There are many reasons why Donald Trump should pick a solid, respected conservative as his running mate. Not the least of those reasons is the likelihood that, if Trump is elected and carries through on his campaign rhetoric, he would face a coalition of left wing Democrats and Beltway Republicans who would be waiting for an excuse to be rid of him. And if Trump’s vice-president is someone who is preferred by the Chamber of Commerce Republicans and the open-borders Democrats, they just might try.
Of course, there are practical political reasons for Trump to pick a conservative for vice president. Conservatives are the backbone of the GOP’s base, and any appeal for Republican unity that does not give conservatives a seat at the table will fall flatter than an ethics course taught by Loretta Lynch. Obama’s base showed up in 2012 despite four years of economic and foreign policy nightmares, and Hillary’s base will turn out for her come hell or high water. If conservatives don’t show, 2016 will make 2012 look like a GOP landslide.
Second, though the huge GOP field and Trump’s positioning as an outsider propelled him through the primaries, the general election will require a more organized campaign. He will have to turn out not only those who already support him but also the majority of GOP primary voters who supported someone else. He will have to turn out the #NeverHillary vote wherever they are, and that means using the sophisticated databases, field organization, and micro-targeting technology of modern campaigns. Conservative candidates and organizations have the field teams and the political technology that Trump needs to identify and turn out voters who can put him over the top, but a John Kasich or Paul Ryan on the ticket will leave those resources waiting on the shelf until 2020.
Those reasons alone would make a conservative running mate an obvious choice. But Trump should also think in terms of impeachment insurance, strange though that may sound, because the very populism and outsider status that make Trump appealing to his supporters also changes the political calculus of an impeachment effort from insiders in both parties.
The Constitution lays out the legal grounds for impeachment and removal from office as “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The Founders debated the actual standards and language dealing with impeachment, and legal scholars still differ in their interpretation of the English common law foundations and modern application of those standards. The result is that impeachment is tricky business from a legal standpoint because of widely varied expert opinions of what constitutes a violation.
But Congress also faces a political reality in dealing with impeachment and removal of a president. The House has to muster the political support to survive a vote to impeach, and then two-thirds of the Senate has to vote for removal. In our highly polarized political climate, it would be extremely rare to get two-thirds of the Senate to agree on anything as controversial as removing a president. The result is that, though practically every president of recent memory has had some group calling for his impeachment and removal, debate over the legal requirements coupled with the political barriers makes success extremely unlikely.
But these are increasingly lawless times, and political considerations now supersede legal and constitutional standards with ease and impunity. Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote Obamacare to avoid the political fallout that would have resulted had he followed the law. And FBI Director James Comey just laid out a detailed description of the laws that Hillary Clinton broke in the email scandal, and then let her off in a flatly calculated political move. Both decisions may have been appalling legally, but they were survivable politically.
These days, politics eats law for lunch. And that brings us to the political climate that a President Trump would face. Regardless of any legal standards, the Democrats would vote to impeach and remove Trump, or any Republican president, purely on the grounds of furthering the left’s political agenda. The Democrat votes for impeachment would be there from the start, but they would need help from Republicans, and that’s where Trump’s outsider status and populist positions come in.
If Trump follows through on his rhetoric about fixing our broken borders, if he puts the safety of American families above political correctness, and if he ticks off the globalists by putting American interests first, then the Beltway wing of the GOP will want him gone. As long as Trump’s poll numbers are good, the Beltway GOP will just work quietly with the Democrats to undermine his agenda. But if those numbers drop – and in these polarized and dangerous times, they always drop – there will be a political opening in which Democrats and Beltway Republicans can further their mutual interests by impeaching him.
And if there’s a vice president waiting in the wings who would have been preferable all along to the Washington insiders of both parties, they just might take the chance.