In recent years, both major parties have held their national conventions after the summer Olympics, at least in part so their presidential tickets wouldn’t have to compete with the games for attention. This year, however, will be different: The Republican convention is just four months away, in mid-July, with the Democratic convention to be held a week later. The opening ceremony in Rio kicks off on Aug. 5.
When GOP officials moved up the convention date, the idea was to front-load the process: An earlier national gathering would mean the Republican ticket would come together early, and the pairing would have more time to barnstorm the nation.
And while that’s not necessarily a bad idea, the way the Republican race is unfolding creates an unexpected wrinkle. National Journal noted the other day:
For all the many complications a contested convention could cause for the Republican Party, it would create a very specific quandary for the presidential candidates – how to pick a running mate.If Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or John Kasich select a vice president before the GOP gathers in Cleveland, they lose the ability to use the post as a bargaining chip to secure the nomination. But if they wait until the convention is underway, they risk making a hasty – and potentially un-vetted – pick.
It’s an under-appreciated point. By this point in 2008 and 2012, the GOP primaries were starting to wind down, and the likely nominees were beginning the process of considering running mates. In April 2000, George W. Bush announced Dick Cheney would lead the search committee for the Republican vice-presidential nomination. (We now know, of course, that Cheney later picked himself.)
But in 2016, it’s a little more complicated. Trump is obviously well positioned in the race for the Republican nomination, but it’s not yet certain that he’ll reach the 50% delegate threshold by the end of the primaries and caucuses. Projecting how a contested convention might play out is even more difficult.
And with this in mind, the process of choosing a running mate will either be delayed or begin among several candidates simultaneously.
In theory, Trump – or his rivals, for that matter – could vet and choose a running mate in advance of the convention, but depending on how the process plays out, that could pose problems during the national gathering itself. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which a leading contender is forced to partner with a rival to satisfy competing intra-party factions, which means leaving the slot open until the convention itself.
But that poses its own set of challenges: All of a sudden, the Republican nominee would find himself tied to a running mate he didn’t intend to choose, and whose background hasn’t been scrutinized by his vetting team.
Longtime readers may recall the August-November-January thesis of running-mate selection. To briefly summarize, every VP nominee tends to fall into one of three categories: a running mate is chosen (1) to unify the party; (2) to help the presidential nominee win the general election; or (3) with an eye towards governing after the election.
A competitive, multiple-ballot national convention narrows those considerations quite a bit. Republican strategist Michael Steel told National Journal, “The fundamental difference is that in a regular convention, an uncontested convention, the nominee selects his running mate either for appeal in a general election or to help him or her govern if they’re elected. In this case, if there is a contested convention, you may get a situation where the nominee selects a vice presidential candidate in order to help them secure more delegates.”