The Trump Veepstakes Suicide Watch

    Sen. Joni Ernst

    Sen. Joni Ernst

    Senators Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said yesterday that they will decline the honor of joining Donald Trump’s ticket. Gee, I wonder why.

    My best guess, and yours, is that they have no interest in committing political suicide. They understand the old adage that if you lie down with a dog, you get up with fleas.

    I loved their recusal statements yesterday. Corker said: “I think I’m far more suited for other types of things.” Translation: “I’m not well suited for the job of mopping up after Trump’s serial idiocies.” Ernst said: “I’m focused on Iowa …. Iowa is where my heart is.” Translation: “I won’t pledge my heart to a catastrophe.”

    Really, what sane person would do such a thing? Can you imagine taking the job of second fiddle, and being told by one of Trump’s kids that you’ve gotta get out there and defend dad’s anti-Semitic tweet? Just last night, in fact, Trump went wildly off script (the script called for a focused attack in Hillary Clinton’s non-indictment) when he again brought up his anti-Semitic tweet, the one that showed the Jewish Star of David on a bed of corrupt money. And he again insisted it was just a sheriff’s badge. He said the tweet should never have been taken down, that he “would have rather defended it.” The result: He put this poisonous episode back into the news cycle. Who in their right mind would want to hire on as wingman to this wingnut?

    This is why Trump’s short list for veep is shrinking, with the clock ticking. He reportedly plans to name his running mate on the eve of the Republican Convention, which is just 11 days away. So, who?

    Odds are, the lucky winner will be someone who can afford to take the risk, someone with nothing to lose.

    Newt Gingrich or Chris Christie would clear that low bar. Gingrich is a Washington has-been whose clout peaked circa 1996; he’s a short-lister because he’s supposedly a big brain (a Republican big brain; we’re grading on a curve here), and supposedly he could help Trump connect with congressional Republicans (Trump probably doesn’t even know that congressional Republicans tried to kick Newt out of the Speaker’s chair in 1997, and successfully got him to quit the House in 1998).

    As for Christie, you know the deal there. He’s dead meat in his own state — at last glance, his approval rating was a subterranean 26 percent — and nearly two-thirds of Jersey Republicans oppose him as veep. Plus, the Bridgegate trial is on the docket for September, and the last thing Trump needs — given his ongoing Trump University legal baggage — is an understudy with ongoing legal baggage.

    But you can see why Gingrich or Christie are prime veep candidates. They’re massively unpopular with nowhere to go but up. They’re losers with nothing left to lose.

    Others fill that bill. Rick Perry is tanned, rested, and ready; the former Texas governor imploded in the ’12 presidential race and quit at the ’16 starting gate. On the other hand, he did have a moment of clarity last summer when he described Trump as “a barking carnival act … a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican party to perdition.” If chosen, could he credibly morph into a fanboy?

    Rick Scott also fills the loser bill. The governor of swing-state Florida is term-limited, so he can certainly take a flyer on Trump despite his demurrals (“I’m going to stay in this job”). The problem with Scott, aside from his consistent unpopularity (40 percent job approval), is his track record in the private sector. His health care company got slapped with a $1.7-billion fine for Medicare fraud, so it’s likely that even Trump, on the eve of his Trump University trial, would see the downside of an all-fraud ticket.

    Would the GOP’s prominent women of color – Governors Nikki Haley and Susana Martinez – want to risk their political futures on Trump? Doubtful. And Trump, in past remarks, has alienated them anyway. Would Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio take the job? Doubtful. Especially not Cruz, who, it’s safe to say, would be reluctant to partner with someone who accused his father of aiding the JFK assassination.

    So perhaps it’ll be Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. Since nobody outside Oklahoma has a clue who she is, she’d likely view national exposure as a plus. And if Trump is looking for a way to double down on the GOP’s reputation for intolerance, Fallin would be perfect. Back in 2013, when the Pentagon ruled that gay spouses in all branches of the military, including the National Guard, could apply for health and housing benefits, Fallin decided that she didn’t want gay spouses applying for benefits at Guard facilities on her soil. So she simply decreed that no applicants, straight or gay, would be able to use the Guard facilities for that purpose anymore. Problem solved.

    Or perhaps it’ll be Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. He’s from a scarlet-red state that will vote for Trump anyway, so he wouldn’t be risking political damage. Or perhaps it’ll be Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a social conservative and Koch brothers fave who signed an anti-gay “religious freedom” law that he later watered down (thus angering social conservatives). He could decide that his bridges are burned at home, so why not sign on for a four-month thrill ride.

    We do need to remember that veep candidates rarely tilt national races — not even deer-in-the-headlights Dan Quayle could derail George H. W. Bush’s solid ’88 victory — but what fun it is to watch an unqualified presidential candidate search for a quality someone. If he’s not careful, he could wind up with Ben Carson …

    But wait! Earlier this week, the doc rebuked Trump for that anti-Semitic image (which Trump had copied from a white supremacist website). Carson said: “Social media provides a great platform for discourse, but we must be careful with the messages we send out.” Well. If a surrogate who’s even more policy-ignorant than Trump is getting turned off, this veep hunt may truly be getting desperate.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.