What if Donald Trump swapped Mike Pence for Nikki Haley?

Posted at 1:11 PM, Jun 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-24 18:42:19-04

The headline of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday says it all: “Trump-Haley 2020.”

The time has come to for President Donald Trump to replace Vice President Mike Pence on the 2020 ticket with former American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, concludes Andrew Stein, a former president of the New York City Council and a Democratic supporter of the President. Here’s Stein’s key point:

“It’s too late for Mr. Trump to revamp his political personality. But with the 2016 election in the past, Nikki Haley on the ticket could tamp down the antipathy for Mr. Trump that seems to afflict so many moderate and Republican-leaning women.”

Teased out slightly more, Stein argues that Pence was picked to ensure that evangelicals would stick with Trump in 2016 despite the GOP nominee’s, um, complicated personal life. But that work is now done, according to Stein. And what Trump now needs is someone that allows female voters — especially Republican-leaning ones in the suburbs — to hold their nose and cast a second vote for Trump next November. Haley, who spent two terms as the governor of South Carolina prior to serving in Trump’s administration, is the only Republican out there who might be able to make that happen.

There’s plenty of truth in Stein’s argument. It’s true that Trump’s position among evangelicals is solid; a Pew poll in March showed 7 in 10 white evangelical Protestants approving of the job Trump has done. It’s true that Trump has a major problem with the women’s vote. Just 33% of women approved of the job he was doing in a June CNN-SSRS poll, while 63% disapproved. Trump won just41% of women in 2016and Republican candidates took only 40% of the female vote in the 2018 midterms. And, it’s true that Trump quite clearly has considerable affection for Haley despite the fact that she left his administration.

“She’s done a fantastic job, and we’ve done a fantastic job together,” Trump said of Haley during a gathering in the Oval Office to announce her departure last fall. “She’s a fantastic person, very importantly, but she also is somebody that gets it.”

All of which means that Stein’s case isn’t ridiculous. In fact, on a bunch of levels, it makes good sense! But, it’s also not going to happen. (Or, because this is Trump we are talking about, it’s probably safer to say it’s extremely unlikely to happen.)

Why not? For the same reason that George W. Bush didn’t replace Dick Cheney with the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist as VP in 2004. (Although he thought about it.) And the same reason that Barack Obama didn’t replace Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton as VP in 2012. (Although his team thought about it.)

That reason: It reeks of panic. And it creates chaos.

Candidates — and especially the political strategists and consultants — are always drawn to the new thing. That’s especially true of incumbent presidents who are trying to figure out how they can, after four years, convince people they are still the change agent in the race. And so, the idea of swapping out your first-term VP for some new blood is ALWAYS (and will forever be) appealing. It’s why, in every TV show about politics, there is at least one VP swap.

The problem is that when you take the VP swap out of the realm of fantasy and put it into the pragmatic world of politics, it starts to look less appealing for the same reason that any last-minute (ish) swap makes people uneasy. Let’s say you are going to watch the Golden State Warriors play. When you arrive at the arena, they announce that Steph Curry isn’t playing. You would be a) disappointed and b) suspicious. Is something going on with Curry? Is he hurt? Is he protesting because he doesn’t have the new contract he wants?

(Yes, if you are wondering, this is the only time in history Pence has been compared to Steph Curry.)

The point is that making such a high-profile substitution raises all sort of questions — questions that you may or may not want to answer (or even have answers for.) If Trump dumped Pence, there would be a slew of questions — namely: Did Trump not think he could win with Pence? Why not? And what did it say about his own presidency that he felt the need to pull this rabbit out of a hat?

Trump, after opening the door last week to the speculation by refusing to say he would endorse Pence for president in 2024, seemed to shut down the possibility in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday.

Asked by Todd whether “Mike Pence 100% on your ticket in 2020,” Trump said this: “Well, look, look — 100%, yes. He’s been a terrific vice president. He’s my friend.”

So, case closed. Probably. Remember that Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Wall Street Journal, is a close friend of the President. And that it’s hard to imagine this piece going into the paper without Murdoch knowing about it — and maybe even approving of it? If Murdoch and other Trump friends keep up the Pence replacement drumbeat, there just might come a time when Trump actually considers it.