Indiana Governor Mike Pence was never seen as the obvious pick for the Republican Vice Presidential nomination, in part due to his rising unpopularity in his own state, but he is the mature pick and an example of Donald Trump making a more Presidential-seeming choice. There are a lot of takeaways and fine points that the Pence choice brings to light, but from a purely political perspective, the selection means Trump is less committed to the circus than he is to winning the whole thing. He sniffs victory. And why shouldn’t he?
For all the alleged scandals, controversial flubs, and the hundreds of times someone in the media has “destroyed” or “decimated” Trump, he has managed to stay competitive in the polls while Hillary Clinton has failed to put him away (just like she failed to do with Bernie Sanders until the very end). Give credit to the those who have turned Clinton’s email scandal into something much bigger (and more everlasting) than it seemed like it had the potential to become. Lay blame on those who mock Hillary as boring or out of touch, much in the same way that many did in 2000 when Al Gore’s sensible, but sluggish campaign was brought to its knees by 1,000 tiny cuts while George W. Bush hung in, thanks to low expectations and the lack of a closing blow by Gore. And Ralph Nader and, and, and… Whatever — it seems like it’s all happening again.
Like Bush, Trump has his diehards who are either emboldened or undeterred by his supposed “real talk” antics. That’s not a large enough section of the electorate to win the White House on its own, but he can wait out the people in the ideological middle and the undecideds until they say “F*ck it. At least he won’t be boring” or “I’d like to have a beer with that guy,” sometime around election day. Because Clinton has failed to captivate those people in a moment of chaos and complexity where cautiously staying the course doesn’t seem like a super convincing option. Because Trump has, somewhat inexplicably, managed to avoid getting caught up in a controversy for too long.
It would have been so much better for Democrats had Trump picked a polarizing figure like Sarah Palin, who would have almost certainly seized the conversation for awhile, as she did in 2008 when John McCain sewed himself to her. But while Palin is in a class by herself, Mike Pence is pretty much on par with Chris Christie, who is on par with Newt Gingrich, who is on par with a kick to the metaphorical nuts, ideologically speaking if you’re a Democrat.
By that standard, Donald Trump’s apparent choice for his running mate shouldn’t matter much to you — it’s old white guy pick ’em. But beyond the issues, Pence seems like the one who is less likely to embarrass the ticket with a collection of past scandals (though he does have his share) or a brash demeanor. And that means that Democrats aren’t likely to benefit from this decision with those that only scan the news for bold headlines about batsh*t politicians, juicy scandals, and jaw-dropping missteps — the only constituency that matters in a tightly contested race.
Worse still, this counts as a missed opportunity for Donald Trump to help defeat himself. And with less than four months left until election day, those chances are dwindling.