No matter what the next primary election results show tomorrow night, one thing seems to be certain: we are in for a long slog of delegate-counting before either party's nominee is crowned. On the Republican side, this is leading to more and more desperation from the party's bigwigs, as they clutch at the thin straw of somehow yanking the nomination away from Donald Trump at their convention. All of this is going to take time to play out, but we're just going to leapfrog over it all for now and assume for the purpose of this conversation that Trump does emerge victorious as the Republican Party presidential nominee. Whether a third-party conservative challenge emerges or not, this means the next big question has to be who Trump is going to pick as his running mate. So buckle your seatbelts, because this is likely going to be just as bumpy a ride as the rest of the GOP nomination process has so far been.
Traditionally, the game of speculation over the vice-presidential slot on the ticket (the "veepstakes") has been a lot easier to play. However, after John McCain rocked the Republican world with his choice of Sarah Palin, the old assumptions don't always work. Even before the rise of Trump, wild cards have previously been chosen, to put it another way. But Trump is the wildest wild card on his own, so the possibilities of who would get Trump's nod are almost limitless. "Nah, that's too crazy" might not apply to the veep choice, to put it another way, just as it hasn't applied to the nominee himself. Especially when you take into account how much of Trump's political persona has been centered around sticking a big thumb in the collective eye of the Republican establishment all along.
We can start speculating using the normal assumptions, though, because we've got to begin somewhere. The normal rules may not apply, but then again they may -- a Trump spokesman was heard a few weeks ago indicating that Trump would likely make a traditional "shore up his weaknesses" type of choice, so it's not completely out of the question that his pick would be a conventional one.
Traditionally, of course, the first people considered are those who ran a close race to the eventual winner. This would put Ted Cruz highest on the list. Cruz, like Trump, immensely enjoys confounding the party's establishment, in his own way. Trump could probably go a long way towards unifying the party's base by naming his closest rival to the ticket. Cruz would guarantee a win in the crucial state of Texas, but that's not saying a whole lot (it's hard to imagine Texas going blue this year, even with Trump on the ballot). But somehow, I just can't see Trump burying the hatchet with Cruz, even if Ted did bend over backwards for months not to badmouth Trump in any way (in the early months of the campaign). Since they started sparring in earnest, however, Trump has clearly shown his naked disdain for Cruz, so I doubt he would make this particular choice. Especially after all that "Lying Ted" stuff, on the campaign trail.
Second on the list would be John Kasich. Kasich's geographical asset would be much more valuable, because unlike Texas, Ohio could actually be the key to winning the White House. The general rule is that Republican candidates don't win the presidency without winning Ohio, and Kasich has shown how popular he is in his home state. Kasich has always been very high on every GOP contender's veep list, for this very reason. The pundits are now speculating that if Trump has a shot at winning in November, it will be because he'll flip the Rust Belt states, and Kasich could certainly help this effort out. Also, Kasich and Trump haven't gone after each other with as much personal bile as the other Republican-on-Republican campaign fights, so there's not much of a hatchet to bury between the two. However, Kasich has sounded pretty adamant about not being anyone's running mate in recent interviews, so there's a possibility he'd turn Trump down.
Marco Rubio is probably out of the running, because it doesn't look like he'd add much of anything, geographically. Florida is always one of the biggest battleground states, but Marco couldn't even beat Trump on his home turf, so it's hard to see what political asset he'd bring to the campaign (other than Latino voter outreach, perhaps). It'd be hard to see Trump naming "Little Marco" as his running mate, at this point.
There are others waiting in the wings, but only one of them looks like a real contender. Scott Walker might also help in the Midwest, but he showed his weakness by being the second one to drop out of the race, and Trump isn't fond of "losers." Chris Christie is probably a non-starter, both because he hails from the same region as Trump and because he doesn't add much to broaden Trump's appeal with the electorate (Christie was supposed to be the bombastic bully of the race, before Trump entered the scene and did it so much more entertainingly). The smartest pick Trump could make would be South Carolina's Nikki Haley, of course, since she would open up demographics that Trump hasn't been doing so well with (women voters and minorities, in particular). But somehow I think Haley's smarter than that, and would decline a veep slot if offered.
