Donald Trump had one big chance to demonstrate to voters that he has put aside the shoot-from-the-hip style of his primary campaign. He could have chosen a serious-minded vice presidential candidate with policy gravitas, sending the message that he is self-aware enough to understand his own weaknesses and that he understands the need to bring in close advisers, starting with the vice president, who could compensate for his flaws.
Instead, he chose Indiana governor Mike Pence. On paper, Pence — a former congressman — seems to have the credentials for the job. But a deep thinker he is not. Pence, also a former talk radio host, has virtually no foreign policy experience and no serious legislative achievements in Congress. As governor of Indiana, his major accomplishment was to throw the state into turmoil by signing an antigay law that spurred a huge popular outcry and was quickly amended.
Still, Pence was willing to take the job, which was apparently one decisive factor after many other senior Republicans recoiled at the idea of running alongside Trump. Local politics may also have played a role: Running for vice president lets Pence off the hook for running for reelection in a gubernatorial race that was expected to be tight.
The main question facing any vice presidential pick — could he or she serve as president — tilted to Pence, who is at least as qualified as any of the other Republicans who were willing to be considered. We’ll probably never know whether Trump would have been willing to pick one of the other prospects who rejected him first.
The most optimistic spin to put on the choice of Pence is that Trump could have done worse: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was reportedly another finalist. But the choice will do nothing to address the doubts about Trump’s candidacy. By failing to bring in a vice president who fills the gaps in Trump’s own profile, the Republican nominee just reinforces the perception that he does not care whether a majority of Americans trust his judgment.