Political News

No, Donald Trump is (probably) not dumping Mike Pence for Nikki Haley

Posted March 3, 2020 11:55 a.m. EST

— On Monday, Democratic strategist Paul Begala made a very bold prediction.

"This is not a prediction," the CNN political contributor said. "It's a certainty. On Thursday, July 16 -- that's the date the Democrat gives his or her acceptance address -- on that day, to interrupt that narrative, Donald Trump will call a press conference at Mar-a-Lago. He's going to dump Mike Pence and put Nikki Haley on the ticket to try to get those suburban moms."

Which ... well, probably not.

Now, I see where Begala is coming from here. He's absolutely right that Trump is, at heart, a showman and provocateur. And that Trump likes nothing more than drawing attention away from his opponents to ensure the spotlight is shining on him. And that if Trump likes anything more than being the center of attention, it's freaking out the squares -- doing something wildly unpredictable that no one saw coming.

It's also not a new argument. Ever since Haley left the Trump administration as ambassador to the United Nations in the fall of 2018, there's been speculation that Trump, seeing Haley as his best chance to win suburban women he needs in 2020, will dump Vice President Mike Pence and put the former South Carolina governor on the ticket.

Speculation ramped up last summer when Andrew Stein, a New York Democrat who supports Trump, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal making the case for the swap. Wrote Stein:

"It's too late for Mr. Trump to revamp his political personality. But with the 2016 election in the past, Nikki Haley on the ticket could tamp down the antipathy for Mr. Trump that seems to afflict so many moderate and Republican-leaning women."

Which does, frankly, make some sense. (Stein's broader argument was that Pence was necessary in 2016 to convince evangelical voters that Trump could be trusted, but with the President's number in good shape with that community, Pence's usefulness had run out.)

And things got even more intriguing when Haley herself -- seemingly out of nowhere -- tweeted this in late August 2019:

"Enough of the false rumors. Vice President Pence has been a dear friend of mine for years. He has been a loyal and trustworthy VP to the President. He has my complete support."

Which was weird because, well, no one was really talking about the Pence-Haley swap when she sent that tweet. "The only person talking about Nikki Haley as VP is Nikki Haley herself," a senior administration official told the Washington Examiner at the time.

(Worth noting: According to "A Warning" -- the book published by an anonymous author about the Trump White House -- Trump would regularly raise the idea of dumping Pence for Haley to senior staff.)

By the fall of last year, Trump himself went on record to calm down the on-again, off-again speculation. "Mike Pence -- I know I've seen this rumor that keeps popping up, and Nikki would be great, but Mike Pence has done a phenomenal job as vice president," Trump said in an interview on "Fox & Friends." "He's our guy, he's my friend, and look, we have a great team. Mike Pence is a great vice president. He's our man 100%."

Now, anyone who has paid even casual attention to Trump's presidency knows not to always (ever?) take his public pronouncements at face value. He is someone who regularly doesn't tell the truth -- viewing facts as fungible things that can be bent and twisted as he sees fit.

And there is no question that if Trump believed the only path he had to victory was to jettison Pence for Haley, he would think very seriously about doing it.

But even with all that said, it's still a verrrry long shot. Like very long.

Here's why: Trump cares deeply about perception. And projecting an image of utter certainty and strength. A last-minute swap-out of your vice president because you think you can't win without someone new is the exact opposite of that message. It suggests weakness and, even worse, panic.

It's why George W. Bush didn't replace Dick Cheney with the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in 2004. (Although he thought about it.) And the same reason that Barack Obama didn't replace Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton as VP in 2012. (Although his team thought about it.) The potential benefits from putting a fresh face with a different sort of appeal to voters on the ticket is outweighed in nearly every circumstance by the deleterious perception of changing horses in midstream.

Look. When Donald Trump won in 2016, I pledged to say never say "never" again in politics. So I won't say the Haley-for-Pence move will never happen. Just that it is very, very, very unlikely.

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