Independent Business.
Cotton was critical of Trump’s call for a total ban on Muslims, but met with Trump privately in March. The details of the meeting were never fully reported.
The Best Pick — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
Gingrich knows how to raise money, is a prolific pontificator in the media, and would eat Julian Castro alive in a debate. Most importantly, the former speaker of the House, onetime candidate for president, and longtime GOP power player is steeped in the very policy heft that Trump is oft criticized for lacking.
Gingrich has praised Trump and his foresight on seizing populist, anti-Washington anger from the beginning of the campaign, saying yesterday that Trump would be the “most effective anti-Left leader in our lifetime.” Trump, in turn, has repeatedly said he wants a running mate who knows Washington and how to work it. The author of the Contract with America and leader of the 1994 Republican Revolution has been a Washington fixture for nearly 40 years and knows exactly how the city operates.
Gingrich earned ridicule during his 2012 campaign for suggesting the United States pursue plans to colonize the moon — but with Tesla mega-entrapreneur Elon Musk and other new-age moguls planning private Mars trips and colonization, Newt’s plan doesn’t seem quite as wacky anymore. Making NASA great again rolls quite well into the theme “Make America Great Again.”
Gingrich does also carry a long trail of personal baggage, but the Democrats will be so busy squeezing Trump’s own tabloid past into their attacks that they likely won’t get to Gingrich’s unfortunate incidents with ex-wives.
As an added bonus, the force behind President Clinton’s impeachments in 1998 knows how to tango with the Clintons.
There are of course a panoply of other veep potentials for Trump to consider — and they all have their drawbacks.
Rubio and Kasich dull Trump’s original populist, anti-Washington appeal and would openly contradict his central positions on trade and immigration. Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown would bring a truck and a Red Sox hoodie but little else. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Hayley and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez are both solid but too transparently pandering picks for a candidate whose success is partially based on unpredictability. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is too New Jersey to Trump’s New York. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani would be a powerful asset in waging a campaign about law and order — but is also too New York.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz would have been a powerful pick to re-energize conservatives and grassroots activists and heal the wounds of the primary, but the relationship with Cruz is likely just too poisoned after weeks of brutal one on-one-combat. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst is possible for most of the same reasons as Cotton with the added benefit of hailing from swing-state Iowa, but can be a little too canned on the stump. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions is the thought leader behind Trump’s populist platform, but is soft spoken and very Southern. Sessions would be more of a great pick for Trump’s cabinet as attorney general or Department of Health and Human Services secretary.
There are still others and no definitive way of knowing who the presumptive GOP nominee (who loves to be unpredictable) will ultimately choose. But the best pick will buttress the existing appeal of Trump’s candidacy rather than water it down to chase less fertile demographics.