First, do no harm.

Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Mike Pence Looks Like Trump's Ideal Veep

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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If Indiana Governor Mike Pence is in fact Donald Trump’s choice for a running mate, then he is not just a good choice. He's about the best choice Trump fans could hope for -- at least based on what we know about the Indiana governor so far.

The Republican Party remains divided, with many party actors, including high-profile politicians, rejecting the reality-star nominee. So divided, in fact, that it seemed possible that Trump might be stuck with a scandal-ridden, unpopular retread (such as Newt Gingrich or Chris Christie) or some obscure figure without any obvious presidential credentials. Instead, if it's Pence, he winds up with someone who wouldn’t have been a surprising choice for Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Scott Walker, if one of them had been the Republican nominee.

Pence would bring to the ticket both conventional qualifications for office (he served six terms in the House of Representatives, and was elected governor in 2012) and a record as a solid mainstream conservative. Very few Republicans would likely have any significant problems with him on any major policy question. If the main electoral imperative in running-mate selections is to Do No Harm, Pence appears to fit the bill.

Yes, Pence has opposed several of Trump's signature positions, including on trade. That's to be expected for any mainstream conservative Trump might have picked. There's no evidence voters care about such things.

Moreover, for Republicans who are skeptical of Trump but open to being reassured that he’d be a normal Republican president, Pence is about as good a signal as Trump could possibly send. And for the media and anyone else looking for evidence that Trump could act responsibly in office, Pence would fill that role.

This is especially true when you compare Pence with the other finalists for the job. Gingrich is unpopular, has a history of scandals, and proved himself awful at governing when he was House speaker for a brief period. 

Christie is unpopular in his home state and still has the bridge scandal kicking around. He also, fairly or not, acquired a reputation over the last few months as a spineless lackey for Trump, an image that would have reinforced the impression that Trump couldn't deal with independent politicians.

Pence, by contrast, endorsed Ted Cruz for the GOP nomination. In choosing him, Trump pays lip service at least to uniting the party. Granted, it's normal for a presidential nominee to give those assurances, but it’s a “normal” Trump has repeatedly fallen short of (such as in his continued attacks on New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, the chairwoman of the Republican Governors Association).

The necessary caution with Pence is that the national media has not closely scrutinized him, so we won’t know yet what they and the Hillary Clinton campaign might turn up on him. And, no, Trump’s campaign can’t be trusted to have done a thorough job of vetting, even after hiring experienced Republican operatives for that purpose. And we don't know how Pence would actually perform on the campaign trail. Fellow Hoosier Dan Quayle looked OK on paper before he was selected, but he quickly turned out to be a dud.  

Some pundits thought Gingrich would be a stronger veep choice, because Gingrich -- glib and shameless -- would be unbridled at defending Trump. But that gets it all wrong. As I’ve said, the question isn’t about how the running mate does at defending the nominee. It's whether the nominee has to defend the running mate. Based on what we know so far, Pence would need less defending than Trump's other top options.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net