How Trump could help unify the GOP with his VP pick — or hobble it

Donald Trump’s unconventional bid for the White House has caused more than the usual swirl of speculation over who he might choose as his running mate ahead of the Republican National Convention next week in Cleveland.

Many prominent Republicans have taken themselves out of the running, either directly — such as Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin — or indirectly. Gov. Paul LePage and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, did that by making it clear they won’t be attending the convention.

Ivanka Trump. Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Ivanka Trump. Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Over the weekend, some bizarre names have been floated, from his own daughter Ivanka Trump — who would barely be constitutionally eligible at the time of the election — to retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn,  a lifelong Democrat who’s also pro-choice. This sort of speculation is not unprecedented: in 2008, John McCain apparently considered his friend, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, as a potential running mate. However, Lieberman faced the same challenges — both legal and political — that either Ivanka Trump or Michael Flynn would face.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in 2014. Gary Cameron | Reuters

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in 2014. Gary Cameron | Reuters

Traditionally, the convention has deferred to the presumptive nominee’s choice for vice president, but delegates are not bound to do so — and this is not a traditional year. If Trump made a choice for running mate that was too far outside the box, he may very well face a delegate revolt over the VP selection. Although the party rules and tradition are likely to prevent any sort of open ballot for Trump’s own nomination, they might not be willing to bail him out on a VP nomination. After all, there is a strong argument that delegates ought to respect the results of the primaries and nominate Trump, but no such argument exists in favor of his running mate.

Trump is already facing the possibility of a delegate revolt over the party platform. So far, he seems to be largely accepting the platform as is, but ignoring it in areas where he disagrees. This is not without precedent: both McCain and Mitt Romney also disagreed with the party platform in various ways, but they let certain aspects of the document stand, since they knew it was important to the Republican base.

In selecting a running mate, Donald Trump could take a similar approach by choosing a candidate who would be largely acceptable to the base. This would be out of character for such an unconventional campaign, but given his approach to the platform thus far, would not be entirely unexpected. For Trump, it may end up being a far better option than making a bold choice that delegates ultimately reject. If that occurred, it would likely leave the party as divided as ever and deflate any momentum Trump might gain from the convention.

However, Trump does actually have a third option, one that might serve to unify the party: allowing a contested vice presidential nomination. “House of Cards” fans will, of course, recognize this scheme, as Frank Underwood used it last season to coronate his own unconventional choice of running mate.

The convention could set in place certain rules to limit the options available to delegates, so the choice doesn’t come completely out of left field, and Trump would be free to campaign on anyone’s behalf. This, along with their input on the party platform, could be a way for delegates of all stripes to walk away from Cleveland feeling that they had a real impact on the outcome.

If Trump doesn’t find some way to mollify the delegates who are intrinsically opposed to his nomination, he may find his campaign permanently hobbled heading into the general election.

Jim Fossel

About Jim Fossel

Originally from Alna, Jim Fossel has volunteered with a number of campaigns over the years, including for Peter Mills for Governor in 2006. He previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and House Republican Leader Josh Tardy.