Sabato's Crystal Ball

Why Democratic Unity Could Be Easier to Achieve This Time: Donald Trump and Barack Obama

Alan I. Abramowitz, Senior Columnist, Sabato's Crystal Ball May 26th, 2016


With only a few weeks left in the 2016 primary campaign, a lot of liberal pundits and Democratic Party leaders are getting very nervous about the outlook for the general election. To almost everyone’s surprise, Donald Trump has secured the Republican presidential nomination while Hillary Clinton is still locked in a contentious battle with Bernie Sanders. Although Clinton holds a nearly insurmountable lead over Sanders in pledged delegates, Sanders continues to attack Clinton and win primaries.

There is mounting concern in Democratic Party circles that even after Clinton clinches the nomination, most likely after the California and New Jersey primaries on June 7, she will have difficulty winning over Sanders’ base of young, liberal voters, many of whom identify themselves in exit polls as independents. And without the votes of the overwhelming majority of Sanders’ supporters, Clinton probably cannot win the general election.

But how difficult is it going to be to unite Democratic voters once the primary battle between Clinton and Sanders is over? An examination of survey data from the 2008 presidential election, an election in which Democrats experienced an equally if not more contentious nomination battle between Clinton and Barack Obama, suggests that unifying Democrats may actually be easier in 2016 than it was in 2008. The major reason for this is that Donald Trump is a far less attractive alternative to disgruntled Democrats than John McCain was in 2008. And no matter what Sanders does, someone else should be extremely helpful when it comes to unifying Democrats once the primary contest is over: President Obama.

A look back at the 2008 primary and general election

It is easy to forget just how contentious, and how close, the contest between Clinton and Obama was in 2008. Clinton battled Obama to the very end of the primary season in early June, winning several of the late contests. In the end, Clinton actually won slightly more votes than Obama in Democratic primaries but fell short in terms of delegates because of Obama’s overwhelming margins in caucus states.

And the Clinton-Obama contest was certainly contentious. In late May, Clinton justified her decision to stay in the race after falling behind in the delegate count by recalling the fact that Robert Kennedy was assassinated after the California primary in 1968. She later apologized for this comment. The Clinton-Obama contest also featured a nasty and prolonged battle over the handling of disputed delegates from Florida and Michigan, where Democrats held primaries earlier than permitted according to DNC rules and Obama did not actively compete. That dispute was not settled until shortly before the convention.

It is not surprising that in the heat of the primary battle between Clinton and Obama, a large percentage of each candidate’s supporters indicated that they would not support the other candidate in the general election. In fact, one group of disgruntled Clinton supporters even adopted an acronym to express their sentiments — they called themselves PUMAs, which stood for “Party Unity My Ass.”

In the end, Clinton bowed out of the Democratic nomination contest after the last primaries and strongly endorsed Obama. Clinton gave a powerful speech for Obama at the convention and campaigned enthusiastically for the Obama-Biden ticket during the fall. On Election Day, the vast majority of Clinton’s supporters voted for Obama despite McCain’s attempt to appeal to women by making then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin his running mate. According to data from the 2008 American National Election Study, 83% of Clinton primary voters chose Obama over McCain in the general election.

Nor is there any evidence that many Clinton supporters just stayed home in November. According to the ANES data, 94% of Clinton primary voters turned out for the general election, which was almost identical to the 96% general election turnout of Obama primary voters.

Table 1 compares selected political attitudes of Clinton and Obama primary voters in 2008 based on the 2008 ANES. Of course these attitudes were measured late in the general election campaign, long after the primaries had ended. Nevertheless they reveal some interesting differences between Clinton and Obama supporters. First, Clinton supporters were less likely to consider themselves strong Democrats and more likely to identify as weak Democrats or independents than Obama supporters. Second, however, the large majority of independents supporting both Clinton and Obama indicated that they leaned toward the Democratic Party. Only a tiny percentage of Democratic primary voters identified themselves as Republicans or even as independent Republicans.

Table 1: Political attitudes of Clinton and Obama primary voters in 2008

Source: 2008 American National Election Study

The data in Table 1 show that even four months after the end of the Democratic primary race, Clinton supporters had considerably less favorable opinions about Obama than his supporters did. Nevertheless, by November more than two-thirds of Clinton supporters had at least a mildly favorable opinion of Obama, and only one in six had an unfavorable opinion of Obama. No doubt Clinton’s strong support for Obama at the Democratic convention and afterwards helped in that regard.

