Column: Trump's vice presidential show and Kennedy's kamikaze mission

Today we discuss evil, lesser evil, secular sainthood and the vice presidential selection process.

Now that we know the major-party nominees, who’ll be Donald Trump’s running mate?

I haven’t the foggiest idea. And Trump probably doesn’t either.

Any guesses?


We go through this ritual every four years, amid all sorts of rumors and speculation over who may or may not be on the vice presidential shortlist. The one constant is that, for the most part, those in the know don’t speak publicly. And those who speak publicly aren’t in the know.

That said, Trump being Trump, things could be somewhat different this time.

How so?

The unfiltered ex-president has that habit of thinking aloud and seems quite happy to publicly muse over various prospects, weigh their attributes and, to an unusual degree, let voters in on his deliberations.

When he’s not in court, fighting criminal charges.

Now, now. We’re here to talk about Trump’s vice presidential pick.

Go on.

Trump loves suspense and thrives on pseudo-drama, so you can be sure the vetting process will involve plenty of public auditioning — which is to say bowing and scraping — and a running Trump commentary right up until he makes his selection, probably close to the July 15 start of the Republican National Convention.

How about throwing out a few names?

If you insist.

I do.

Well, some that have surfaced include Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Tim Scott of South Carolina and J.D. Vance of Ohio; Govs. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Kristi Noem of South Dakota; and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York.

And that’s just a partial list.

Who has the inside edge?

No clue.

Typically, a presidential candidate looks for some sort of balance: ideological, geographic, demographic.

So, for instance, in 1988 Massachusetts’ Gov. Michael S. Dukakis chose Lloyd Bentsen, a U.S. senator from Texas, to be his running mate.

Four years ago, Joe Biden, a longtime Delaware resident, chose California‘s Sen. Kamala Harris, who is not only decades younger than him but is also a Black and Asian American woman, appealing to several key Democratic constituencies.

In 2016, Trump selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a favorite of the Religious right, in an effort to shore up his standing with Christian evangelicals, who have since become among his most loyal devotees.

So don’t count on Trump-Pence II?

I wouldn’t.

Because Trump seemed perfectly fine with the Jan. 6 mob lynching his vice president?

Well, there’s that, which wasn’t the most sporting way to treat a nominal partner.

But the Trump-Pence relationship went irretrievably south even before the vice president came under siege, when he refused to join Trump’s effort to overturn Biden’s election.

In a remarkable breach, Pence went on to challenge his old boss for the 2024 GOP nomination and, after falling well shy, said he “cannot in good conscience” endorse Trump’s current White House bid.

So where does that leave the selection process?

Your guess is as good as mine.

With 100% name recognition, it’s not as though Trump needs a running mate to vouch for him in particular parts of the country, the way the selection in 1960 of Texas’ Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson is believed to have boosted New England’s John F. Kennedy across the South.

Trump has shown close to zero interest in growing support beyond his unshakably loyal base, so balancing the ticket with someone perceived as more moderate may be another convention he throws out the window.

I can’t help it. I’m totally bummed about our choices for president.

You’re hardly alone. Polls have consistently shown a broad lack of enthusiasm about a Biden-Trump matchup, which many equate to a choice between torture on the rack and being drawn and quartered.

OK, that’s a bit dramatic.


But you get the point. At 81, Biden is the oldest president in history. Trump, who turns 78 in June, was one of the most flawed.

Suffice to say a lot of folks will be holding their noses as they cast their ballots, presumably filling out their ballot with their other hand.

That’s for sure.

But I’d venture to guess even if two politically sainted figures were running — Democrat John Kennedy, for instance, and Republican Ronald Reagan — by November there would be plenty of folks griping about having to choose between the lesser of evils.

The only perfect candidates live in voters’ imaginations, or as make-believe characters in movies, TV shows and books.

Speaking of Kennedy …

You refer, I suppose, to the independent candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the late president’s nephew.

What are his chance of winning the White House?

I would say slim to none — but slim was last seen paddling as far and fast as possible away from the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass. (Much of Kennedy’s family fervently oppose his bid and support Biden’s reelection.)

So I would venture to say there is absolutely no chance.

Because you’re in thrall to the two-party duopoly?

No. Because for starters, Kennedy will have to work hard to qualify for the ballot in enough states to even theoretically stand a chance of winning.

Second, the history of third-party presidential candidacies is one of ineluctable failure.

The most successful, former President Theodore Roosevelt, received 27% of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes in 1912 as the candidate of the Progressive — or Bull Moose — Party, when he took on Republican incumbent William Howard Taft and Democrat Woodrow Wilson. That still left Roosevelt far shy of reclaiming the White House, which Wilson won.

For the most part, third-party candidates have played the role of spoiler, drawing just enough support to tip the race away from one of the two major-party candidates. And that seems like the kamikaze role Kennedy could play in November, plunging to defeat and taking either Biden or Trump along with him.

Who gains and who loses with Kennedy running?

That’s unclear. His platform — a farrago of liberal and conservative views mashed up with a mess of conspiracy-laden pottage, isn’t easily categorized.

He could appeal to both disaffected Democrats and Republicans.

So we’re still likely to end up with Biden or Trump in the White House after November?

There is nothing certain in life, or politics.

But I wouldn’t bet a nickel on any other outcome.

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