the national interest

Why Donald Trump Might Nominate a Pro-Choice Vice-President

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn speaks during the inaugural Intelligence Community Summit organized by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) on September 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Michael Flynn, we hardly knew ye. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

On Saturday, the Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported that Donald Trump was seriously considering retired general Michael Flynn as his vice-presidential nominee. The report sent the political media into a minor tizzy, culminating in an interview the next day with ABC’s Martha Raddatz, where Flynn revealed himself as pro-choice on abortion (“I think women have to be able to choose … sort of, the right of choice … They are the ones that have to make the decision because they’re the ones that are going to decide to bring up that child or not.”).

This interview almost certainly ended the brief but amusing Flynn vice-presidential era. But it perhaps revealed, along with Trump’s unsurprisingly woeful vetting process, a divergence of interests between Trump and regular Republicans. One might suppose that Trump as the presidential nominee and his fellow Republicans would have a perfect alignment of incentives: All of them want Trump to win. In reality, their interests diverge in important ways.

Trump is losing right now by around half a dozen points. If his margin holds at this level, Republicans might well lose control of the Senate, but would probably hold on to the House of Representatives, where a favorable map would let them withstand even a solidly pro-Democratic electorate. Republicans would prefer that Trump win — or most of them would, anyway — but it’s crucially important to them that, if Trump loses, he holds down the margin of defeat. The way for him to do that is to consolidate the Republican base, and he can take steps in this direction by making his vice-presidential nominee a trusted conservative Republican, like Indiana governor Mike Pence.

For Trump, on the other hand, it makes no difference if he loses by 6 points or 16. For him the only important question is whether he wins or loses. Trump probably understands that he’s losing, and needs a dramatic change in the dynamic of the race in order to have a chance to win. Nominating a political novice like Flynn is the sort of move you contemplate when you’re desperate. (This was the same dynamic that led John McCain to knowingly accept the risk of selecting Sarah Palin in 2008 — his campaign understood it needed the veritable “game change.”) Indeed, Costa reports that the impetus to nominate Flynn comes from Trump himself, and has been resisted by other advisers. Costa reports, “The turn toward a military figure is being driven by Trump himself rather than by his advisers,” and also that the candidate is “slightly bored by the prospect of going with a traditional Republican.” The prospect of losing 51–45 is probably pretty boring for Trump. His problem is, that’s exactly what most of his party is hoping for at this point.

Donald Trump’s Flynn-sane Vice-Presidential Idea