There has been a whirlwind of names thrown about in the last few weeks for whom presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump will pick as his Vice Presidential choice. But, the choice may now be solidified.
Two U.S. senators on Donald Trump’s short list for running mate dropped out of consideration Wednesday, leaving Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in the top tier of an even more exclusive group.
Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa told Politico she has withdrawn her name as a vice presidential nominee and suggested Pence should get the nod instead.
“I will admit that I am a Mike Pence fan,” Ernst told Politico. “He is so well-rounded, served as a governor and I think he’s a great conservative. So I don’t think he could go wrong.”
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee also withdrew. Ernst and Corker were among the favorites to be chosen by Trump out of what he described in an interview with Fox News as a 10-person list. That list, Trump said, includes “some names that haven’t surfaced yet.”
The decisions by Ernst and Corker come as Trump’s selection process is entering its final days. Corker in an interview with The Washington Post said the presumptive Republican nominee for president plans to name a running mate by July 15. As Trump’s options narrow, signs are pointing toward the selection of either Pence or a surprise name, said Pete Seat, a Republican political strategist who worked on Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign in Indiana.
“I would say unless Donald Trump has a made-for-TV trick up his sleeve, it sounds more and more likely Mike Pence is going to be his pick,” Seat said. “He brings a lot of the things you would traditionally look for as a vice president to the table, and a lot of the things Donald Trump has said he’s looking for.”
“I think he’s enjoying the speculation, he’s enjoying the chatter,” Seat said. “That’s why he’s gone along with this ‘Celebrity Apprentice’-style way of picking the vice president. It tends to be a more clandestine operation if you look at the history of how these things are done.”
Several Republican strategists told IndyStar that Trump’s most likely options seem to include Pence, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But virtually no veteran political observer is confident enough to predict Trump will choose one of those three candidates.
“I gave up a long time ago trying to predict what the Trump campaign would do,” said Jeff Roe, who worked as campaign manager for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s unsuccessful presidential bid..
If Trump picks a conventional running mate, though, Roe said he could do no better than Pence.
“I think he’d be fabulous,” Roe said. “He’d be a rudder on a somewhat erratic campaign and he would have the right balance of being a full-spectrum conservative, having executive experience and legislative experience. He’s one of the best choices I’ve heard mentioned.”
A national campaign spokeswoman for Trump did not respond to an email seeking comment. Pence campaign spokesman Marc Lotter in an email said the governor “is flattered by the comments of Senator Joni Ernst,” but added “nothing has been offered and nothing has been accepted.”
Trump’s apparent July 15 deadline is important because Indiana state lawrequires Pence to withdraw from the gubernatorial race by that date if he becomes Trump’s running mate. The law is designed to give the state Republican Party enough time to select a replacement candidate for governor.
The deadline also falls three days before the Republican National Convention begins in Cleveland.
While momentum seems to be building toward Pence, some Republican analysts are concerned that Trump’s options no longer seem to include a high-profile woman now that Ernst has withdrawn.
“Probably one of the biggest gaps with Trump is where he is with women voters,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist and president of Washington, D.C.-based QGA Public Affairs. “He’s got to figure that out. He’s got a pretty big gender gap that he’s got to come to grips with.”
But Michael Caputo, a former Trump adviser, said he’s unlikely to take that into consideration when selecting a running mate.
“Trump is not going to pander, for lack of a better word,” Caputo said. “He’s not going to choose someone simply because of gender or other identity or demographic factors.”
Caputo, who resigned from the Trump campaign June 20, said he thinks people close to Trump are advocating for Pence. Caputo was not a part of internal discussions regarding vice presidential nominees.
“He’s got a lot of support among senior aides,” Caputo said.
While there could be a surprise in the works, Seat said it has become undeniable that Pence is among the most likely candidates to join the Trump ticket as vice presidential nominee.
“If a week ago you were questioning whether this was real, I think we’ve crossed that bridge,” Seat said. “It’s real. He’s certainly being considered. We’re getting much closer to coming to the bridge of it actually being a reality.”