Trump ponders a running mate

WASHINGTON – Now that Donald Trump has the Republican presidential nomination in hand, he is weighing his choice for a running mate, considering some of his defeated 2016 rivals as well as someone with governing experience with whom he would be personally compatible.

He has put one of those rivals, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, on his team to help him decide, and Carson himself has said he’d be willing to consider taking the job. If he were to get it, it would be a rerun of the 2000 phenomenon, when GOP nominee George W. Bush tapped his father’s secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, to vet the prospects, and Cheney chose himself.

Still another recent rival, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, helped cut down Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in a debate by exposing him as a robotic candidate and then endorsed Trump. Christie’s fiery temper would seem to fill nicely the compatibility factor.

Trump appeared to afford that consideration particular weight in praising then-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s 2008 selection of 36-year Senate veteran Joe Biden as his running mate, pointing to their subsequent close personal relationship. Obama has given Biden major governing responsibilities in both domestic and foreign policy matters over the last seven years and counting.

Biden and Cheney before him were chosen in keeping with a process employed years earlier by Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, a candidate like Trump with no Washington experience. Carter personally vetted and selected Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale and then brought him physically into the White House as his partner in governing.

That deliberate process was encouraged by the disastrous 1972 vice-presidential nomination by Democrat George McGovern of Sen. Tom Eagleton, whose undisclosed history of mental illness forced him to withdraw and contributed to McGovern’s landside defeat by President Richard Nixon. Later known as the Mondale model, it has been followed by most subsequent presidential nominees, though not all.

In 1988, without informing his closest aides, the senior George Bush chose the lightly regarded Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle and was embarrassed by his serial gaffes as a candidate and vice president. In 2008, GOP nominee John McCain took Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin onto the ticket after having briefly met her only once. She originally was a Republican darling, but she too became an embarrassment on the stump.

Still another failed 2016 Republican candidate and fierce Trump foe, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said of the prospect of running with the celebrity real-estate mogul: “That’s like buying a ticket on the Titanic.”

Many other Republicans and Democrats alike, including Hillary Clinton, have opined that Donald Trump is demonstrably “unqualified” to be president. So it’s somewhat ironic that he has emphasized that in placing someone potentially a heartbeat from the Oval Office, his selection must be seen as qualified.

In any event, it’s unlikely that Trump’s running mate will be much of a factor in an election that will be determined by the unusually strong feelings toward the two presidential nominees of both parties.

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Jules Witcover is a nationally syndicated columnist.