What is also striking in these data is the fact that a full third of Clinton supporters had a favorable opinion of McCain. And half of Clinton supporters were either favorably disposed toward McCain or neutral toward him. As a result, when it came to comparing the Democratic and Republican candidates, only two-thirds of Clinton supporters viewed Obama more favorably than McCain, and one-sixth rated them equally.

Table 2: General election vote of Clinton primary voters

Source: 2008 American National Election Study

So how did these attitudes translate into November voting decisions? Table 2 displays the relationship between party identification and relative candidate favorability on the one hand and general election vote among Clinton primary voters on the other. Two findings stand out in this table. First, the overwhelming majority of Democratic identifiers and a remarkable 100% of independents leaning toward the Democratic Party ended up voting for Obama. Defections to McCain were concentrated largely among Republicans and pure independents who had voted for Clinton in the Democratic primary.

The second key finding in Table 2 is that defections to McCain were concentrated very heavily among the relatively small group of Clinton primary voters with a more favorable opinion of McCain than Obama — of course many of these voters were also Republican identifiers or leaners. Not surprisingly, almost all Clinton primary voters who rated Obama more favorably than McCain voted for Obama but so did the vast majority of those who rated them equally favorably.

Conclusions: Whither Sanders supporters?

Perhaps the key lesson that we can learn from the results of the 2008 battle between Clinton and Obama is that Sanders supporters probably do not have to love Clinton in order to vote for her in the general election. They merely have to like her as well or better than Trump, and that should be a very easy bar to clear.

Trump has far less appeal to Democratic voters in 2016 than McCain had in 2008. According to the 2008 ANES data, McCain was viewed favorably by 23% of all Democratic identifiers and leaners and unfavorably by 58%. In contrast, according to four recent national polls — CNN, Fox News, CBS News/New York Times, and Public Policy Polling — Donald Trump is viewed favorably by only 5% to 12% of Democratic voters and unfavorably by 82% to 89%. And while these polls did not provide data on Trump favorability among Clinton and Sanders supporters, it seems unlikely that he is viewed more favorably by Sanders voters, who tend to be, if anything, further to the left and more suspicious of billionaires than Clinton supporters.

Of course, we don’t know how the endgame of the 2016 Democratic primary campaign will play out. Although Sanders has pledged not to do anything that would help Trump win the general election, it is not clear when or how he will bow out of the nomination contest, whether he will enthusiastically endorse Clinton before or during the convention, or whether he will actively campaign for Clinton in the fall.

Given the ideological basis of his candidacy with its heavy focus on issues of economic injustice and political reform, Sanders may require considerable persuasion and concessions on the party platform and rules as the price of his support — something Clinton did not require from Obama in 2008. However, because of the extraordinarily negative opinions that Democratic voters currently hold toward Trump, even a fairly tepid endorsement by Sanders may be sufficient to convince the vast majority of his supporters to cast their ballot for Clinton in the general election.

A somewhat greater concern for Democrats in 2016 may be ensuring that Sanders’ youthful supporters actually make it to the polls. A much larger share of Sanders backers than 2008 Clinton backers are under the age of 30, which means they are probably less reliable general election voters. The Clinton campaign clearly will need a strong get-out-the-vote effort and all the help they can get from Sanders in motivating his young supporters to turn out in November. But someone else should also be able to help a great deal with the task of unifying Democrats and increasing turnout among Sanders supporters: President Obama. Fortunately for Clinton, Obama is extremely popular with Democratic voters, including Sanders supporters. In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll, Obama’s approval rating among Democrats was 88% and his approval rating among Sanders primary voters was 82%.

Obama has been careful to remain neutral in the contest between Clinton and Sanders. Once the primaries are over, however, there is no doubt that he will enthusiastically endorse and actively campaign for his onetime adversary. And the findings from the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll suggest that his support could play an important role in persuading Sanders supporters to turn out and vote for Clinton in November.

Libertarians Should Have Their Best Presidential Election Ever

But that is not necessarily saying much

Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley, Sabato's Crystal Ball May 26th, 2016


While presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has seemingly done a better-than-expected job of uniting the Republican rank-and-file after dispatching his presidential rivals, he continues to face elite opposition from some GOP leaders and opinion-makers. Rumors of a third-party presidential bid designed to give #NeverTrump Republicans an option continue even if, frankly, that seems less and less likely by the day, as independent filing deadlines are approaching or, in the case of Texas, have already passed.

