Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) holds up hands his new running mate, Carly Fiorina, at a campaign rally at the Pan Am Plaza on April 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Ind.
Photo by Ty Wright/Getty

The fine art of picking a good running mate

Everything about Ted Cruz creating a “ticket” with Carly Fiorina is a mistake. While a vice-presidential vetting process usually requires months of scrutiny, Cruz tapped Fiorina after about a week and a half, suggesting very little care even went into the decision.
It was an odd decision, made in haste, that does little for Cruz, all while reflecting a lack of seriousness of purpose. The Texas senator did, however, manage to tell the public something important about himself.
I’ve seen some suggestions that the political world’s general fascination with the “Veepstakes” process is misplaced, since so few voters consider running mates when deciding how to vote. But I’m inclined to defend the preoccupation: presidential hopefuls face a series of important tests ahead of an election, and none is more important than their VP selection.
This one decision speaks volumes about a candidate’s judgment and priorities in ways no other campaign development can match.
For Cruz, it made yesterday something of a disaster. Fiorina is not only unqualified for national office, but the way in which Cruz made the announcement – as part of a rushed, desperation ploy, intended as a gimmick to boost a struggling campaign – points to a candidate who isn’t taking the race as seriously as he’s supposed to. We’re finally learning something useful about Cruz’s judgment under fire, and it’s not at all encouraging.
If the Texas senator thinks he can ride a wave of cynicism to the nomination, after coming up far short in the primaries and caucuses, he’s likely to be disappointed.
All of which serves as a news peg for a thesis longtime readers may recognize. Running mates tend to fall into one of three categories: August, November, and January.
As we discussed four years ago at this time, if a nominee picks an August, he or she is trying to bring a fractured party together at his or her national convention, reaching out to a rival or someone from a competing intra-party constituency. George H.W. Bush, for example, was an August pick for Reagan in 1980. (August refers to the time party conventions are usually held, so perhaps this year it’s better to relabel it as a July.)
If a nominee picks a November, he or she is picking a running mate intended to help win the general election.
And if a nominee picks a January, he or she is looking for someone who can serve as a governing partner after the inauguration. Dick Cheney was arguably the perfect January, and Joe Biden probably belongs in this group, too.
Once in a while, we’ll see VP choices that fall into more than one category – Sarah Palin was intended as an August and a November, while Al Gore was probably a November and a January – but in general, running mates fall into one of these three categories.
And which category does Fiorina fall into? I suspect Cruz sees her as a November, but that’s only because the senator believes the key to electoral victory is rallying far-right voters. (When Reagan tapped Schweizer in ‘76, he was trying to create a ticket with ideological balance. Cruz and Fiorina share the same spot on the ideological spectrum, suggesting Cruz isn’t even copying Reagan’s unsuccessful scheme properly.)
Donald Trump’s approach should prove to be fascinating – at least in part because some of the folks he’ll consider have no interest in sharing a ticket with him – but don’t forget that Trump’s running mate may not be entirely up to him.