When President George H.W. Bush faced an uphill re-election fight in 1992, aides discussed ways to change the political calculus and give his candidacy a much-needed boost.
Now, Donald Trump faces a comparable situation and a similar option.
In the case of Bush, several top advisers, including the candidate’s future presidential son, concluded that one way to bolster his prospects would be to replace Vice President Dan Quayle with a new running mate, possibly popular Gen. Colin Powell.
But it didn’t happen. Famously loyal, Bush refused to abandon his 1988 running mate. And his strategists concluded a change might anger conservative Republicans more than it would attract additional independent support.
Their reluctance explains why it’s been 44 years since a presidential nominee switched running mates. And that was an unusual situation in which an unelected president, Gerald Ford, dropped his unelected vice president, Nelson Rockefeller. It’s been 76 years since an elected president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, successfully replaced his elected vice president, Henry Wallace, with Harry Truman for his fourth term bid.
But that history hasn’t stopped periodic speculation over replacing running mates, from Lyndon Johnson to Joe Biden. So it’s hardly surprising that there has been speculation that one way for President Donald Trump to improve his lagging reelection prospects would be to ditch Mike Pence, his almost obsequiously loyal vice president.
One reason would be to counter the fact that Biden, his November Democratic rival, plans to pick a female running mate, and very possibly a minority woman. Trump could replace Pence with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
So far, a month before Republicans formally nominate their ticket, there is no outward sign of a change. Trump has repeatedly said he plans to keep the former Indiana governor, who helped him solidify support from religious conservatives in 2016. Republican campaign materials and ads tout both. Besides, no vice president has been more loyal than Pence.
But for Trump, unlike Bush, loyalty is often a one-way street. He’s prone to make instinctive decisions. And given the degree of turnover in the Trump administration, few would be stunned. After all, Trump has had four chiefs of staff and four national security advisers, and he’s made many other changes. About the only nonfamily members besides Pence who have survived in his inner circle are 2016 campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and policy adviser Stephen Miller.
For several years, speculation about replacing Pence has centered on Haley. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations before leaving on her own terms in late 2018. Though she displayed some independence during her tenure, she has refrained from criticizing her former boss and made a number of supportive comments. Just last week, she tweeted she was “proud” of what she called Trump’s “selfless leadership” in canceling the GOP’s Florida convention sessions.
Haley wrote a book about her tenure but has generally kept a low profile, presumably planning a possible presidential bid in 2024, whether or not Trump is reelected. She is hardly unique but would almost certainly stand out in what would likely be a field of mostly white men.
Replacing Pence with Haley could help Trump by broadening the GOP ticket’s appeal beyond the president’s base. The danger is that replacing Pence might upset religious conservatives, who have been among Trump’s strongest supporters. Still, the president’s record of naming conservative judges and supporting other issues favored by religious conservatives might reduce his need for Pence this time.
While it’s always hard to turn down a president, it is questionable if being on Trump’s ticket would help the former South Carolina governor’s future prospects, especially if Trump can’t dig himself out of his current electoral hole. While it’s often written that a good performance on a losing ticket can help in a future presidential run, history rejects that theory.
The last losing vice presidential nominee who won the presidency was Roosevelt, a 1920 vice presidential loser who became a 1932 presidential victor. And the only other losing VP nominee in the last century who later won his party’s presidential nomination was former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, a VP loser in 1976 and a presidential loser in 1996.
Though Haley is the most obvious possible Pence replacement, Trump could also pick one of his loyal congressional supporters, like House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, or Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.
Cotton, another likely 2024 GOP aspirant, is running unopposed for reelection in November. And Arkansas passed a law that would enable him to appear on the November ballot as both a candidate for reelection and a candidate for vice president.
That’s like the Lyndon Johnson Law that enabled the then Texas senator to simultaneously win both a third Senate term and election as John Kennedy’s vice president in 1960.
All of the prominent prospective Pence replacements are younger than Trump, who is 74, and Pence, who is 61. Still, as the GOP convention nears, the odds remain that Donald Trump’s running mate will again be Mike Pence.