Decision time for Trump on VP

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It’s decision time for Donald Trump and for the potential vice presidential candidates considering whether to hitch their political futures to his renegade campaign.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has said he plans to announce his running mate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland later this month. It would be the first time in nearly 20 years that a vice president was unveiled in the middle of a convention.

{mosads}That gives Trump at most about two weeks to wrap-up the vetting process, secure his candidate and become comfortable with a running mate who is about to have his or her life upended by the most volatile presidential election in modern times.

The media frenzy surrounding Trump’s VP selection will reach a fever pitch if he makes the announcement inside of Quicken Loans Arena in a made-for-TV spectacle along the lines of one of his beauty pageants or reality television shows.

“The art of theater is going to infuse this convention in a way it never has before,” said GOP strategist Phil Musser. “You have to expect the decision around the timing of the announcement will be consistent with how he has been able to maximize the number eyeballs on him at every turn. He’s the master of that.”

In recent history, presumptive nominees have announced their running mates in the days or weeks leading up to their party’s convention. It’s a tone-setter that lays the groundwork for the convention to serve as a slingshot into the general election, rather than a tense series of events that are shrouded in mystery.

But Trump and his surrogates have insisted publicly that he’ll announce his running mate at the convention.

The last time that happened was in 1988, when George H.W. Bush shocked the political world by announcing he’d selected Dan Quayle, at the time a 41-year-old senator from Indiana, over better known senators like Bob Dole (Kan.) and Jack Kemp (N.Y.).

Bush made the surprise announcement from a riverboat docked on the Mississippi River in New Orleans on the second day of the GOP convention.

Bush himself had been a surprise pick on the floor of the convention in Detroit in 1980, when Ronald Reagan settled for him after failing to come to terms with Gerald Ford.

Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running mate about three weeks before the GOP convention in 2012.

In 2008, President Obama tapped Joe Biden two days before their convention. John McCain announced Sarah Palin in the immediate aftermath of the Democratic convention that year, just days before the GOP convention got underway.

The Trump campaign could still trot out their vice presidential pick earlier if they see a political benefit in it.

Trump will enter the convention trailing in the polls and in fundraising. He is getting clobbered by pro-Clinton forces on the airwaves in battleground states.

Many high-profile Republicans refuse to support him and will not attend the convention. There is concern in some quarters that Trump is not running a serious campaign and that he will cost the party the Senate majority.

An early announcement could energize activists and allay the fears of panicked Republicans who worry that the party faces a chaotic convention and a bloodbath in the fall.

“Trump desperately needs to turn the campaign narrative around in his favor or at least change the current focus on his falling poll numbers, lack of fundraising and general inability to project seriousness,” said GOP strategist David Payne. “If he were to make a smart pick for VP, it could be his best campaign move in months.”

But the timing is secondary to the person Trump ends up selecting.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) has gone so far as to say that her endorsement of Trump will hinge on whether she supports his vice presidential nominee.

Trump’s pick will either satisfy critics who are concerned about his judgment or raise new questions about his temperament for office.

It could serve as an olive branch to mainstream Republicans who believe he lacks policy acumen or act as a declaration that he intends to buck the establishment every step of the way.

The pick could help Trump shore up deficiencies with women and minorities or signal that his campaign views a certain region or state as critical to their prospects.

“The VP selection is Trump’s first big decision since becoming the nominee and will show the American people his decision-making process,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce political analyst Scott Reed.

That process is primarily driven by Trump’s gut instinct, which adds an additional layer of intrigue.

Trump is known to prize loyalty and the input of those who make it into his inner circle, fueling talk that the leading vice presidential contenders are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Trump is outperforming Hillary Clinton among white men but trails in almost every other demographic. That could put retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer or Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn in play.

Trump would benefit from the gravitas and policy expertise of well-respected conservatives like Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence or Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

And there are wildcard picks in play, like former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown or perhaps an Army general with lower name recognition.

Trump’s universe of potential candidates may be limited because some will be hesitant to join the ticket over fears that they’ll be shunned by party elites or that the campaign is a doomed cause that will hurt their career.

The vice presidential candidate will have to answer for Trump’s most controversial statements and will need to be capable of handling a media environment where every utterance can make news.

“It’s risky to hitch their wagon to Trump’s team of renegade horses,” Payne said. “It will take someone willing to accept the risk of losing badly in November.”

But no matter who Trump chooses, his running mate is unlikely to decide the election.

“This election will be about Donald Trump, not the VP,” Musser said. “The VP will contribute on the margins, but the personality at the top of the ticket will drive people’s decision making. This is still about Trump. He’s the star of the show.”

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