Editor's note: The following column originally appeared in The Hill newspaper and on The Hill.com. For more, click here.
I’m not one to gossip but…
The strategy for picking a running mate this year is wildly different from anything seen before.
The textbook on picking a VP calls for a heavy focus on adding swing-state support for the top of the ticket. The book also advises finding a running mate seen by voters as plausibly able to take over as president.
Well, throw out the textbook.
No one believes that any running mate is going to tip this year’s electoral map. And no strong, silent type fits the bill at a moment when voters want to shake up the system.
When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) paid a visit to Clinton just days after she claimed the nomination, speculation kicked into overdrive.
And phone lines got hot when former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) were overheard in a TV green room telling each other that the other one is the best choice to run with Trump.
The dynamics that frame the selection of a VP this year were evident in a Washington Post/ABC poll released last week. It found that nearly 70 percent of Americans have an unfavorable of view of Trump, a 10-point increase since he entered the race last summer. According to the same poll, Clinton also reached a new personal high in her unfavorable rating at 55 percent.
Clinton’s trouble is dwarfed by Trump’s trouble. He is viewed negatively by 94 percent of blacks, 89 percent of Latinos and 77 percent of women.
Picking a dazzling candidate as his running mate is one move that has the potential to change the way the world sees him.
The last attempt to dazzle and distract with a vice-presidential pick was in 2008. GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) got off to a good start with his surprise pick of little-known Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She is beautiful, high energy and, that year, she had the potential to attract women disappointed that the Democrats had selected a black man over a woman as their nominee.
But the sparkle wore off quickly when Palin began to look uninformed and inept. Questions were raised about McCain’s judgment. Palin’s family life also became a staple of the gossip columns.
Palin’s selection looked especially bad in contrast with Democrat Barack Obama’s pick of Sen.Joe Biden (D-Del.). Biden was experienced and known to be a good guy, while his selection took the edge off the risk of putting a first-term senator in the Oval Office.
This time, Trump and Clinton need running mates combining the qualities of Palin and Biden.
The Trump campaign went nuts last month when Ben Carson said that Trump’s shortlist included Palin. Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla) and Ted Cruz (Texas), and two governors, Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio, were purportedly also on the list.
Palin’s downside is obvious; a desperate-looking Christie won’t do either. And Trump can’t afford to extend an offer to Rubio, Cruz or Kasich because he can’t risk being turned down.
That problem is getting worse by the minute as Trump lags farther and farther behind Clinton in the polls. Any dazzling vice-presidential pick has to think about his or her own political future. What will happen to them if Trump suffers a Barry Goldwater-style blowout loss in November?
Gingrich remains a serious contender to be Trump’s number two. He is a well-known personality and an ace with a TV soundbite who is also accustomed to dealing with controversy over his personal life.
But Gingrich sharply criticized Trump for his attacks on New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
Trump then did an impromptu poll on possible running mates. He asked the audience at a rally in Tampa to pick from Gingrich, Sessions or former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice got the biggest applause from the crowd.
Rice is a dazzler but the odds that she is willing to sign on are low to non-existent.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Clinton needs a star to bring young, energetic supporters of her primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, back into the fold.
That means Clinton can’t bring on a centrist pick. Moderate Democrats with close ties to corporate America like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Mark Warner of Virginia, or former Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, would anger the liberal base of the party.
Warren, however, has powerful detractors. Critics say she lacks foreign policy experience and note that she has never run a city, state, cabinet agency or business.
“I think she will not pick somebody that she feels in her heart isn’t ready to be President or Commander-in-Chief,” former Pennsylvania Governor and DNC Chairman Ed Rendell recently told a Philadelphia radio station. “I think Elizabeth Warren is a wonderful, bright, passionate person, but with no experience in foreign affairs and not in any way, shape or form ready to be commander-in-chief.”
Clinton could find dazzle by naming the first Latino vice-presidential candidate. But no one doubts she will win Latino voters energized by Trump's insults regardless. If she still wants that option, then Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro is the leading candidate. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and California Congressman Xavier Becerra have come on strong in the last few weeks.
When all the talk ends, Trump has few options. His best bet to dazzle is Gingrich. Clinton has a wider range, led by Kaine, Castro and Warren.