Governor Terry Branstad told reporters this morning that he is fully behind Donald Trump for president and has asked the presumptive Republican nominee for a meeting, with the hope of encouraging Trump to choose Iowa’s junior U.S. Senator Joni Ernst as his running mate. Branstad didn’t endorse a candidate before the Iowa caucuses but urged Republicans to defeat Ted Cruz. At the time, Trump and Cruz were far ahead of the rest of the field in Iowa polls, prompting U.S. Representative Steve King, a leading Cruz surrogate in Iowa, to characterize the governor’s statements as a “de facto endorsement” of Trump.
Many people in the governor’s circle actively supported New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s presidential campaign before the caucuses. Notably, Branstad described Christie’s endorsement of Trump in late February as a “brilliant move.”
I see Ernst as a highly unlikely running mate for Trump. He needs to pick someone with more policy knowledge and government experience than Ernst has, and I don’t see her bringing a lot to the Republican ticket nationally or even guaranteeing that Trump would pick up Iowa’s six electoral votes. I am seeking comment on whether Ernst would welcome consideration for the vice presidential nomination. Speaking to WHO-TV’s Dave Price last month, Ernst said she would be “comfortable” with Trump if he is the nominee, but also criticized the “name-calling” that was dominating the Republican presidential race and acknowledged that Trump’s “nonsense” would alienate some women.
UPDATE: Brook Hougesen responded to my query, “While that is very nice of the Governor, Senator Ernst’s focus is on serving Iowans. She is continuing her 99 county tour across the state to hear Iowans’ concerns and ideas firsthand, and is working to turn that feedback into action in Washington.” I infer that Ernst is neither actively seeking nor ruling out accepting a spot on the Republican ticket.
On a related note, since former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced on May 6 that he will not vote for either Trump or Hillary Clinton, I have sought comment from state lawmakers and other Iowa elected officials who endorsed Jeb Bush for president, asking whether they would describe themselves as “Never Trump,” “might vote for Trump,” or “definitely will vote for Trump if he’s the Republican nominee.” So far only two have responded. State Representative Greg Forristall confirmed he “will vote for the Republican nominee,” and State Senator Charles Schneider similarly commented, “I intend to vote for Trump assuming he is the nominee.”
UPDATE: Jennifer Jacobs reports that Christie will lead Trump’s transition team. I’ve considered the New Jersey governor among the more probable running mate picks for Trump, but today’s news suggests Christie will not be considered for the vice presidential nomination. On the other hand, Dick Cheney originally led George W. Bush’s team searching for a VP before he became the choice himself.
SECOND UPDATE: O.Kay Henderson posted the audio of Branstad’s remarks at Radio Iowa. I enclose excerpts below.
Governor Terry Branstad’s comments at a May 9 press conference, as reported by Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson:
“He said he’s interested in somebody with military experience, but then he thought having congressional experience would also maybe be more important. Well, she’s got both,” Branstad says of Ernst. “And she comes from a key state and she also in 2014 came out of nowhere to win a very decisive victory to the senate.” […]
“An ideal profile of somebody that would be a great vice presidential candidate and I think she’d be helpful to Republicans in Iowa as well,” Branstad says. “…When I get an opportunity to visit with Donald Trump, I’ll certainly indicate that we have a senator from Iowa that could be a great asset to the country and to him.” […]
Branstad says it’s time for the GOP to unite and line up behind a candidate who is the “epitome of non-politically correct.”
“A lot of people love that because they say, ‘Well, that’s exactly what I’m thinking, but I wouldn’t dare say it,’ and he’s dared say things,” Branstad says, laughing. “Now, do I agree with everything he’s said? Oh, by no means…but the bottom line is still the American people need to choose a direction for this country. Do we want to continue the direction we’re going and choose the ultimate insider, which is Hillary Clinton, or do we want somebody that is going to shake things up, that might be unpredictable?”
THIRD UPDATE: Writing in the Carroll Daily Times Herald, Douglas Burns listed “10 reasons Trump should select Joni Ernst as running mate.” He doesn’t think being associated with a losing presidential ticket would do long-term harm.
10. Ernst has time to recover politically, maintain her Senate career, should a Trump-Ernst ticket fail. She would not face re-election to the Senate in Iowa until 2020. That would give her a complete election cycle to repair any damage done on the national scene and leverage the positives. I think there would be more of the latter.
I asked Ernst recently, as part of a wide-ranging interview on a raft of topics, about the possibility of her being on a vice presidential selection list.
“That’s really nice of you,” Ernst said. “I think my mother would be really excited to hear you say that. But right now, I’ve just spent one year in the United States Senate, and I feel that I have been an influential member in the Senate, given that I’m a first-year freshman.”
Ernst said that should any opportunities present themselves, she’d first think about her responsibilities to Iowans. So she’s not just dismissing the possibility of being on a national ticket.
For my money, Newt Gingrich is a much better match for Trump.