VP pick is official: What Pence could do for Donald Trump

Mike Pence, governor of Indiana, is non-abrasive where Trump is human sandpaper. He’s calm, and served 12 years in Congress. Perhaps most important, the Republican right trusts him.

John Sommers II/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (r.) and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (l.) wave before addressing the crowd during a campaign stop at the Grand Park Events Center in Westfield, Ind., on Tuesday.

[Updated on Friday at 11:15 a.m. at ET.]

It's official: Donald Trump has picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to be his running mate. After much speculation yesterday, Mr. Trump announced the news via Twitter this morning, promising more to follow at an 11 a.m. press conference on Saturday.

The choice of Governor Pence might demonstrate that Trump doesn’t always go for the option that will produce the biggest, flashiest, most fabulous headlines. He could use it to try and indicate that he gets it, he needs to be more presidential, less confrontational, and open to what the Republican National Committee wants. Which is for the VP nominee to not be named “Newt Gingrich."

A low-key conservative who is the antithesis to Trump in many ways, the Indiana governor might balance some of the negatives of the presumptive nominee.

Pence is non-abrasive where Trump is human sandpaper. He’s calm, a word seldom used in a sentence with “Trump.” He has executive governing experience and served 12 years in Congress. Perhaps most importantly, he’s a conservative the Republican right trusts.

He’s also a virtual unknown in terms of national exposure, which could be a virtue in light of Trump’s fame and entrenched negative favorability ratings.

“Mike Pence ... fills in a lot of the blanks on the social conservative side of this and he gives a lot of confidence to the evangelical community in America, to the pro-life/pro-family people, and to the constitutionalists,” said Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa on Thursday afternoon.

Vice presidential picks seldom have any electoral effect, notes Boston College political scientist David A. Hopkins, unless it is negative. (Think Sarah Palin.) The days are long gone when the most important quality in a running mate was the ability to deliver the electoral votes of a big swing state.

“The running mates are much more important for the window that they provide into the presidential candidates who select them: what perceived personal limitations or weaknesses do they wish to address, and what kind of presidency might they have if elected?” writes Mr. Hopkins today at his “Honest Graft” blog.

Thus George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney for the Washington experience and perceived gravitas that he himself lacked. Barack Obama picked Joe Biden for his foreign policy experience and Washington ties.

That’s why Republican elite/establishment figures have not been wild about either former House Speaker Gingrich or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as Trump’s stable mate. True, both have governing experience. But both are Trumpian in their own blustery way. Would Trump really want “two pirates” as a ticket, as Gingrich so memorably put it this week?

Still, by weighing his choices so publicly, Trump turned his VP search into a reality show all its own. Each top contender got a day to campaign with Trump. Each got visits to or with Trump family members. Each got something of a story arc in daily news.

Trump did everything put pass out a rose to the favorite at the end of each campaign rally.

Of course, it’s important to remember that the reality show world from which Trump hails traffics in artificially perfect endings. At the end of the day, the apprentices don’t really get top jobs and thrive in a new corporate world. The couples that meet after winnowing out romantic competitors never actually get married. They don’t live happily ever after – well, they might, but not with each other. They do get paid.

In the real world, endings can be messy. And the vice presidential choice, if they win, really does have to serve the nation.

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