Vice President Newt Gingrich. It has a certain ring to it, especially if you are Mr. Gingrich. And clearly, the former speaker of the House would love to be Donald Trump’s running mate.
Gingrich has acknowledged that he’s being vetted for the job, and is widely seen as a top prospect. Mr. Trump is expected to announce his choice this week, ahead of the Republican National Convention, which opens July 18.
Would it be a mistake for Trump to put someone as controversial as Gingrich at his side? The rap sheet on Gingrich is a mile long: As speaker in the 1990s, he presided over two unpopular shutdowns of the federal government. In 1995, at a Monitor breakfast, Gingrich showed a lack of discipline when he whined about being seated in the back of Air Force One on a flight to Israel, inspiring the famous “Cry Baby” cartoon.
In 1997, the House reprimanded Gingrich on ethics charges and fined him $300,000. Then GOP colleagues launched an unsuccessful coup to force him out of the speakership. By late 1998, he had resigned from Congress altogether.
Then there’s Gingrich’s messy personal life, including three marriages, just like Trump. As a presidential candidate in 2012, Gingrich won two GOP primaries but he was widely disliked by the general public, and his campaign ran aground.
Experience getting things done
So why are we arguing that Gingrich might just be the perfect running mate for Trump? Start with the fact that he meets Trump’s résumé requirement: someone with Washington political experience, someone who “could truly be good with respect to dealing with the Senate, dealing with Congress, getting legislation passed,” the billionaire said in May.
But didn’t Gingrich mishandle his time as speaker? In important ways yes, but he also got some things done. He and President Clinton reached a deal that resulted in four straight balanced budgets. They also cut capital gains taxes and reformed welfare. So in Gingrich, Trump would get deep knowledge of how Washington works, and the lessons an older, wiser Gingrich learned from past mistakes.
But wouldn’t putting a controversial running mate next to a controversial presidential nominee make for, well, too much controversy? Maybe. But the public is clamoring for change. Gingrich was all about change when he led the Republican Revolution of 1994 with his 10-point platform, the Contract with America – ushering in a GOP majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. More than 20 years later, Gingrich is still, in a way, an outsider, despite his insider experience.
'Singing from the same hymn book'
None of the above, however, gets to why Gingrich might be Trump’s most effective running mate, which is this: He is great at capturing media attention, and could use that to go after Hillary Clinton relentlessly.
“With an untethered attack animal such as former Speaker Gingrich on his ticket, Trump can set down his Twitter account and start behaving presidential,” says John Gizzi, chief political columnist at Newsmax.
Or Trump and Gingrich could double-team Mrs. Clinton, reinforcing the message of “lying crooked Hillary.”
“They can sing from the same hymn book,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.
As Trump considers whom to pick – Indiana’s low-key governor and former House member, Mike Pence, is another reported finalist – personal rapport also looms large. Trump is a “relationship guy,” says Mr. O’Connell.
Trump and Gingrich have a bond formed in part at the Trump National Golf Club in northern Virginia, which is near Gingrich’s home. Gingrich and his wife are members, and when Trump was visiting the club, they would socialize.
Last week, the outlines of a potential Trump-Gingrich ticket began to take shape, when the two campaigned together in Cincinnati.
"Newt has been my friend for a long time,” Trump said. “And I'm not saying anything, and I'm not telling even Newt anything, but I can tell you, in one form or another, Newt Gingrich is going to be involved with our government. That I can tell you."
If he selects Gingrich to be his running mate, Trump added, “nobody’s going to beat him in those debates.”
Ultimately, running mates don’t matter to presidential nominees’ chances - except when they do. Lyndon Johnson helped John F. Kennedy win Texas in 1960. Sarah Palin was a drag on John McCain’s campaign in 2008. With the political novice Trump at the top of the ticket, putting someone at his side with policy and governing experience seems a must.
But beyond that, Trump’s candidacy will rise or fall based on Trump, and nobody else. His larger-than-life persona will not be eclipsed by anyone, even a big personality like Gingrich.