President Trump’s reelection numbers are generally bad across the board, and if they persist or worsen, it will be very tempting to try to change things up by dumping Mike Pence as his running mate. It’s one of the few things Trump can recalibrate because his willingness to pivot politically is basically non-existent. If he can’t alter his own behavior, he can at least pick someone different from Pence to give the administration a different look and maybe a slightly different profile of support.
There are rumors that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump want Trump to pick a women in a desperate effort to stop his hemorrhaging in the suburbs. Nikki Haley has been prominently mentioned as a possibility, although she has publicly declared that she will not be part of any plan to replace Pence. Given her rocky term as UN ambassador under Trump, I can’t see her changing her mind about that. She may want a clean slate to run for president on her own in 2024.
Trump has reportedly asked friends and associates about possibly replacing Pence, but it’s easy to see the value he sees in his vice-president.
As he returned from vacation, Trump beat back the idea. “I think Mike Pence has been an outstanding VP,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey shortly before boarding Air Force One. “I think that he has been incredible in terms of the love that a lot of people, especially if you look at the evangelicals and so many others, they really have a great respect for the vice president, and so do I. And so do I think most people.”
Pence is Trump’s inroad to the evangelical community. Given the president’s strong numbers with this demographic, it’s unlikely that they’ll be voting Democratic next year, but ditching Pence would send a bad message to them, especially if he was not replaced with another evangelical.
According to internal polling from the White House, Pence actually has better overall favorable numbers than Trump in the battleground states, so it’s hard to argue that he’s some kind of albatross. But, perhaps, if things look sufficiently dire, Trump will have to risk taking Pence’s strongest supporters for granted in an effort to reach out to some other slice of the electorate. Maybe it will depress evangelical turnout slightly, but this could perhaps be remedied by picking up more votes somewhere else.
There are a lot of downsides to booting your vice-president to the curb. It suggests you made an error of judgment in selecting them in the first place. It’s disruptive to the administration which must still function with a jilted number two. It smacks of desperation and makes the president look weak and vulnerable. And the upside is purely theoretical and quite possibly exaggerated in its potential. I think it used to make more sense to worry about running mates when the Democratic Party was divided between North and South and had to worry about the Republicans exploiting the fissures. That’s why we saw Kennedy and Johnson, Johnson and Humphrey, Carter and Mondale, and Dukakis and Bentsen. But the country is divided up differently now, and I don’t think very many people put a lot of consideration into who the vice-presidential candidates are or what states they represent when they are deciding how to vote. When they do, it’s usually because there is something demonstrably wrong, as with Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin.
As for the idea that Trump can improve in the suburbs by jettisoning Pence, I don’t think it has a lot of potential. More than any reelection campaign in memory, the 2020 contest is shaping up to be a referendum strictly on the president. That’s why I think the Democrats can probably get away with advancing some unpopular policies that would sink them in other cycles. People are not going to be voting much on issues, but rather on whether or not they can endure another four years of chaos and absurdity in the White House.
I don’t think adding “a steady hand” to replace Pence and temper Trump would be convincing either. Pence is fairly steady, but he has no influence on the president’s erratic behavior at all. Why would a replacement do any better?
These rumors are making Pence and his staff nervous, but I suspect Trump will shy away from making a move. If he does, it will probably happen quite late in the process and mostly serve to spare Pence the humiliation of being on a losing ticket.