That could leave disaffected Republicans searching for an option, which probably will lead to the Libertarian Party having its best presidential election ever. But that might not be quite as impressive as it sounds.

The Libertarian Party was founded in 1971, and it first fielded a presidential candidate, philosopher John Hospers, in 1972. Hospers won less than 4,000 votes, but he received an electoral vote from a faithless Richard Nixon elector from Virginia. Four years later, that faithless elector — Roger MacBride — won 0.2% as the Libertarian nominee.

The party, which bills itself as the “third largest political party in the United States,” has fielded a presidential candidate in every election since 1972. Generally speaking, the Libertarians haven’t had much success: Only once has a Libertarian received more than a percentage point’s worth of support, which was 1980, when Ed Clark won 1.1% of the vote in an election that featured a more credible third-party alternative, moderate Republican John Anderson (who ran as an independent). Clark’s running mate that year was David Koch, the wealthy industrialist who along with his brother Charles spend considerable amounts of money backing conservative candidates and causes.

The party’s presidential election history is shown in Table 1:

Table 1: Libertarian Party presidential performance, 1972-2012

Source: Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson won 0.99% of the vote as the 2012 Libertarian nominee. Four years later, he is poised to capture the party’s nomination again at a convention this weekend in Orlando, although others are competing against him, including bizarre cybersecurity pioneer John McAfee.

Johnson’s running mate is William Weld, a colorful former Massachusetts Republican governor who unsuccessfully challenged then-Sen. John Kerry (D) in a spirited contest back in 1996.

Two recent polls that have included Johnson as an option, one from Fox News and the other from Morning Consult, have shown him getting around 10% of the vote in matchups with Trump and Hillary Clinton, and taking about equally from the two major-party candidates. Libertarians tend to draw more support from Republican-leaning voters, but the socially liberal Johnson and Weld could attract disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters to their camp, as well as some anti-Trump Republicans.

Still, it’s far from certain that Johnson, if nominated, will be a major factor in the election.

For one thing, we would not expect him to win any states. Even Ross Perot, who won 18.9% and 8.4% of the vote, respectively, in his 1992 and 1996 runs, did not capture a single electoral vote. Additionally, even polling at 10% would not get Johnson into the presidential debates: The Commission on Presidential Debates’ current threshold for debate inclusion is 15% in an average of five selected national polls. Pre-election polls also tend to overstate the prospects of third-party candidates, and as Election Day nears, their numbers usually shrink. Many partisans who fear a Trump or Clinton presidency may come home to their preferred party by November, which could depress the Libertarian vote.

Might there be a swing state where Johnson impacts the outcome? Possibly, and if so, it’ll likely be a state in the western part of the country. In 2012, Johnson won at least 1% of the vote in 27 states, and at least 2% in four states, including 3.5% in his home state of New Mexico. But only seven of those states were east of the Mississippi River. And his strongest states included few real battlegrounds in 2012: Though he won more than 1% in Colorado, Nevada, and New Hampshire, they were well down the list for him. It’s possible that some other states where he did fairly well in 2012 might be battlegrounds in 2016, such as Arizona, and perhaps he’ll win more of the vote in his home state of New Mexico this time around. However, as early polls suggest that the Libertarian ticket is taking about equally from the two major parties, it’s tough to say if the party will notably affect the 2016 outcome.

Historically speaking, Johnson’s 3.5% in his home state of New Mexico in 2012 was the third-best state result in the party’s history, though he obviously benefited to some extent from having been a statewide elected official there. Johnson’s greater success in the western United States continued a pattern for the Libertarians: Of the 70 times where the party has won at least 1% of the presidential vote in a state since 1972, 58 of those results came in states west of the Mississippi River. As shown in Table 2, Clark’s 11.7% performance in Alaska in 1980 remains the only time the Libertarian nominee managed to win over 10% of the vote in a state.