Still keeping within the bounds of traditional veepstakes speculation, Trump might reach beyond the world of professional politicians to shore up his weakness on one particular issue. Trump is arguably weakest on foreign policy and military matters, so it would make perfect sense for him to pick someone a lot stronger in this regard. Foreign policy experts in Congress would be the first place you'd normally look, however the two most well-known of these are not likely to be asked -- because Trump would likely find both John McCain and Lindsey Graham unacceptable. McCain likely wouldn't even consider running for veep after running for president, and Graham has thrown his lot in with Cruz. There could be others Trump might find more acceptable, but I think a more likely option would be choosing a retired general. While this could be anyone (there are a lot of retired generals who would jump at the opportunity), one name certainly suggests itself: David Petraeus. Petraeus is well-loved by conservatives, even after his problems with the law. But what got Petraeus into trouble pales in comparison to Donald Trump's colorful romantic history, so Trump likely wouldn't rule Petraeus out on that accord. Whether Petraeus would accept the invitation or not is anyone's guess, but it certainly would boost Trump's perceived weakness on foreign policy and military matters. Petraeus (or any other successful ex-military figure) would bring heft and gravitas to the ticket that Trump has so far found elusive.
This is where we have to depart from the traditional "this will help the candidate because..." rules of the veepstakes game, though. Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has certainly proved that he is his own man who charts his own course through the American political scene. This is a polite way of saying none of the other rules of politics have applied to Trump in any way, so why should he keep within them for his veep pick? Perhaps Trump will reach out not to the political world or the military world, but instead to the world of celebrities.
Once you get past this mind-blowing basic concept, it certainly would be appropriate. Trump himself is a television celebrity, after all. So would it be so far-fetched to imagine him choosing, say, Omarosa to run with him? I mean, he probably wouldn't give the nod to Gary Busey (even Trump's not that foolish), but I could see him flirt with the idea of Ted Nugent as a running mate. Just imagine the excitement of a Trump/Nugent rally for one tiny instant -- you think you've seen fired-up crowds so far? The Motor City Madman would certainly dial things up by a very large notch. He might even bring Michigan into play, in November.
A couple other possibilities are easily dismissed. Much as he'd really like to, Trump probably wouldn't decide to put one of his children on the ticket, because nepotism isn't all that popular with most American voters. Arnold Schwarzenegger is beyond consideration, not for his own sexual dalliances but because he was clearly born in Austria and thus isn't eligible for the presidency (as all vice presidents must be).
Of course, then there's a very obvious choice: Sarah Palin. Hey, if the entire Republican Party could pretend (with a straight face) that she was presidential material in 2008, they'd be hard-pressed to now say she's not qualified to run with Trump, right? However, I don't think Trump would pick Palin, because she might just overshadow his own popularity with the fervent base. And that's something I don't think his ego would allow. Also, she's a "loser" by Trump's estimation, which might be the deciding factor in passing over a Trump/Palin ticket.
Trump could make a surprise pick from the world of right-wing media. I doubt he'd go with Rush Limbaugh, but someone like Sean Hannity or Joe Scarborough could appear on a Trump shortlist. The only thing for certain in this arena is that Trump is definitely not going to choose Megyn Kelly. But all the others at Fox might merit a hard look. Trump/O'Reilly, perhaps? It's not as far-fetched as it sounds, really.
I'll end this smorgasbord of speculation with one name that keeps coming back to me. Whenever I bring this up in political conversation, people laugh -- at first. Then they nervously want to change the subject, because of how plausible it seems after that first guffaw. Trump is weak on political experience. He might need help winning a race with three major candidates running. He could use someone with some military experience to bolster his foreign policy credibility. And he loves outspoken, off-the-cuff celebrities -- especially those who are either conservative or independent in their thinking.
So how about a former state governor who is also a former movie actor (who acted in more than one film with Schwarzenegger)? How about someone who actually won a three-way race -- in a Midwestern state? How about someone who is not shy in front of the microphones and cameras, and who already built his own political reputation as a straight-talking guy who took on the establishment of both parties? How about an ex-Navy underwater demolitions expert, to boot?
Go ahead and laugh if you will, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Trump stuns the political world (once again) at the Republican National Convention by announcing that his running mate will be none other than Jesse Ventura. By doing so, Trump would actually be making good on a promise he gave 12 years ago. Consider this gem from Ventura's Wikipedia page (from when Ventura was covering "WrestleMania XX"), where "he approached the ring to interview Donald Trump, who had a front row seat at the event. Trump affirmed that Ventura would receive his moral and financial support were he to ever re-enter the world of politics." Ventura has more than once expressed an interest in running for president, so he might actually be interested in a veep slot on Trump's ticket.
Sure, it's funny -- when you first consider it. But then the more you think about it, the more sense it actually makes. After all, is "Trump/Ventura 2016" really that much more outlandish than "Donald Trump, Republican presidential nominee" first sounded?
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