Trump ponders a running mate

Jules Witcover looks at Donald Trump's potential running mates: Christie, Kasich and Carson among them.

Now that Donald Trump has the Republican presidential nomination in hand, he is weighing his choice for a running mate, considering some of his defeated 2016 rivals as well as someone with governing experience with whom he would be personally compatible.

He has put one of those rivals, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, on his team to help him decide, and Dr. Carson himself has said he'd be willing to consider taking the job. If he were to get it, it would be a rerun of the 2000 phenomenon, when GOP nominee George W. Bush tapped his father's secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, to vet the prospects, and Mr. Cheney chose himself.

Mr. Trump in an interview with the New York Times said he likes another former rival who was the last to drop out of the 2016 race, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but "I'm not sure John even wants it."

Still another recent rival, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, helped cut down Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in a debate by exposing him as a robotic candidate and then endorsed Mr. Trump. Mr. Christie's fiery temper would seem to fill nicely the compatibility factor.

Mr. Trump appeared to afford that consideration particular weight in praising then-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's 2008 selection of 36-year Senate veteran Joe Biden as his running mate, pointing to their subsequent close personal relationship. Mr. Obama has given Mr. Biden major governing responsibilities in both domestic and foreign policy matters over the last seven years and counting.

Messrs. Biden and Cheney before him were chosen in keeping with a process employed years earlier by Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, a candidate like Mr. Trump with no Washington experience. Mr. Carter personally vetted and selected Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale and then brought him physically into the White House as his partner in governing.

That deliberate process was encouraged by the disastrous 1972 vice-presidential nomination by Democrat George McGovern of Sen. Tom Eagleton, whose undisclosed history of mental illness forced him to withdraw and contributed to McGovern's landside defeat by President Richard Nixon. Later known as the Mondale model, it has been followed by most subsequent presidential nominees, though not all.

In 1988, without informing his closest aides, the senior George Bush chose the lightly regarded Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle and was embarrassed by his serial gaffes as a candidate and vice president. In 2008, GOP nominee John McCain took Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin onto the ticket after having briefly met her only once. She originally was a Republican darling, but she too became an embarrassment on the stump.

Other prospective running mates for Trump who have expressed willingness to be vetted include Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a strong supporter but regarded in the Senate as a relative lightweight, though Mr. Trump has said Sessions would be "a good anything. "

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a failed presidential candidate in 2012, told the New York Times concerning his availability that "if a potential president says I need you, it will be very hard for a patriotic citizen to say no. People can criticize a nominee but ultimately there are very few examples of anyone turning down the vice presidency."

But Gingrich seems to have a short memory. In 1972, when Eagleton was dropped from the McGovern ticket, an interminable search for a replacement was undertaken and numerous people turned down offers, including the 1968 Democratic veep nominee Edmund Muskie, before Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver agreed to be the sacrificial lamb.

Still another failed 2016 Republican candidate and fierce Trump foe, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said of the prospect of running with the celebrity real-estate mogul: "That's like buying a ticket on the Titanic."

Many other Republicans and Democrats alike, including Hillary Clinton, have opined that Donald Trump is demonstrably "unqualified" to be president. So it's somewhat ironic that he has emphasized that in placing someone potentially a heartbeat from the Oval Office, his selection must be seen as qualified.

In any event, it's unlikely that Mr. Trump's running mate will be much of a factor in an election that will be determined by the unusually strong feelings toward the two presidential nominees of both parties.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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