by Alex Knepper
Pundits sometimes accuse Donald Trump of having no guiding principles. Of course he does: Ted Cruz got it right months ago when he said that “everything in Donald’s world revolves around Donald.” That’s why he’s going to pick Chris Christie as his VP.
Christie put his reputation on the line for Trump earlier than anyone else of his stature — and endured an avalanche of ridicule and humiliation for it, without blinking. It took him only two weeks after the end of his campaign in New Hampshire to provide a full-throated endorsement of Trump: “He is rewriting the logic of American politics” and is a “strong and resolute leader,” Christie said of his “good friend.”
There is a lot of confusion over why vice-presidential candidates are chosen. Let me be as emphatic as possible: they are not chosen to deliver a swing state. That has never worked and never will. Since 2000, vice-presidential candidates have been selected from Connecticut, Wyoming, North Carolina (before it was a swing state), Alaska, Delaware, and — in the exception that proves the rule — Wisconsin. If the VP happens to be from a useful state, that’s a cherry on top — but it is never the decisive factor.
Vice-presidential candidates are chosen primarily to reinforce strengths and mitigate weaknesses. Typically, the logic of mitigating weaknesses reveals itself in a few different ways: an executive picks someone from the legislature, someone old and established picks someone new and fresh, or someone moderate picks someone more ideological and exciting. Respective examples include Romney-Ryan, Obama-Biden/Bush-Cheney, and McCain-Palin. But there is a logic to reinforcing strengths, too: Bill Clinton and Al Gore chose fellow DLC-types Gore and Joe Lieberman, respectively, and there was much talk of how Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan in part because he reminded him of himself.
Trump’s primary weakness is not his outrageous bluster, which is already accounted for in the current polls, but rather his lack of experience and knowledge in government. His bluster has in fact served him very well so far — people love his theatrics, his raised middle finger to the ‘establishment,’ his ‘lamp-lighting.’ What they don’t love is that he seems to know very little about the mechanics of government. People on the fence want to know that he’s not going to blow anything up. And Trump has acknowledged that: he has said repeatedly that first and foremost he is looking for someone who can help him govern.
Christie can help Trump govern. He can help Trump govern not only because he has two terms’ worth of executive experience, but because the two men genuinely share a rapport and trust each other’s judgment. A relative newcomer to Trumpworld like Jeff Sessions could be useful, but Trump has had very little time to size him up. With Christie, he knows what he’s getting, and he knows it’s good for him.
Christie can also keep up with Trump’s showmanship. Not only would they put on a great buddy-act routine, but the best piece of political theater this season didn’t come from Trump — it came from Christie, when he sliced and diced Rubio’s ambitions into a million little pieces on the New Hampshire debate stage on the eve of the primary. Rubio never recovered. And the major beneficiary of Christie’s actions was Trump. We would be fools not to think Trump noticed.
Bizarrely, running against Hillary Clinton could turn the Bridgegate scandal into a positive. Picking Christie would practically be a dare to Clinton to bring up the topics of scandal, corruption, and lying. If Trump loves nothing else, he loves screwing with his opponents, and Christie provides him with an excellent opportunity.
And in case you didn’t notice: Christie, who famously called people questioning his appointment of a Muslim judge “the crazies,” refused to criticize Trump for his comments about the judge in the Trump University case.
If I’m wrong, I suspect it will be because the VP choice is totally out of left-field — someone nobody saw coming. As for the existing, obvious choices — Kasich, Gingrich, Sessions, Corker — only Christie makes sense. That could happen. But the — ahem — weight of the evidence demonstrates that Christie is much more likely.