Table 2: State results where the Libertarian nominee won more than 2% of the vote, 1972-2012

Source: Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

As Table 2 suggests, Alaska has been the most fertile ground for the Libertarians in presidential elections, with five separate 2% or more performances out of the 13 total the party has had over the past 40 years. If you look at the adjusted mean and adjusted median of Libertarian performance by state over the course of the 1972-2012 era, Alaska is far and away the party’s best state. (By “adjusted” we mean removing years where there was no result for a state, i.e. when Libertarians didn’t make a state’s presidential ballot.) Table 3 lays out these data:

Table 3: Libertarians’ strongest states during the 1972-2012 period

Source: Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections

So for the time being, the most we can say for the Libertarian ticket is that it could prove to be a destination for voters put off by Clinton and Trump, a “none-of-the-above” choice to some extent. We can also expect the Libertarians to do best west of the Mississippi, and given the major-party competition, the party is well-positioned to perform better this year than it ever has previously. But whether the Libertarians will truly be a major factor when the country votes in November remains to be seen.

The Veepstakes, Part Two: Trump’s Temptation

A candidate who prefers flash might be better off playing it safe

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley, Sabato's Crystal Ball May 19th, 2016

This is the second of a two-part series analyzing the Democratic and Republican vice presidential possibilities. This week, we examine presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s considerations and options. Last week, we looked at Hillary Clinton’s choices on the Democratic side.

— The Editors

Heading into the 2014 National Football League draft, rumors were swirling that Jerry Jones, the eccentric Dallas Cowboys owner, was considering using his team’s first-round pick on the biggest star available: Johnny Manziel, the controversial star quarterback from Texas A&M. Indeed, when Dallas’ pick came around, and Manziel was still available, Jones reportedly wanted to pick Manziel. But Jones’ son and other team leaders advised Jones against it, and the team instead selected Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. For months after the May draft, Jones fumed over being talked out of taking Manziel, who he saw as a future star and the kind of flashy selection that defined “America’s Team,” the Cowboys.

“I get madder, every day, about missin’ (Manziel),” Jones said that August.

However, it worked out well for the Cowboys that Jones didn’t get his man. Martin became a Pro Bowl player for the Cowboys and a linchpin of Dallas’ offensive line, which most experts regard as the best in the league. Manziel, meanwhile, went to the cursed Cleveland Browns, who cut the quarterback after just two seasons because of his substance abuse and legal problems (not to mention his largely poor performance on the field). Any team is now free to sign Manziel, but no team has — including Jones’ Cowboys.

So why are we bringing up Manziel and Jones in a piece on Donald Trump’s vice presidential pick? Because we think that Trump could face a decision very similar to the one Jones faced in 2014, a choice between making a flashy pick and playing it safe. Trump is showing plenty of signs of preferring the former option — especially if he unveils his selection during a primetime show at the convention, as seems possible — but it may be that the latter makes more sense, both in football and in politics.

Trump could obviously go any number of ways on his vice presidential pick. His instincts, to the extent that we (or anyone else) can understand them, probably will push him in the direction of an attention-grabbing pick — the Manziel-esque pick. But a better option would probably be a safer, more substantive selection. Here’s why:

Beyond trying to improve his poor favorability numbers and addressing the daily controversies that have defined his campaign, Trump’s major challenge in this campaign is convincing a majority of voters that he’s stable and qualified for the job. It’s a heavy lift for a candidate who is very short on policy specifics and inconsistent to boot. Ultimately, voters are going to judge Trump, and Trump alone, on whether he has a sufficient grasp of government to be president. But perhaps Trump can help reassure voters by surrounding himself with “the best people,” as he himself would put it. That is an argument for choosing a vice president with a great deal of actual governing experience — someone who has spent a fair amount of time in what vice presidential expert Joel Goldstein calls “feeder positions” for the running mate slot: the U.S. Senate and House, state governor, or other high executive offices such as a Cabinet post. (For more on these running mate considerations, see Goldstein’s companion piece in this week’s Crystal Ball.)

A number of the names that have been bandied about strike us as fairly unlikely.

Trump seems too savvy to consider, for instance, 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who did damage to John McCain’s candidacy eight years ago and who certainly would not help him appear more presidential. Another problematic pick would be Ben Carson, the former presidential candidate and neurosurgeon who is now in Trump’s orbit. By the end of his campaign, Carson was behaving erratically on the trail and in debates. While he and Palin have devoted followings, their biggest fans need little additional convincing to back Trump.

