I have gone so far as to say Donald Trump will not go third-party if Republicans part with him but ultimately anoint a deserving, reliable conservative. He does not want to damage his brand by creating millions of enemies in a campaign that could well hand the White House to Hillary Clinton.
But if the Republican primaries cough up Jeb Bush, there may be no restraining Trump from a run against two tempting nemeses. Millions of disaffected Republicans, and possibly more than a few Democrats, could lunge toward a Trump ticket. I fervently pray that no such need arises.
But if it does, he'll need a running mate. Here are five potential figures who’d make an independent Trump run impossible to dismiss. Keep in mind that no one would ever accept the invitation who has any wish of maintaining ties with either major party moving forward. This leaves mavericks, outliers and long shots — which seems somehow perfect.
Mark Davis, @markdavis, is a North Texas-based conservative talk show host who regularly writes for the Dallas Morning News.
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The usual running-mate logic is: select someone who supplies something the candidate lacks. Since actual elected-office experience has nearly vanished as a requirement for many voters, Trump can welcome other neophytes who balance him in other ways.
Say what you will about the scandals that bounced Petraeus from the CIA directorship. His legal travails are over, and Trump could benefit from someone who can actually do what he has promised to do with the Islamic State: craft a genuine strategy to defeat them.
Having served in the actual battlefield and supervised an intelligence effort that has fended off additional 9/11s, Petraeus brings actual heft to back up Trump’s global tough-guy rhetoric.
Another bugaboo we’ve apparently tossed aside is age. Hillary Clinton would be our second-oldest president, and Joe Biden’s 72 years have not doused the buzz around him.
Lieberman is nine months older than Biden and appears to be in vigorous health, named just this month to chair the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, proving his worthiness on another issue with bipartisan appeal — stopping the Obama/Kerry surrender to terrorist mullahs.
Lieberman would give an option to Hillary-weary Democrats, as well as Jewish voters who actually care about Israel’s security.
Yes, Joe spent decades in elected office — nearly all of it in the kind of civil discourse across party lines that made him the rarest of all species in Washington: a politician with virtually no enemies or even serious detractors.
Bonus: it would be glorious seeing Joe look more enthused to back a pro-jobs, serious-borders, terror-fighting ticket with Trump than he was shadowing Al Gore in 2000.
A former Texas Supreme Court justice who would yet make a fine addition to the nation’s highest court, his service as attorney general and White House counsel would be of ample value to a Trump team needing pointers on the ins and outs of the executive and judicial branches of government.
But Gonzales’ main value might be to serve as a living testament that Donald Trump does not hate Mexicans. A Bush White House veteran with a Bushian view of immigration might need some prodding to sign on to the brash flavors of Trump immigration policy, but Gonzales has done some writing on the subject since becoming dean of the Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, Tennessee. He is unlikely to parrot Trump’s lines about the stark consequences of illegal immigration, but he gives decent lip service to our status as a nation of laws with a right and an obligation to secure our borders.
To attract conservatives to an independent run, Trump would need to send a signal that his freshly reached conservative views have not been a product of opportunism. Naming a running mate adored in tea party circles provides instant comfort.
But the list of available grassroots conservatives is short, since most are busy doing the noble work of guiding a wayward Republican Party to the right. Gov. Palin has spent the past few years relying on her strongest talents — off-the-cuff, extemporaneous championing of conservative causes, a skill set far deeper than she showed on the actual campaign trail with John McCain in 2008.
But imagine an unshackled Sarah, unfettered by tone-deaf handlers who muzzle and despise her. Imagine her running with someone who actually values her. Imagine her still-large fan base flipping a giant bird to the Republican establishment if faced with a third-consecutive unexciting nominee.
This is the only current rival who could make this list, because all of the others have hopes of continued power within the Republican Party. Carson might not care one bit about that if the party seems unwilling to make him its nominee.
He attracts the goodwill afforded a man who just wants to do some things that are good for the country. These are decidedly conservative things, but he is completely new to the political world and thus not yet bludgeoned by the media culture that savages others with conservative agendas. Nonetheless, he will have been vetted and toughened by months in the cauldron of tough primary battles.
Carson’s fan base is broad and deep, and his followers might be more enthused about following him down a third-party road with Trump than marching in lock-step as GOP leaders try to excite them about Jeb Bush.
Trump/Carson. One white, one black. One mouthy, one soft-spoken. One a billionaire, the other a brain surgeon. That’s covering some bases.