Forget about Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich. The logical running mate for Donald Trump is former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Before Trump entered the race, Santorum was the only Republican presidential candidate who argued low-skilled immigration reduces wages for Americans. Trump rails against the North American Free Trade Agreement. Santorum voted against it. Trump frets about the fate of American manufacturing. In previous presidential campaigns Santorum advocated government support for manufacturers. Trump says he wants the Republicans to be “a worker’s party.” Santorum’s “Blue-Collar Conservatives” was reportedly an influence on Trump’s campaign.
Speculation about Trump’s veep choice has centered on Christie and Gingrich, but Santorum has been reported as a possibility.
Christie, New Jersey’s governor, and former House Speaker Gingrich of Georgia are not nearly as close to Trump on immigration and trade policy as Santorum is. They would have to either renounce their records on those issues and look insincere or undercut Trump’s message by noting their disagreements.
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Political scientists say vice-presidential nominees rarely swing their states toward their ticket. To the extent they matter, though, Santorum makes more sense than Gingrich or Christie. The 2012 presidential race was tighter in Pennsylvania than in Georgia or New Jersey. Santorum’s geographic background complements Trump’s message: Trump wants white, Rust Belt working-class voters to view him as their champion.
Like Gingrich but unlike Christie, Santorum would also bring Washington experience to the ticket and could be a bridge between Trump and the party’s elected officials.
Santorum is best known as an outspoken social conservative. Social conservatives doubt Trump, and Trump knows he needs to court them.
Choosing Santorum would have its downsides. He has often made impolitic comments. If Trump chose Santorum, Hillary Clinton would use it as more evidence that Trump is an extremist on social issues.
Since Trump clearly does not care about social issues, it may be difficult to make the charge stick. And Santorum’s gaffes are tame compared to Trump’s.
Santorum, Gingrich and Christie would all attack Clinton and defend Trump. All might be equally spoiled in his eyes because they have political identities independent from his; and Trump has said that he does not think it wise for bosses to hire people smarter than them.
But if Trump is looking for a conventional Republican politician to nominate for vice president, Santorum has an advantage over other potential candidates.
Ramesh Ponnuru, a Bloomberg View columnist, is a senior editor for National Review.