Would selecting one of them be attention-getting? You betcha. But they’d also probably be Manziel-esque picks: They would make an initial splash but ultimately not be all that helpful in winning or, arguably, in governing. In fact, it’s easy to imagine either being liabilities and inviting attacks from Democrats — perhaps even inspiring a reprise of this classic ad from 1968 that Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign used to attack Richard Nixon’s controversial running mate, Spiro Agnew.

While Trump might consider Carson or Palin, we don’t see either as plausible. Nor do we see many of Trump’s former presidential rivals as likely possibilities. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are still smarting from the thumping that Trump delivered, and both still seem cool to Trump for many reasons. Both are probably considering encore presidential runs in 2020: Cruz just announced his intention to run for reelection to the Senate in 2018, and on Monday night Rubio criticized reporting about his future plans, including a sarcastic tweet disparaging the conventional wisdom that someone needs to hold office to have a shot at being a successful candidate for president.

There are many factors for Trump to ponder as he mulls his options, some of which may contradict one another. Demographic challenges, potential shortcomings in foreign policy, and a general push for party unity are considerations, as is Trump’s likely interest in making a pick that will maximize media attention (the Jerry Jones instinct). In some ways, Rubio would be an ideal VP candidate for Trump — not only would he be a headline choice but Rubio would also bring foreign policy chops, and at least some appeal to minority voters. But again, there is little sign that Rubio is interested.

Trump has a serious demographic challenge owing to his awful ratings among nonwhite voters, who could make up 30% or so of the electorate in 2016. With Cruz and Rubio off the table, there aren’t many options to counter this problem for Trump, even to the limited extent that a running mate could address that issue. One of the few plausible picks would be Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the first elected African-American U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction. However, like many names on our list, Scott’s interest is difficult to assess. While he has stated his intent to support Trump, Scott (who backed Rubio in the primary) criticized Trump over his failure to disavow support from white supremacists.

In addition to his terrible favorability among nonwhite voters, Trump also does so poorly among women that this election could potentially see the largest gender gap in the exit poll era. (The 2000 election has the current record: There was a 22-point gap, as Al Gore won women by 11 points and George W. Bush won men by 11.) The GOP has a fair number of women pols who would fit the bill for Trump. But some of them seem unlikely to be interested in accepting an offer for the VP slot, such as Govs. Nikki Haley (R-SC) and Susana Martinez (R-NM), who have both been fairly critical of their party’s presumptive nominee. Still, others might opt to join Trump. Ex-Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) endorsed Trump in late February and he’s intimated that she’s on his shortlist. Brewer’s anti-illegal immigration rhetoric would double down on that part of Trump’s appeal, though it would certainly not improve his negatives among Latinos. And while it’s hard to forecast how a selection might play back home, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling recently found that Brewer might actually hurt rather than help Trump in Arizona, a usually reliably Republican state that could become a battleground.

Trump has also had nice words for Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK). She is nationally unknown but could help a little bit with party unity as a stout social and fiscal conservative. Of course, the Sooner State is as Republican red as can be, so there’s no Electoral College bonus there.

One other traditional role Trump might envisage for his running mate is “attack dog,” and there are few better than Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House and 2012 presidential candidate. Gingrich has a long history as a Clinton antagonist, and he might make Trump look temperate by comparison. Gingrich has substantial baggage of his own, though, and he probably wouldn’t make the ticket any more attractive to fence-sitting voters.

In the Senate, there are three other women that Trump could very well be considering. Perhaps the buzziest is Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a popular conservative from the swing state of Iowa who caught national attention during her successful run for Senate in 2014 with this now-famous ad. She could demonstrate that Trump welcomes a “strong woman” and no doubt, Ernst would be a stump star in her own right on the campaign trail. But if Trump is looking for an experienced No. 2, Ernst isn’t it — she’s been in the Senate for just a year and a half. A better choice might be Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), a political veteran of the House and now Senate who is widely respected, well vetted, and unlikely to commit gaffes. Capito would double down on Trump’s appeal to voters in Greater Appalachia — not really a priority for Trump — but she could also possibly assist in nearby Ohio and Pennsylvania, where he needs a breakthrough. However, some Republicans would view Capito as too moderate on social issues, particularly abortion rights, which might complicate efforts to corral Republicans who supported Ted Cruz and others in the primary. Lastly, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) would be another Republican woman in the Senate with whom Trump could make common cause, though she, like Ernst, is relatively inexperienced.

