How Trump Should Choose a Vice President

May 09, 2024

Last Saturday’s Republican National Committee event at Mar-a-Lago was a casting call. The role up for grabs? Donald Trump’s running mate. 

As one would expect from the star of “The Apprentice,” Mr. Trump was the impresario. He called each prospective vice presidential candidate to the stage, offered compliments, and listened as each one serenaded him. Who he’ll pick is anyone’s guess. There are plenty of strategies floating around but only one that makes sense.

Mr. Trump is unlikely to make a quick decision. That’s wise. Suspense builds interest and keeps the hopefuls advancing their cause by doing all they can to help him. I’m betting he holds off announcing his decision until much closer to the start of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on July 15. 

A lengthy process can expose weaknesses. Witness Gov. Kristi Noem’s stunning self-destruction. Bragging about shooting her puppy in a gravel pit ended her hopes of being selected. 

Mr. Trump’s vice-presidential search is different from other recent candidates’ efforts. Prospective running mates haven’t received questionnaires or document requests. Instead, Team Trump is doing deep dives on prospects without directly engaging them. What is Mr. Trump looking for? 

Some of his advisers want a running mate to win over targeted groups, such as black and Hispanic voters. These strategists are pushing former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott or Texas Rep. Wesley Hunt.

Others are hoping the right vice-presidential candidate improves Mr. Trump’s appeal among swing voters. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and House GOP Conference Chairman Elise Stefanik might fit this bill. 

Some running mates have been the ticket’s attack dog. Donald Trump Jr. apparently likes Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance for his ability to own the libs.

Some want to strengthen Mr. Trump’s outsider image. They argue for someone like Tucker Carlson, former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, or biotech mogul Vivek Ramaswamy. Still others suggest picking someone with fundraising prowess, given President Biden’s big financial advantage.

In February Mr. Trump outlined his criteria at a Fox News town hall. He wanted someone who’d be an effective president if something happened to him. The running mate should “help . . . from the voter standpoint” and should agree with him, as Fox paraphrased, “on a wide range of issues.” Finally, Mr. Trump said, his pick should have “common sense.”

Really though, there’s one criterion that matters: whether Mr. Trump’s choice reinforces the voters’ perception that he would be a strong, effective president.

That’s the conclusion of political scientists Christopher Devine and Kyle Kopko, authors of the 2020 book “Do Running Mates Matter?” Their work isn’t for anyone allergic to math. They use “a multimethod approach comprising logistic regression analyses and structural equation models” with “vector autoregression” and “an adaptation of Lenz’s . . . three-wave test.” All this rigorous analysis of empirical data leads to a clear and concise point.

Vice-presidential running mates seldom directly convert voters, according to Messrs. Devine and Kopko. They rarely help carry a state that the ticket would otherwise lose. They have, at best, a minor and temporary influence on key voter groups. Whatever direct effect they have on the ballot is “limited” and generally lasts “for a few days” in a campaign.

The power of a vice presidential pick is what it says about the presidential candidate. Messrs. Devine and Kopko argue there’s “strong and consistent evidence” that running mates shape voters’ perceptions of the presidential candidate “across a wide range of attributes relating to leadership skills, trustworthiness, and competence.”

Read More at the WSJ

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