Here’s why you shouldn’t rule out a different GOP ticket in 2020.
An appetite for instability and a thirst for media attention could spell trouble for Pence.
Some highly influential and important people have occupied the office of the Vice President. Whether that’s because they themselves have gone on to occupy the Oval — as Bush Snr, Ford, Nixon, Johnson have, or whether they were able to stamp their own formative mark on the office without the promotion — as Al Gore and Dick Cheney did, and indeed, as Biden is continuing to do.
As with every elected office, its powers and scope have evolved far beyond that of what was defined, or perhaps even intended, by the Founding Fathers. That is not exactly unexpected, as the VP you are one heart beat away from the Presidency — something that four men can attest to.
The most famous quote regarding the office, however, is hardly encouraging. According to John Nance Garner, it is nothing more than a warm bucket of spit, and he should know, he was one of three to serve under FDR.
However, the procedural, or constitutional importance of the office is one thing; the political implications are an entirely different beast. Frank Underwood (another Vice President [House of Cards] who has been un-done by a history of sexually inappropriate behaviour… imagine that, Joe) said “there are two types of Vice President: doormats and matadors”. In recent times, I’d point to Dick Cheney as being the the matador in this metaphor.
Hilary didn’t strike the balance with her number two in 2016 brilliantly. Tim Kaine, a fine politician; former Mayor, Governor, Chair of the DNC and current Senator. A fine politician, but hardly inspiring. On the other hand, Joe Biden complemented Obama really well and was able to balance some of Obama’s major weaknesses effectively. At the same time, Palin, designed to have a similar effect on McCain, proved fairly disastrous.
This is where the impact of the VP during an election campaign becomes hard to define. The VP — whether a doormat or a matador — will grow into their role while the President will dominate the campaign early on. The media will nonetheless give the selection attention. The US elections don’t really garner much air time across the pond — especially not 16 months until an election — and they certainly don’t receive the 24 hour rolling coverage of the US stations. The selection of the Vice President, thought — the Veep-stakes — is definitely one of those big occasions.
The facts remain that Obama would have beaten McCain in a 1 v 1, irrespective of Biden and Palin. This is a trend that rarely changes too. Understandable, of course, why would a Presidential candidate choose a number two who could take attention off them, unless they are coming from a position as the real underdog and feel a big gamble might be the only thing necessary to upset the odds.
Could the same be said for Trump and Clinton? Would Trump be electorally successful without the involvement of Mike Pence? One of the only members of the administration with solid, political experience under his belt? And someone who can appeal to the Christian evangelical voters?
We might not have to wait that long to find out. An appetite for instability and his boss’ thirst for media coverage could spell trouble for the current VEEP.
For a start, the turn over rate of the Trump administration is record breaking; for whatever reason (promotion, retirement, resignation, dismissal), Trump is — for want of a better phrase — insane. Nine of the top twenty one Cabinet positions have turned over at least once during his time in office. In total, 130 people have left their role in the White House, not including the office of the Vice Presidency.
Some, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, were promoted thus leaving a vacancy, others, like Scaramucci were not treated as favourably. Even today, Kirstjen Nielsen has resigned as Homeland Security chief. Either way, that turn over rate demonstrates a bizarre desire to pursue instability. If you were a statistician looking at that data purely pragmatically, you would have to conclude that no one in his administration is safe.
Instability is the key word there. I am no Doctor, but a man who consistently lies in public, often going against his own word, even lying about where his own father was born, is not mentally stable. The Washington Post reports that Trump has now committed nearly 10,000 lies or false claims since being in office.
This is devastating from the leader of the free world; his ability to lie so brazenly on the record should be of deep concern across the aisle and cannot be allowed to be the new normal.
Politically, too, he lacks the acumen we’ve come to expect of a national politician, as his Twitter announcements allude to. It is worth noting that if Trump does change his VP for 2020, then it will be because he simply has the sudden urge to. No where will political pragmatism or electoral strategy play a role.
In the context of the GOP 2020 ticket, Trump’s unpredictability and comfort in going against his own word adds further fuel to a change of ticket.
It would be a long stretch to say Trump is fully in control, but the decisions he makes to hire and fire people are at least his own, as are the lies he chooses to tell. There are some areas that are more out of his control, however. Namely, what happens if the Democrats gain momentum? In the recesses of his mind, there will be at least one or two candidates who Trump — or at least his senior team — will be worried about.
In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote after two consecutive Democrat terms, but won the electoral college on the back of Wisconsin (which Hilary didn’t even visit), Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The voting in those three states was extremely close with Hilary only winning 1 of the closest 5 states nationwide. Only taking New Hampshire (0.4%), bringing her a whopping 4 electoral college votes. The table below shows how Trump was able to secure 75 electoral college votes based on an average vote margin of 0.75%.
This was with Hilary Clinton as well. The second most disliked Presidential candidate of all time and, as I mentioned, an uninspiring VP who was never going to be able to mitigate her weaknesses, least of all in those four states. If Trump cannot, or will not, change himself, then the next closest person to him is his VP.
This plays nicely to Trump’s inner nature. He knows theatre and likes to be the centre of attention. As far as incumbent administrations go, changing the ticket is probably the biggest bombshell Trump could drop and it is one certain to attract international media attention.
In typical Apprentice style, it would leave his first term on a cliff-hanger, tempting the voters to give him another season, ermm, I mean term. It would be a hugely unconventional move, but one that would help maintain Trump’s image as the the ‘outsider’ who doesn’t play conventional rules even after four years in office.
Does it matter? Well, no, not really. Firstly, whoever takes the mantle, and that includes if it remains with Pence, then they will have to accept the doormat Vice Presidency in the shadows of this fillet-o-freak. The Vice Presidency in Trump’s administration can never expect to exert anywhere near the influence some have historically, at least not through direct channels. Moreover, not even the most tangential analysis of the 2016 election would genuinely conclude that the selection of Kaine/Pence was significant enough to swing the result, regardless of how close it was. Pence is far from an electoral force, nationally.
Often, when discussing the role of the VP it is done so in procedural, constitutional terms and to that end, the role is and always will be the second in line to the highest office in the land. In practice, however, it rarely operates as a de facto number two and Mike Pence is unlikely to buck that trend.
With the media hype around the Democrats set to be in permanent overdrive for the next 16 months, Trump could sit back and watch them fight with themselves in the ‘woke primary’ where they pick off their best hope of winning one by one only to be left with an un-electable far-left candidate who Trump could thrash.
He could do that. Or he could dive in and grab some of this attention himself. Mike Pence, the one term Vice President, watch out and enjoy retirement.