Trump may also want a running mate who can strengthen his weak portfolio on foreign policy. Recent polls show Americans view Hillary Clinton, Trump’s likely general election opponent, as more trustworthy and capable in handling international relations. For example, a late April survey from George Washington University found “foreign affairs” to be the issue area where Trump had his biggest deficit versus Clinton. Eight years ago, Barack Obama found himself in a somewhat similar situation, leading him to tap Joe Biden, then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. For Trump, perhaps this would push him in the direction of someone like Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who now chairs Biden’s old committee. On that panel with Corker is Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), whose outsider background and business credentials might mesh with Trump as well.

Another person on Trump’s shortlist could be Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump, and is a member of the Armed Services Committee. The Alabaman also shares Trump’s ferocity about immigration issues. Sessions would be very much a double down pick designed to excite Trump’s core supporters. So would selecting Govs. Paul LePage (R-ME) or Chris Christie (R-NJ), two Trump supporters who share the presumptive nominee’s brash style. Of course, they also bring baggage to the ticket (LePage has a long history of controversial statements, and Christie’s Bridgegate scandal still hangs over him). Another gubernatorial possibility is Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), a businessman-turned-politician from a crucial swing state. However, Scott only barely won his two off-year, low-turnout elections and has weak job approval numbers.

Want a wild card choice? How about ex-Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), a much-decorated veteran and former Reagan-era Secretary of the Navy who ran a quixotic campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Webb was once a Republican, stresses blue-collar issues, is pro-Second Amendment, and could be appealing to many of the same voters who have backed Trump in the GOP race. Yet Webb is also pro-choice on abortion and supportive of gay rights, so we don’t know if Trump could get him approved by the convention.

As an early Trump endorser who shares his blue-collar appeal, we’ve long thought that Scott Brown, the former senator from Massachusetts who won a 2010 special election, lost in 2012, and then lost a Senate race in New Hampshire in 2014, would make sense as a Trump running mate. But Brown, just like some of the other names on this list, might be too centrist for the GOP nominating convention to stomach. Remember: While Trump is going to have more than enough bound delegate votes to win the nomination on the first ballot, the delegates are not pledged to vote his way on other matters, like selecting a running mate. We suspect the delegates will go along with Trump’s choice, but many of them are very suspicious of him, and they may become even more wary of Trump if he joins forces with a moderate running mate.

This suggests another Trump consideration: party unity. So far, Trump’s apparently brought the lion’s share of Republicans on board, as public-opinion polling has shown him unifying the rank-and-file to a large degree: An NBC News/Survey Monkey national poll showed both Trump and Hillary Clinton winning 87% of their fellow partisans (Clinton led by three points overall in the survey). Trump needs to maintain and expand the strength of the GOP’s fragile unity, and therefore a running mate with widespread party appeal is essential.

Govs. John Kasich (R-OH) and Scott Walker (R-WI), the two former presidential contenders, are probably just pipe dream possibilities for Trump, but they could help with party unity. Both govern Midwestern states where Trump performed relatively poorly in the primaries, and both appeal to constituencies that Trump needs in November. Kasich’s draw is to moderate Republicans, while Walker assists with the conservative party base. Each would have to consider whether they’d want the job, and the early indications are that, no, they do not. Still, politicians can turn on a dime.

Finally, maybe Trump’s VP nominee will be a real contrast with, or complement to, his style, say a low-key but effective legislator such as Sen. John Thune (R-SD). There are not a lot of electoral votes in South Dakota, and the region is heavily Republican anyway, but Thune knows government, has an attractive visage and personality, and wouldn’t cost Trump any support. Additionally, Thune can run for reelection to the Senate this year while also appearing on the South Dakota ballot for vice president thanks to a recent state law change. Another choice in this vein would be Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who is locked in a tough reelection race. Portman is widely respected in Washington and would, like Thune, represent a grown-up choice for Trump. Portman does represent a key swing state, and he too could run for reelection while also being Trump’s No. 2, which is something that is common for running mates: For instance, Joe Biden ran concurrently for reelection to the Senate and for VP in 2008, and Paul Ryan was reelected to the House in 2012 while also serving as the VP nominee. The difference is that Biden, Ryan, and other recent concurrent candidates have generally had easy reelections, while Portman could be in for the fight of his life. Portman also isn’t as well-known statewide or as popular as Kasich, and he might not provide much of a home state boost. Nor does Portman seem likely to want the job.

