May 5, 2016
Donald Trump, the bombastic billionaire who has had defied convention, confounded expert prediction, punctured the business of punditry to obsolescence, now has his self-described large hands gripping the Republican presidential nomination.
His speech Tuesday from Trump Tower in New York City amounted to a rhetorical basketball net-cutting for this bracket-busting political run for the ages. All Trump needed was Bobby Knight (whom he had as a celebrity endorser), scissors and the “Hoosiers” soundtrack.
With the GOP nomination all but secure, attention turns to Trump’s selection of a running mate.
Iowa’s Joni Ernst should be on that Republican vice presidential short list. She checks key boxes Trump needs.
1. Urban-rural balance. It doesn’t get more urban than the penthouse living of Trump, the helicoptering from skyscraper to skyscraper. Ernst, a Red Oak farm girl, grew up with bread bags wrapped around her wintered shoes, and, of course, those famously squealing castrated hogs. New York Swagger, meet Iowa Nice. (And Ernst really is that nice, too.) She’s likeable, and already has forged good working relationships across the aisle, with people like U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat.
There’s also a generational balance. Ernst, 45, is a Generation Xer, while Trump, 69, was born in the first year of the Baby Boom.
2. Foreign policy and military background. Ernst is the first female military combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate where she sits on the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees.
3. She’s a she. Trump, based on his at times 1980s college fraternity mentality toward women, is staring at an historic gender gap. It will be harder to paint Trump as part of the GOP’s alleged “war on women” when Ernst, working with leaders like Gillibrand, is fighting sexual assault in the military and on college campuses. Ernst could cut into Hillary Clinton’s lead among young women by speaking directly to them at college campuses about this issue.
4. Iowa is a swing state, and Ernst remains widely popular. Trump could win Iowa without Ernst as a running mate. It’s hard to see him losing with her.
5. Ernst is clutch. Just days into her job as a senator, Ernst delivered the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union. No weird reaching-for-water moments (Marco Rubio) or diminishing oddball optics (Bobby Jindal).
6. Trump needs to change the electoral map. That means playing well in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan and West Virginia, all places with rural areas populated by Democrats Ernst can help reach and convert into, at the very least, split-ticket voters.
7. Blue-collar appeal. Ernst is an Iowa State University graduate and a sitting U.S. senator. She’s not blue collar based on resume to be sure. But her style and approach is homespun and natural, meaning she’d reinforce Trump’s message of anti-elitism. Ernst remarkably portrayed her 2014 Senate opponent, former Congressman Bruce Braley, a man whose father was seriously injured in a grain-elevator accident in rural east-central Iowa, as something of a Pampered Nancy.
8. Ernst bridges the establishment and movement conservative wings of the Republican Party.
9. Ernst is a thinking man’s Sarah Palin. Ernst has proven to be a quick study, nimble on her political feet. She’s smart. At the same time, she brings Palin’s folksiness and overnight star bona fides to the table.
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.
Which, to accept her standard of measure, is good news for Iowa.