The main way picking Pence could help Donald Trump

The Observer editorial board

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, shown in a 2013 interview, has emerged as Donald Trump's likely vice presidential choice.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, shown in a 2013 interview, has emerged as Donald Trump's likely vice presidential choice. Bloomberg

Factors, in order of importance, that might help you decide whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump (or someone else):

1. Whether you think Trump is a dangerous maniac.

2. Whether you think Clinton is more distrustful than Trump is maniacal.

3. Whether you think pretty much all minorities are suspect.

4. Whether Clinton is too liberal for you. Or not liberal enough.

And, coming in at about No. 27: What you think of Mike Pence.

Trump will reportedly name Pence, perhaps before the Republican convention. (Predicting what Trump will do at any moment, though, is guesswork.)

When that news broke Thursday, pundits instantly began assessing what the Indiana governor would bring to the ticket: He has conservative bona fides! He knows Congress! He’s refreshingly boring!

But does any of it really matter? Are any meaningful numbers of voters going to vote or not vote for Trump because Mike Pence is on the ticket? Rarely do vice presidential selections have large impacts on a race, unless the name is Sarah Palin.

Research by political science professors Christopher Devine and Kyle Kopko shows that evaluations of presidential candidates are three times more influential than those of vice presidential nominees to explain voting decisions. Only when running mates are unusually appealing or unappealing do they have much impact at all.

Pence, of course, is neither. He is little-known among voters. A former radio host, he once called himself “Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” and it’s safe to say he would be blacked out by Trump’s gargantuan shadow. Given voters’ polarized and entrenched views about Trump (and Clinton, for that matter), a vanilla (though solidly conservative) running mate is unlikely to have much effect one way or the other.

It’s true that Pence is solidly conservative, making a name for himself by signing religious freedom bills, backing tight abortion restrictions and being generally anti-LGBT. So he might earn Trump a tiny bit of cred with leaders of the party’s skeptical right wing. But it would be just a placebo to make them feel better, and it’s hard to imagine that Pence would be enough to tip any swing state.

What could boost Trump, and what might be most frightening for those aligned against him, is a sudden turn to sanity and seriousness that the Pence pick might suggest is underway. One Trump adviser said Trump’s gut was telling him to select Chris Christie. But in what might be a first, Trump didn’t go with his gut. He apparently listened to advisers and tapped the veep finalist least likely to add another ring to the Trump circus.

If that’s an indicator that Trump is going to try to start being more presidential in the final months of the campaign, Democrats, rational independents and anti-Trump Republicans might have something to fear.