Now, considering we couldn’t predict Donald Trump’s rise to presumptive Republican presidential nominee, why would we think we could pick his running mate choice? Well, we never say die at the Crystal Ball. However, we also recognize the distinct possibility that Trump’s eventual choice isn’t even on our roll call. So we’re listing the possibilities in simple alphabetical order, to emphasize the Trumpian uncertainty. And we’re leaving the top spot open for a random, outside-the-box pick, which may be just as likely as any of the names mentioned here.

After all, Johnny Manziel doesn’t have anything going on. Too bad he hasn’t hit the constitutional age of 35.

Table 1: 2016 Republican vice presidential possibilities (in alphabetical order)

Candidate Key VP Advantages Key VP Disadvantages
Jan Brewer
Ex-Governor, AZ
•Woman to counteract Clinton
•Strong anti-illegal immigration focus
• Appeal may be too similar to Trump’s
•Inevitable Palin comparisons
Scott Brown
Ex-Senator, MA
•Blue-collar appeal, famous for driving his truck around on campaign trail
•Republican who has won in blue state
•Lost 2014 NH Senate bid
•Style over substance?
•Too moderate? Social views could hurt party unity
Shelley Moore Capito
Senator, WV
•Woman to counteract Clinton
•Well respected and well vetted
•WV is definitely NOT a swing state
•Too moderate? Social views could hurt party unity
Chris Christie
Governor, NJ
•Already on board the Trump Train •Too much of same personality as Trump?
•Bridge scandal hangover?
•Not going to put NJ in play
Bob Corker
Senator, TN
•Brings serious foreign policy cachet to ticket
•Respected member of the Senate, political vet
•Geographical diversity
•Might not be flashy enough for Trump
•TN is not a swing state
Joni Ernst
•Woman to counteract Clinton
•Swing-state senator
•Would bring stylistically different but still-strong stump presence to the ticket
•Lack of high-level governing experience
Deb Fischer
Senator, NE
•Woman to counteract Clinton •NE is not a swing state
Mary Fallin
Governor, OK
•Woman to counteract Clinton
•Credibility with conservatives
•Not a flashy pick
•OK is not a swing state
Newt Gingrich
Ex-Speaker of the House
•Strong on the stump
•Serves as retrospective critic of Bill Clinton’s administration
• History of infidelity might compound Trump’s problems with women
Lindsey Graham
Senator, SC
•Just kidding •Yes, just kidding
John Kasich
Governor, OH
•Popular swing-state governor
•Long governing track record
•Could help further unify party
•Might not have mindset to be a No. 2
•Ran toward center in primary, wouldn’t excite conservatives
Paul LePage
Governor, ME
•Outsider qualities
• Duplicates Trump’s appeal
•Loose cannon on the stump
• Duplicates Trump’s shortcomings
David Perdue
Senator, GA
•Outsider credentials
•Businessman with some governing experience
•First-term senator, probably doesn’t compensate enough for the holes in Trump’s resume
Rob Portman
Senator, OH
•Swing-state senator
•Gravitas would reassure elite conservatives
•Fundraising machine
•Faces tough reelection race he would have to run in concurrently
•Not well-known nationally — or really even in Ohio
Rick Scott
Governor, FL
•Swing-state governor
•Already on board the Trump Train
•Mixed governing record, not very popular at home
•Medicare fraud scandal in his past
Tim Scott
Senator, SC
•African American, can help Trump address his problems among nonwhite voters
•Tons of credibility amongst conservatives
•Seems unlikely to want job
•Does not help in swing states, unlikely to make major difference with black voters
Jeff Sessions
Senator, AL
•Already on board the Trump Train, first senator to endorse him •Doesn’t add anything new or different to the ticket
John Thune
Senator, SD
•Respectable, safe Republican who could add gravitas to Trump ticket •Largely anonymous nationally
Scott Walker
Governor, WI
•Heroic conservative credentials
•Checks boxes for many wings of party
•Underwhelmed in presidential campaign
•Backed Ted Cruz in Wisconsin, would Trump pick him?
Jim Webb
Ex-Senator, VA
•Doubles down on white working class appeal
•Foreign policy experience and knowledge
•Ostensibly still a Democrat, could prompt convention revolt
•Poor on the stump