Now that we are getting a fuller picture of the midterm elections—one that looks darker for the GOP than when polls first closed on Tuesday—it’s clear that Donald Trump has two serious problems: (1) suburban women and (2) the Rust Belt.
Likewise, my forecast that Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—states Trump won in 2016—would turn blue was mostly correct. The potential for losing these states is serious. As Sahil Kapur observed, “A Democrat who can hold Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin and their 46 Electoral College votes in 2020 along with the states that Clinton carried would win the presidency.”
It is impossible to know whether Democrats will seize the opportunity and nominate a presidential candidate who can exploit these vulnerabilities, but GOP supporters should be concerned that Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is contemplating a presidential run.
As such, let’s consider a more proactive question: What can Donald Trump do to head off this potential threat to his future presidential reelection hopes?
The problem here is that Trump will likely eschew any advice that a smart political strategist might provide.
He won’t pivot, and he can’t change himself. So what’s left?
The only thing left to do—the most Trumpian thing he could possibly do—would be to change running mates.
This idea resurfaced during Wednesday’s press conference when a reporter inquired about a 2020 run, and Donald Trump publicly asked Pence to be on the ticket with him. Trump’s assurances have the opposite effect on me than I’m sure he intended.
I am not saying this move would be prudent. What I am saying is that there’s a non-zero chance Trump will replace Mike Pence on the ticket in 2020. Aside from ostensibly giving a new demographic bloc a reason to turn out and vote, the move would generate much-needed excitement. Just think of how much Trump would enjoy “interviewing” potential replacements—and then rolling out his idea at the 2020 Republican National Convention (the equivalent of The Show in baseball).
Of course, just like most of Trump’s strategies, deception is vital. For this plan to work, Mike Pence would have to go along with it. (There is no reason he should want to go along with this plan, but when has he ever stood up to Trump?) Pence would need a reason to bow out, so that Trump (ever conscious of his image) doesn’t look weak or desperate. Trump wouldn’t want to imply that he needs a McCain-Palin-esque game changer to win reelection.
Again, he may not have to pursue this strategy. Trump is skilled at using the bully pulpit, and whomever the Democrats nominate will have his (or her) hands full. Let’s be honest―are Democrats really going to nominate Sherrod Brown? Sure, a Brown-Beto ticket might be unstoppable, but (after coming out of a nasty primary contest) Dems are more likely to end with a Warren-Castro ticket.
Regardless, the notion that Trump can pull off another electoral straight flush simply by doing his thing is, at best, a big gamble. One miscalculation in Pennsylvania or Michigan and it all comes crumbling down.
Who should be Trump’s new apprentice?
Assuming Democrats nominate Brown, how about Ohio’s Governor-elect Mike DeWine? Brown positions Democrats to win Ohio. DeWine neuters that. Since LBJ delivered Texas to Jack Kennedy in 1960, the notion that a running mate can guarantee a state has been dubious. However, if it can be done, DeWine (a former U.S. House member, U.S. senator, lieutenant governor, and state attorney general) might be up for the job.
A better move, in my opinion, would be Nikki Haley.
A former governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations, Haley is certainly qualified. What is more, she would reassure Reagan conservatives (who would be excited to see her as the 2024 heir apparent) and could simultaneously appeal to suburban soccer moms. In this era of identity politics, Trump might relish the idea that he ultimately elevated the first woman (an Indian-American, to boot) to the vice presidency.
In light of the midterm election results, Trump should want to make some sort of strategic change.
That is not to say that the 2018 results are a harbinger of things to come. Modern history suggests that presidents have bad midterms during their first term and then go on to be re-elected. As I’ve said before, losing the House could be good for Trump.
One of the big caveats here, though, is that a midterm loss chastens most presidents. It forces them to confront their vulnerabilities. It remains to be seen whether Trump will be willing to do so. This idea would allow him to make a big change without having to do any of the messy soul-searching, introspection, or hard work that might otherwise be required.
A week later, it’s clear the midterms were worse for the GOP than we first thought. In 2020, Trump will need some new excitement. Nikki, don’t lose Trump’s number.