Veepstakes Update: Pence the New Favorite, or a Dark Horse Military Pick?

Posted: Jul 11, 2016 1:05 PM

If last week's scuttlebutt is to be believed, The Donald will be rolling out his Vice Presidential selection in a few days. While many have considered former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to be at the top of the list (and for good reason), the weekend rumor mill scrambled expectations a bit. As I cautioned in my Wednesday analysis, Trump the Showman might have a few tricks up his sleeve on this choice, which he recognizes as an unique opportunity to make some serious news.  Sure enough, a few dark horse names emerged soon thereafter, the most buzzy being fired Defense Intelligence Agency leader Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been very critical of President Obama's ISIS policy.  As Flynn's name began to reverberate around the Beltway, critics immediately raised concerns: Wasn't Flynn just recently speculated to be on the Kremlin's payroll?  And do we know if he's a conservative on issues beyond blasting Obama on foreign policy?  The ex-DIA chief appeared on ABC News' This Week Sunday morning and filled in some of the blanks.  His answers on abortion (pro-choice -- *see update*) and gay marriage (ambivalent) didn't impress many social conservatives who remain suspicious of Trump's newfound stances on both questions -- particularly the former one:

If Flynn's social liberalism turns out to be disqualifying, and if whispers about another Democratic military figure don't pan out, are we back to Newt on top?  Not so fast.  While Chris Christie's vetting seems like little more than a sop to an obsequious water-carrier (cutting quote: "they've been vetting him (because) it would be embarrassing not to be vetted"), one report suggests that Indiana Governor Mike Pence may be emerging as the odds-on favorite.  Via the Washington Times:

Scrambling among Indiana politicians has reached the point where Republican Party insiders are convinced that presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump will pick Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. Constitutional lawyer James Bopp, an Indiana delegate to the Republican National Convention who is close the governor, told The Washington Times that Indiana House Speaker Brian C. Bosma, 58, a conservative Republican, had sought advice from him on running for governor. “He wanted my counsel on what he needed to do to set himself up to run for governor, because he expects Pence to step down as governor in order to be Trump’s running mate,” Mr. Bopp said in an interview. The Trump election team boosted the Pence speculation Sunday by suddenly adding a campaign rally in Indianapolis to a fundraiser planned for Tuesday featuring Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence. Several Republicans close to the campaign and to the governor have told The Times over the last 24 hours that they are now convinced it’ll be Mr. Pence.

Mr. Bopp, also a member of the convention’s rules committee, told The Times that the “rally made it a 95 percent probability it’s Pence.” Indiana Republican Party Chairman Jeff Cardwell said that Sunday’s sudden addition of a Trump rally after the fundraising event was a complete change from Mr. Trump’s original schedule, which had called for a quick appearance at the fundraiser and equally quick exit from Indiana. Mr. Pence, who is little known nationally but highly admired in conservative circles, also made a telling private call to Mr. Cardwell, according to a Republican close to both men. In the call the governor told Mr. Cardwell to delay his planned Tuesday departure to Cleveland for a Republican National Committee meeting, saying Mr. Cardwell needed to be sure to attend an Indianapolis fundraiser featuring Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence.

As a number of people on Twitter pointed out as soon as this story dropped yesterday, it doesn't make much sense to put a lot of stock in the addition of a joint rally as a major indicator one way or the other.  Trump has scheduled stump stops with a host of potential running mates, from Newt to Christie to erstwhile option Bob Corker.  The fundraiser detail may be slightly more telling, but hardly seems determinative.  We'll know soon enough.  Pence is facing a difficult re-election environment in Indiana, partially because he managed to alienate just about everybody with his RFRA performance (not to mention his well-intentioned but flawed Obamacare expansion).  Allahpundit could be right about the political calculation at play here from a politician who was alleged to "loathe" Trump, but whose endorsement of Ted Cruz was extremely tepid, and who is reportedly prepared to accept the job if it's proffered by the presumptive presidential nominee:

He’s up for reelection as governor this year and is facing a tough race. If he bails out now so that he can be Trump’s VP, he’ll trade one potential defeat that could derail his career for another potential defeat that could turn him into a top-flight presidential contender in 2020. Until this cycle Republicans have tended to gravitate to the “next in line” choice; maybe they still would have had Paul Ryan run this time. Pence would be next in line four years from now. Pence could also end up carrying less baggage than the usual losing-VP-turned-presidential-candidate insofar as no one will blame him if Trump loses. “Trump was an anchor so heavy,” people will say, “that no VP choice could have buoyed him.” The best-case scenario for Pence is that he ends up as vice president and a heavy favorite to succeed Trump as nominee. The likely worst-case scenario is that he ends up with national name recognition in a losing effort this year and the gratitude of various establishment conservatives who’ll appreciate him for lending Trump some gravitas on the ticket, positioning him well for 2020. That’s pretty good as far as worst-case scenarios go...

And a savvy breakdown of Pence's appeal from Trump's perspective:

His chief virtue, though, is that he can exist happily outside the spotlight while Trump occupies center stage. That would have been hard for Christie and Gingrich, both of whom have never met a camera they didn’t like and both of whom have a knack for attention-stealing soundbites. Christie and Gingrich are also both widely disliked per opinion polling whereas Pence is an unknown. Pence is the sort of guy you’d pick if you never wanted to give a second thought to your VP choice the rest of the way. The party’s base kinda likes him, if not as much as it used to, and the rest of America has no opinion. He’s mildly helpful in unifying the GOP and does no damage otherwise. If ever there was a candidate who didn’t want or need a running mate muscling in on his buzz, it’s Trump.

The other Pence upside is that he checks several boxes on political experience, policy knowledge, and hands-on experience in DC's inner-workings. Pence was a principled opponent of Bush era overspending and a well-liked member of House Republican leadership before getting elected as the Hoosier State's chief executive.  His selection would make a fair amount of sense on paper, but does he pass the 'comfort test' Trumps confidants have talked about? I'll leave you with a separate development out of Indiana, where the GOP may need to start sweating an open Senate race:

Bayh is an Obamacare supporter-turned-lobbyist who might have been relatively easily defeated in a normal year. But 2016 is not a normal year. He'll be very well-funded candidate with universal name recognition in the state. His re-entry into the fray suggests that Democrats believe that recapturing the Senate is within their grasp, and that a wave may be building. Stay tuned.

UPDATE - Hmmmmmm: