Would replacing Pence boost Trump’s reelection chances?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates. 

What’s happening

Vice presidents typically have extraordinary job security. Historically, they’re more likely to graduate to the top job than to be fired. Only once in modern American history has a sitting president ditched his running mate ahead of a reelection bid. 

Though it hasn’t happened since Franklin Roosevelt replaced Henry A. Wallace with Harry Truman in 1944, recent presidents have reportedly considered a vice presidential swap when seeking another term. George H.W. Bush is believed to have weighed dumping Dan Quayle in 1992. His son said he thought about dropping Dick Cheney in 2004. Barack Obama’s aides reportedly looked into the implications of replacing Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton in 2012.

It’s no surprise, then, that a president famous for the catchphrase “You’re fired” would consider the move. President Trump has publicly stated that he has no plans to abandon Mike Pence, but he raised the idea in private several times over the past few years, according to a number of media reports. Last summer, speculation that Pence might be replaced by former South Carolina Gov. and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley was so rampant that Haley felt compelled to push back publicly. More recently, rumors swirled that Trump might be eyeing South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem for the job, according to the New York Times.

With fewer than 80 days until the election, the odds that Trump would replace Pence are likely slim. But that hasn’t halted discussion about whether a running-mate switcheroo might benefit the president’s reelection chances.

Why there’s debate

Biden has held a steady lead over Trump in national and swing-state polls for months, leading pundits to argue that the president needs a major shake-up to make up ground before November. Replacing Pence could reset the campaign’s flagging momentum and expand the ticket’s appeal to voters who have shifted away from the president, they say. 

In 2016, the famously devout former Indiana governor was critical in reassuring evangelical voters who may have been skeptical of Trump. After three-plus years in office — and two appointments of conservative Supreme Court justices — Trump’s support among the Christian right appears solid, which may mean Pence is expendable this time around. A recent poll showed only 27 percent of Republicans would disapprove of Pence being replaced. There are also reportedly concerns that Pence may not be able to hold his own in a debate against Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris.

Swapping out Pence for a woman or person of color — or in the case of Haley, both — could help bring back suburban voters who have trended away from the GOP in recent elections, some say. Jettisoning Pence, who has led the administration’s coronavirus task force, would also give Trump the chance to place blame on someone else for his biggest political liability.

Opponents of the idea say that adding a new face to the Republican ticket would project a message of panic and solidify the perception of a flailing campaign. Others say Pence has proven himself to be a loyal No. 2 throughout the many controversies of Trump’s first term. It might also be difficult to convince one of the Republican Party’s rising stars to sign on to a ticket that appears likely to lose in November.

Most historians say vice presidents rarely have much of an impact on the outcome of presidential elections. That may be even truer this year, some argue. The 2020 election is setting up to be a referendum on Trump. His running mate is more or less irrelevant, they say.

What’s next

If Trump is considering a change in running mate, the move would have to happen soon. Barring any surprises, Pence will be formally nominated to the Republican ticket at the party’s convention next week. 

Perspectives

Supporters

Trump needs a major shake-up to secure reelection

“Trump is in very serious danger of not being reelected. He needs a game changer to reset the race, and a fresh veep is a time-honored way to do that.” — Ed Kilgore, New York

Pence could take the blame for the administration’s botched coronavirus response

“While Mike Pence has been a dutiful Vice President for Trump over the last three and a half years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Trump, who is notorious for his catch-phrase ‘You’re Fired,’ to blame his administration’s woeful pandemic response on Pence.” — Seth Cohen, Forbes

Pence may want out

“Pence, too, may be calculating his personal odds. Over the past four years, he has served Trump with canine fealty. But if he reckons that Trump is doomed to lose badly in 2020, he might prefer not to be on the ticket. He could portray himself as a martyr who had been casually given the heave-ho by Trump and remains the only true representative of the conservative faith.” — Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest

Ditching Pence would remind voters of Trump’s unconventional appeal

“America remembers a celebrity who got famous for saying that kind of thing. In a presidential term that’s already seen some of the most cyclonic personnel changes in American political history, it would be a fitting coup de grace. It’d be vintage Trump: a ticket switch.”  — Curt Mills, American Conservative

Pence makes the GOP and Trump look behind the times

“Mike Pence projects the tired image of what the GOP once was but can no longer be if it hopes to win national elections. America is changing fast, just not in Pence’s direction.” — James Driscoll, Washington Blade 

Detractors

A change this late in the race would make Trump look desperate

“Trump cares deeply about perception. And projecting an image of utter certainty and strength. A last-minute swap-out of your vice president because you think you can’t win without someone new is the exact opposite of that message. It suggests weakness and, even worse, panic.” — Chris Cillizza, CNN

Pence has been extremely loyal to the president

“No vice president has been more loyal than Pence.” — Carl P. Leubsdorf, Boston Herald

Swapping running mates wouldn’t affect the outcome of the election

“Even if President Trump does replace Pence, I don’t think there’s anyone Trump could pick who would notably alter his chances of winning in November.” — Geoffrey Skelley, FiveThirtyEight

Trump may still need evangelical voters to win

“It would smack of desperation and endanger the support of religious conservatives who have a marriage of convenience with Trump but genuine devotion to Pence.” — John F. Harris and Daniel Lippman, Politico

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