No matter how many times he denies it, the John Kasich veep speculation motors on, fueled by the large number of reasons for why a union with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump makes sense.
In a bruising campaign that has taken personal attacks to a new level, the Ohio governor and Trump mostly have laid off each other. Trump has painted the picture of a vice president prototype that looks very much like Kasich. And the governor would bring a number of attributes to a Trump-led ticket:
- Establishment cred. With experience both in Washington and at the state level, Kasich likely would reassure Establishment figures slow to embrace Trump.
- Experience. Kasich could fill in some of Trump’s experience gaps. Kasich has tons of political experience, has dealt with foreign policy and military issues, and has an insider’s knowledge of the arcane federal budget process.
- He hails from an important state. It’s no secret that Ohio is one of the largest, most important states, and Kasich is exceedingly well-liked there.
“He is a popular governor of the most important swing state,” said Christopher Devine, a political science professor of Mount Vernon Nazarene University and co-author of a new book assessing the home state advantage of running mates. “That will put him in the running.”
Devine said his research indicates that the political impact of a running mate’s ability to deliver his home state has been greatly exaggerated. Analyzing election and polling data dating to the 1800s, Devine and co-author Kyle Kopko concluded that running mates most have not affected the performance of the ticket in their home states except when the vice president candidate hails from a small state.
Kopko, a political scientist at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, said Kasich could be a good governing partner to Trump. But Ohio’s 18 electoral votes should not be a consideration, he said.
“It’s not the best strategy to pick a running mate solely for political reasons,” he said. “The odds of them mattering are so remote.”
Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley said the right choice can bring disparate factions together, which is important to a successful campaign in the fall.
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“It matters to the degree that it produces a unified convention,” he said.
[lz_table title=”Strange Bedfellow Running Mates”]Years with unlikely running mates
• 1960 — John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson disliked each other but put aside those differences and defeated the Republican ticket.
• 1980 — Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush fought a contentious nomination battle that included Bush’s infamous “voodoo economics” slur. But they formed a strong team in the fall.
• 2008 — Joe Biden dismissed Barack Obama as not ready to be president and awkwardly described him as “clean.” But Obama tapped him anyway.
Questions about whether he’s in for the No. 2 slot have dogged Kasich for months and have only intensified as he’s remained in the race despite having no mathematical possibility of winning a majority of delegates. Each time the question comes up, Kasich bats it away. He said on CNN in February that he would be the “worst vice president anybody could ever imagine.”
Joel Goldstein, an expert on the vice presidency from St. Louis University School of Law, said Kasich’s denials are not surprising — and not necessarily meaningful.
“People who are running for president, and are seriously running for president, always say that,” he said.
Kasich is starkly different from Trump in temperament and disagrees with him on a number of policy questions, as well. That has not necessarily been a disqualifier in the past, either. Examples abound of candidates teaming up on a ticket despite not just policy differences but also personal antipathy.
Shirley, whose consulting firm is working for Kasich but who has no personal role in the effort, noted that Reagan disliked George H.W. Bush after a bitter primary fight in 1980 and that Nancy Reagan lobbied hard for Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt as running mate. But Reagan chose pragmatism over personal feelings.
Goldstein said that given Trump’s tenuous standing among party leaders, his running mate choices might be more limited than those of the typical candidate.
“It’ll be interesting to see what the pool of possible running mates looks like,” he said.
As to Kasich’s motivations, Goldstein said it is difficult to determine. Some have speculated that Kasich continues to campaign as a way to leverage a spot on the ticket.
“It could be that it puts him in a position to bargain for the vice presidency,” he said. “It could be that it puts him in the position to bargain for something else.”
When trying to unify the party, candidates can choose running mates from among their vanquished opponents or choose some other party figure. Shirley said defeated candidates are less likely to produce unwelcome surprises.
“There’s an advantage to picking somebody who’s already run because he’s already been vetted by the media,” he said.